ORONO — With confidence, energy and a touch of charm, Richard Barron shared his vision Tuesday to rebuild the women’s basketball program at the University of Maine.

Barron worked a crowd of more than 100 supporters at Memorial Gymnasium as he was introduced as the team’s new coach to rousing applause.

“Let me correct one thing. We are not a once proud tradition,” said Barron. “We are proud now, proud every day from here on out. We’re proud. Not used to. No past tense. We are.”

Barron, 42, was hired Monday by Athletic Director Steve Abbott following a six-week search by a committee led by a retired dean, Robert Cobb.

He replaces Cindy Blodgett, the former playing legend who was fired March 29 after going a program-worst 24-94 in the last four seasons.

“There will be better days,” said Cobb. “He’s a positive person. He believes and will have the players believing. The players responded so well to him, and that was an important thing for both (Abbott) and I to see.”

Barron, a Florida native, spent the last two years as an assistant at North Carolina State. Before that he recruited one of the nation’s top classes as the associate head coach at Baylor, and before that rebuilt the program at Princeton as its head coach.

He said he’s motivated by rebuilding, making the Maine job the perfect fit.

“I think it’s a good fit right now. This is what I’m good at,” said Barron. “If Maine were right now in a place where things had continually gone very well and there was a kind of a formula for success I’m not sure.

“I’m someone who likes to see progress. Organic motivation. Seeing potential and reaching potential is very, very satisfying. That’s my personality.”

Abbott and Cobb originally reached out to Barron on the advice of Ian McCaw, a former Maine associate athletic director who’s now the AD at Baylor.

“Basketball is such a fun game and we kind of got away from that,” said Abbott. “When we met Richard, it was just his vision for the program and his belief that Maine women’s basketball can be great. That’s what we were looking for. We share a vision and a belief that Maine women’s basketball is going to be back to where it was and go beyond.”

Guard Rachele Burns of Gorham said the team met with Barron while he was in town for his interview and was struck by his answers to a list of questions.

“He means really well and wants this program to go nowhere but up,” said Burns. “One of the questions we asked him was, ‘What are your expectations?’ He said he doesn’t know us yet so that will have to come, and that really struck me.”

Barron dropped jokes along the way as he spoke for about 20 minutes. He answered questions from fans and spoke a great deal about the importance of generating excitement for the program again.

“My job is to leverage your energy,” said Barron. “To be the CEO of the greatest network marketing scheme. Each person here has to go out and get 10 more The winner of that whole thing is going to be the program. We all have to get back in here. We can’t wait for a 25-win season to start coming back to games.”

That excitement was already evident, said Maria Baeza, president of the team’s booster group who said her phone had been ringing off the hook leading up to Tuesday’s introduction.

“I’m jumping out of my skin,” said Baeza. “People who have dropped off through the years came today. The thing that is so impressive to me is the vision is on every level.”

Several former players were on hand, including Emily Ellis, the UMaine Hall of Famer who was part of the search committee; Amy Vachon, the head coach at McAuley High; Ashley Underwood of ‘Survivor’ fame; Kissy Walker, head coach at Husson University; and Kelly (Norbert) LaFountain, the Sanford star who is now the head coach of the Mt. Ararat High girls.

“I think energy was the No. 1 thing needed,” said Walker. “Maine went for a complete change.”

Football coach Jack Cosgrove said the head coaches on staff met with Barron for about an hour during his interview process.

“This is a communication business. A motivation business,” said Cosgrove. “And I think you have to be able to think on your feet. I really credit the search committee.”

Barron said he isn’t intimidated by Orono’s location at the end of the line, and what can be perceived as a recruiting disadvantage.

“How about the top of the line?” said Barron. “We will recruit pretty much anywhere. We will not limit ourselves in any way. We definitely want the best players in the state to stay home. There’s been a trend lately for some of the better players to leave the state. That’s got to stop.”

Barron said his first move will be to hire a staff.

From there he said his basic principle behind building success is improving a little every day.

“We’ve got to get better every day,” he said. “Every day our players have to get better, stronger, faster in their workouts. We have to get better with our recruiting. Make better connections. Reach out and touch people.

“We’ve got to build energy. Got to build enthusiasm.”

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