Steve Abbott has a vision for the University of Maine athletic department, and he will have at least two more years to put his stamp on the program.

Abbott accepted a two-year appointment as athletic director on Monday by outgoing President Robert Kennedy, a move that circumvents an AD search that was expected to take many months.

The appointment is still subject to approval by University of Maine System Chancellor Richard Pattenaude.

Abbott stepped in as interim AD last fall amid a major fundraising effort to renovate Memorial Gym, Alfond Arena and the 78-year-old field house. It’s also a time Maine’s programs as a whole have struggled to achieve athletically.

Abbott said he will focus on fundraising and revenue generating, along with taking a critical look at how Maine teams perform on the playing field.

“It’s really important as a department that we continually evaluate how we’re doing,” said Abbott. “That includes people who work in the department, how we provide our fans with a great experience, and that includes coaches themselves.

“It’s important we give the coaches the support they need to put together winning teams. We can’t minimize our role in that. We’re partners in this. We’re partners when teams are successful and also when they’re not.”

Abbott did not always consider himself a candidate for the permanent position. When hired in August to lead Maine for a year as interim AD, he had just come off a run in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary.

Before that, he served 12 years as chief of staff for Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

While serving as AD, he found a real love for the job he hadn’t quite anticipated. As the son of Walt Abbott, a former football coach and professor, Abbott grew up watching Maine sports.

“I really like it,” said Abbott. “I love the job. I love the school. I love the community. We definitely have challenges we’re facing, but everybody does. This university is so important to the state. I’m thrilled to have the chance to help make the university better, which in turn I believe helps make Maine better.”

Kennedy, who steps down June 1, said he was so impressed with the work Abbott has done he was compelled to appoint him without a traditional search.

He said it will help smooth the transition for incoming President Paul Ferguson.

“With Steve on board it was evident we have the talent we need right here,” said Kennedy. “I’d been doing an informal canvassing and solicited a lot of input. To a person, people have been enormously supportive. That really gave me confidence.”

Reaction from coaches has been positive.

“I think he’s done a great job since he took over last fall,” said Maine men’s basketball coach Ted Woodward.

“He’s a guy who has great character, great vision. I’m excited. Talk about a guy who has passionately been a Maine fan his whole life.

“He’s going to have the opportunity to really put his stamp on the program. It’s something we’re very excited about.”

Abbott served as captain of the Harvard football team during his athletic career.

“It’s refreshing to see a guy who’s played the game of football at a really high level, achieved at a prestigious school and was recognized as a captain,” said Maine football coach Jack Cosgrove.

“We need some leadership and direction particularly in the sport of football, especially when there are so many questions being asked about what’s happening in the (Colonial Athletic Association). It’s good to see someone with knowledge of our game in the position he’s in.”

Abbott has been focused on fundraising for the renovation projects and believes removing the interim title will help him push forward.

Several million dollars still need to be raised.

“Having the interim title has not really held me back. When President Kennedy (hired me), his basic message was forget the title is interim. Don’t let it hold you back,” said Abbott.

“I really think with the fundraising though, it’s easier to have that title removed. People are making a long-term investment and they want to have an understanding this is really going to happen.”

Here are the major coaching contracts that will come up on Abbott’s watch through 2013:

Women’s basketball coach Cindy Blodgett is on a two-year extension that runs through the 2012-13 season.

Woodward has one year remaining on his contract.

Cosgrove and baseball coach Steve Trimper are both on contracts that run through June 2013.

Abbott said his most immediate plan is to take a contingent of Maine staff to a Portland Pirates game and a Maine Red Claws game this week to examine how each runs their operations.

“We want to learn from people in the business who are doing it well,” said Abbott.

“Both franchises do such a great job maximizing revenue, I think it can translate to our different sports.”

Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at: [email protected]