ORONO — He might have had a seat up front, next to the new women’s basketball coach, the university president, the athletic director and the Hall of Fame player.

Instead, Bob Cobb stood at the back of the crowd that came to the old Memorial Gym for the introduction of Richard Barron, the man who will succeed Cindy Blodgett.

“Now it’s his turn,” said Cobb. He couldn’t completely hide his pleased smile.

He had been asked to chair the search committee that found Barron, forwarding his name to Athletic Director Steve Abbott with their recommendation.

“We told Steve he’s very, very acceptable,” said Cobb, a retired university dean. “He demonstrated such a wonderful fit, we had to step back and start checking. Is this real?”

Time will tell, of course. Barron, for all his credentials earned recruiting and coaching at Princeton, Baylor, North Carolina State and a couple of other stops, is a Presbyterian preacher’s son. Entering the ministry was going to be his life’s work.

For an audience hungry for hope, he was preaching hope, faith and the conviction that Maine’s basketball tradition is alive if not well. But he and you and you and you are going to make it whole again.

Listening, Cobb chuckled softly. Everything he heard Tuesday was said in different ways during the interview process. “I’m getting confirmation,” said Cobb.

Understand the weight on the shoulders of Cobb and his committee to get this right. “It was there. Believe me. We never forgot what this program means to the state.”

He wasn’t involved in the searches that brought Ann McInerney and Blodgett to Maine, and the losing seasons that followed. But Cobb grew up in Winthrop, spent much of his career in education here, and bleeds University of Maine blue and white.

Get it right? He had to. The surprise came when he discovered outsiders didn’t view the Maine job as a lost cause. There were 21 openings on the Division I coaching carousel when Maine’s job came open. Yet 70 candidates made their pitches to the committee.

“I’ve got a log of 900 emails all regarding the search. Some of (the candidates) were just putting their name out there. But some “

Some made an impact Cobb won’t soon forget. Barron most of all. He wanted the challenge. If Maine had a stable, winning program, he said he wouldn’t have been interested. He wants to lead and if he needs to lay bricks, he’ll do that, too.

He was delivering what some might call a carpenter’s sermon: hitting nails on the head, one after another.

As Cobb spoke, other members of the committee or members of the university community came up to shake his hand. Congratulations, Bob. Well done. If his face hadn’t been out in the sun, you might have thought he was blushing.

He had to give Abbott a name that would be the right fit and a good coach and today, Barron is that person. And yet it’s not unlike politics. Someone can win the nomination and the election, but it’s their term in office that will define their legacy.

Barron is a new page. A blank page. That’s what struck Rachele Burns, the only Mainer left on the basketball team and a member of the search committee. Barron will learn soon enough of her troublesome knees and the injuries, surgeries and rehabs she’s endured.

Burns wants to be a blank page in his book. Only she knows how hard she’ll work to return to the lineup. They’ll write her story at Maine together. “He’s not making assumptions and I like that. He’ll push us but we’ll have fun playing.”

Burns grilled Barron when he arrived for his interviews. Did he know Maine? Did he understand the Maine tradition of success and the contributions made by Maine players?

Barron assured Burns and her teammates he did. The preacher’s son recited a familiar saying to them: A raindrop’s joy is when it falls into the river.

A bit corny, perhaps. A tad inappropriate when you consider this week those living along the swollen Mississippi. But Burns won’t forget the image behind the words.

One individual joining with others contributes to the power of all. The preacher’s son has found his new home.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: [email protected]