Tim Brewer has a definitive answer for how he’s reached 301 victories as a high school basketball coach.
“I think when you’re able to accomplish that, you’ve obviously had a lot of good players,” said Brewer, now in his fourth year at Houlton after 15 seasons at his alma mater, Central Aroostook of Mars Hill.
“More importantly, I’ve had kids who’ve really worked hard for me. That’s been one of the staples of the programs, and I’m very happy with that reputation.”
Brewer has put forth considerable effort in perfecting his craft. It began in earnest soon after he graduated from Central Aroostook, where as a junior he helped coach Steve Shaw’s club capture the 1994 Class D state championship.
“The big thing for me where I learned a lot about basketball was that I [refereed] for five years right after I got out of high school,” he said. “I saw a lot of stuff from different coaches.”
Another asset that has contributed to Brewer’s coaching longevity was his eventual focus on defense.
He spent two years as the junior varsity coach at Central Aroostook before being promoted to the varsity post beginning with the 2000-01 season.
“When I first got into coaching I was a good offensive coach but a terrible defensive coach,” Brewer said.
“We could put up 80 points a game, but we couldn’t guard anybody, so after you get tired of losing, I finally decided I better start paying attention at the other end,” he said.
Brewer’s Central Aroostook teams won four Class D state championships and five regional titles in 15 years. Last winter he guided Houlton to the Class C North crown.
Now in his 19th season as a head coach, his 301-85 record entering Wednesday’s game at Stearns of Millinocket represents an impressive .780 winning percentage. His players instead see an influence on their lives that transcends those game nights.
“Obviously, he’s a good basketball coach,” said Houlton senior guard Keegan Gentle, a 1,000-point scorer as a fourth-year player under Brewer and most valuable player of the 2019 Class C North tournament. “But he’s always saying that if he doesn’t teach us anything about basketball that he wants to teach us some life lessons, and he does a good job of that.”
As Brewer’s coaching career has continued into his 40s, the job has changed.
“There are other things for kids to do, and you can’t really blame the kids. It’s society that’s changed,” said Brewer, who earned his 300th career win Dec. 30 with a 56-30 home victory over John Bapst of Bangor.
“It might be a little more challenging to motivate kids than it used to be, but in the end, you’ve still got to try to get the most out of them,” Brewer said.
Brewer rose to the forefront of the state’s coaching ranks when he guided Central Aroostook to an 86-3 record and three state championships during a four-year stretch, in 2005, 2006 and 2008.
The Panthers added a fourth state crown in 2011 and returned to the state final again after winning the Eastern D crown in 2013 with a tournament run that included three overtime victories.
Central Aroostook went 251-64 under Brewer before he stepped down after the 2015 season, the only year the Panthers did not qualify for postseason play under his guidance.
After a one-year coaching hiatus, Brewer took over a Houlton team that had won the 2014 Class C state championship, but two years later fell to 2-16 as the smallest school in Class B North.
Brewer led the Shiretowners to an 11-7 record during his first year. Then as Houlton was reclassified to Class C in 2018 and 2019, his teams posted back-to-back 14-4 regular seasons capped off by a Class C North championship run last winter.
“I wasn’t looking to get back into coaching, but I’m glad I did,” Brewer said.
“I’ve just been very fortunate wherever I’ve coached that I’ve had kids who are willing to work hard for me, and we’ve been able to have some success,” he said.
This year’s team, back in Class B North, is ranked fourth in the division.
“I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface yet,” he said. “Put it this way, if you had said we’d be 6-3 I’d have been happy, but watching us play we haven’t really played our best basketball or even close to it yet.”
Houlton’s losses have come against the three teams ahead of it in the standings in defending state champion Caribou, Hermon and Ellsworth — teams that entered Wednesday’s play with a combined 21-3 record.
“We can play with those teams,” Brewer said. “It’s just a matter of tightening some things up and getting the kids to play a little better than we’re playing right now.”