Poland filled two unexpected vacancies in its varsity coaching ranks earlier this month, naming Gus LeBlanc head football coach and Jake Webb head girls basketball coach.

Gus LeBlanc in his office at Lewiston High School just before he retired as principal in 2013. LeBlanc has been hired as the head football coach at Poland. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Both LeBlanc and Webb were promoted from within after both jobs opened for the second time in this offseason.

LeBlanc initially interviewed for the Poland job after Spencer Emerson resigned to become an assistant coach at Bates College. Poland athletic director Don King selected Bob Chaisson, an assistant at Poland, who in turn brought LeBlanc on as one of his assistants. Then Chaisson resigned due to concerns about COVID-19.

Webb, who served as JV coach and assistant to former varsity coach Tim Dolley the last three years, fills the opening left by Craig Jipson after Jipson, who was hired last month, resigned to coach at Lewiston.

A former principal at Lewiston High School whose coaching resume extends back to leading Dexter to a Class C state title in 1987, LeBlanc has spent 23 years in football coaching. In addition to Dexter, he served as head coach at Old Town and was an assistant coach at Edward Little, Oak Hill and, most recently, Lewiston in 2018.

LeBlanc, 68, took last year off from coaching for family reasons but wanted to return for the right opportunity. He said the Poland position appealed to him because he saw similarities between Poland and Dexter, where he coached for eight years. He’s also worked in the past with King and Poland Regional High School principal Cari Medd.

“It’s a small, tight, essentially rural community, and I find those are great places to coach,” said LeBlanc, who left Lewiston to become headmaster at Lee Academy in 2013 before retiring from a 43-year career in education last year. “First, it has the kind of environment I’m looking for. Number two, it’s close to home. Plus, I knew the people there and I’m comfortable with their values and expectations.”

The Knights finished 1-8 last year, losing in the Class C South quarterfinals. They are returning to Class D for the 2020 season, which should help turn the program around, but LeBlanc said he is as focused on setting up Poland for long-term success as starting off on a winning note.

“My goal is to build a program, not just field a competitive team for this year,” he said.

“I’m really, really excited about taking this job,” he said. “We have a group of returning players that are really dedicated to football and really want to do well. They’re the kind of athletes to work with as a coach.”

LeBlanc will be reunited with former Dirigo coach Jim Hersom, who he served as an assistant for when Hersom was the head coach at Edward Little. Hersom will serve as defensive coordinator, while Doug Patenaude, who has coached Poland’s middle school team, will serve as offensive coordinator. LeBlanc said he and his coaches will stress fundamentals, blocking and tackling, and look to utilize an abundance of team speed.

LeBlanc said he is still looking to fill one more slot on his coaching staff, as is Webb, who is seeking someone to fill the JV/assistant coach role he left to become girls basketball head coach.

Prior to coaching at Poland, Webb, who is in his mid-40s, spent five years at St. Dom’s, the last two as the Saints’ varsity boys basketball head coach 2015-17.

His familiarity with the program, players and school made accepting the job a no-brainer, Webb said, as did the opportunity to coach against excellent coaches in the Western Maine Conference such as Greely coach Todd Flaherty, with whom he coached at St. Dom’s and considers a mentor.

“When Don asked me to take the job, and I was honored to be asked, I don’t think I thought about if for three seconds before saying, ‘Yes,'” said Webb, who is a sales manager for Hammond Lumber.

Poland graduated three starters from a team that missed the playoffs in 2019-20 with a 4-14 record in Class B South. Webb likes the returning nucleus, which will be led by Jordan Kohtala, who will be a senior guard.

The Knights also have a large junior class bolstered by what’s expected to be a strong upcoming freshman class in which he hopes to instill a blue collar, energetic and up-tempo style of play.

“We’re still in a minor rebuild, but I think we’re turning the corner,” said Webb, who has also served as JV baseball coach at Poland. “I’m really excited about having an opportunity to work with a great group.”

“Jake is going to do a great job for us. He’s very kid-centric,” King said. “He and Gus are both people of character. Gus understands football is a great game but also a great tool for teaching kids life lessons.”

King said he was “disappointed” when Jipson informed him of his decision to leave Poland for Lewiston, but he understands Jipson wanting to coach at the Class AA level — Jipson has coached at the state’s highest level, whether it be Class AA or Class A, for most of his career.

“It’s a tough loss for us,” he said. “But Craig is a character individual and he’s one of those coaches that when you hire them they lend instant credibility to your program. I wish him well at Lewiston.”

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