Book it…Coach P's still beloved in Maine

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“I think about the kids coming out of Maine. Their dreams and aspirations and me wanting them to believe they can do anything. I think this book is a way of giving them a story that’s touchable. There’s nothing special about me, a kid from Brunswick High School.”
Coach Joanne Palombo McCallie.

All modesty aside, Joanne Palombo McCallie is extremely special, one of the greatest and most influential female athletes this state has produced, one who went on to steal coaching headlines at a national level first at the University of Maine, then at Michigan State University and now at Duke University.

While McCallie has been gone from the Pine Tree State for over a decade, she had an opportunity to return home last week and it was abundantly clear that as much as she still loves Maine, the feeling is indeed mutual.

McCallie, or Coach P, as she’s affectionately known, was in the state promoting her book, “Choice not Chance: Rules for Building a Fierce Competitor,” a unique look at her life and journey to becoming a premier coach while raising two children.

McCallie, thanks to the hard work of her agent and younger sister, Carolyn Clement, spent last week in Maine not just doing book signings, but also newspaper and radio interviews, as well as television appearances.

“There’s a love and a passion for the state of Maine, my experiences in Maine and the people in Maine,” said McCallie, who coached the University of Maine to national prominence from 1992 to 2000. “That’ll never leave me. I’m glad that came out in the book.”

The book stems from a promise McCallie made to her daughter, Maddie, when Maddie was four-years old. McCallie promised to write a book about her life experiences and explain decisions she made along the way. With Maddie set to graduate high school in June (she’ll attend and play basketball at Miami of Ohio), McCallie knew time was of the essence and she spent last summer putting the book together.

“I think you have to wait awhile to get perspective,” said McCallie, who also has a son, Jack. “I got so busy with the transition from Michigan State (she left the Spartans two years after coaching them to the national championship game in 2005). I had taken notes on my computer in diary form since leaving East Lansing. The time seemed right. The caveat I had with my daughter in my brain was doing this before she graduated high school. She graduates in June. I knew I had to get going.”

This is no detailed autobiography or “how to succeed in business” tome, although there are elements of both within. McCallie describes the birth of the “Choice not Chance” program when she was at Maine, which includes five components: making choices with care, little choices do matter, practicing thinking and feeling deeply and clearly, keeping your power and “if it’s meant to be, it’s up to me,” which emphasizes focus and embracing reason over emotion at all costs.

McCallie’s story is one of discovering she was pretty good with a basketball in the sixth grade, striving to make the Brunswick High varsity as a freshman and later starring for the Dragons, playing at Northwestern University, finding a real world job in telecommunications sales unsatisfying, learning the coaching game as an assistant under Joe Ciampi at Auburn University, then becoming the youngest head coach (at age 26) in the nation when she came to Orono and her triumphs there and beyond.

Off the court, McCallie frankly talks about the difficulties of juggling a family with a career and her relationships with Michigan State men’s coach Tom Izzo and legendary Duke men’s coach Mike Krzyzewski, as well as such personal topics as a miscarriage, driving off the road while being distracted by reading a magazine, having Maddie wander off while she was talking with a booster (she wound up unharmed) and her failure to fully read and understand her Michigan State contract (which included an onerous buyout clause).

McCallie found the writing process to be time consuming and rewarding.

“It was a lot of fun, but it was definitely grueling and it was humbling,” McCallie said. “It’s harder to write than to coach. Writing’s a tricky business. Getting down what you want to express. I learned a lot about deadlines and getting a publisher. I got a lot of nos from a lot of people, then finally got a yes. I enjoyed putting the thoughts together. I was doing it for love. Certainly not for money. I recognized the humble nature of writing. I was very pleased with the finished product. I love the way it came together. I’m proud of it. It was fun. I was slow in some areas. The (first chapter) letter to Maddie took me a week to write.

“The whole book is sort of a letter to my children. To my former players. That’s who I was thinking about. I wanted to share what it’s like to be a parent and a coach and I wanted that message to get out because it’s such an interesting one. (For me, coaching and parenting are) inextricably linked.”

The book was published by John Wiley and Sons, Inc. McCallie’s editor asked her to add questions at the end of each chapter, giving the reader an opportunity to consider their life choices.

“I wasn’t totally comfortable with (the questions), but I’m grateful for that because it turned out to be quite a bonus,” said McCallie. “People have commented that they liked the questions and they like to think about it.” 

The book has been very well received.

“I only get the best feedback,” McCallie said. “I suppose if people don’t like it, they don’t comment. I’ve gotten a lot of comments about (my) kids. I have people say it appeals to anybody. It doesn’t have a shelf life. It’s not just about one season. People have said that it’s a great graduation gift.”

McCallie, 46, won’t set a timetable on how long she wants to coach. She’s come oh so close to winning a championship and after falling in the Elite Eight back in March (for the third year in a row), projects to have a very talented team again next season. While she’d love to win it all, it’s not her biggest focus.

“I want it very much for my team and my school, but I recognize the difficulty,” said McCallie, who has 457 career wins. “It’s not something that’s going to anoint me as a coach.”

While the book appeals to the masses, it does feature many Maine connections and highlights, including the year McCallie coached the Black Bears to a tournament upset of Stanford, a game in which her point guard, Amy Vachon, played a huge role in the victory.

“(Amy) was terrific,” McCallie said. “Her basketball IQ was through the roof. She made every key decision when we beat Stanford in the NCAA tournament. She played 38 or 40 minutes in the game. She always had a demeanor of solving programs. She’s one of the best point guards I’ve ever coached. Low maintenance.”

Vachon, of course, is well known in Forecaster Country. She coached McAuley to the 2011 Class A state championship. Her point guard was a freshman named Allie Clement, who happens to be Carolyn’s daughter and McCallie’s niece. By the way, there are two more Clement nieces on their way to the hardwood limelight.

It just goes to show that McCallie’s Maine connection runs deep and isn’t about to end anytime soon.

“It’s been fun reconnecting and letting people know they’re appreciated,” McCallie said. “I’ve been able to personally sign a lot of books and thank people. There was storytelling. (Last week) was an impromptu reunion. Maine has a huge place in my heart.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Sidebar Elements


Former University of Maine and current Duke University women’s basketball coach Joanne Palombo McCallie returned to Maine last week to promote her new book.

The cover of coach McCallie’s book, “Choice not Chance.”

Buy the book

“Choice not Chance” is available at cash registers at Olympia Sports. It can also be purchased on-line at amazon.com.

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.