Karlton Creech could have been forgiven if he had second thoughts about pursuing a job in Maine.
The lifelong North Carolinian was one of three finalists to become director of athletics at the University of Maine, but a snowstorm wiped out his on-campus interview last month. Creech feels at home with a golf club in his hands, not a shovel.
Still, he rescheduled the interview, and made a deep enough impression that he was introduced as the head of the Black Bears’ sports department Thursday.
“That will be an adjustment for me,” Creech said in a telephone interview after being told that another round of snow was battering his new state.
“But I won’t miss 100 degrees and high humidity for three months each summer, either.”
Creech, 41, signed a three-year contract that calls for him to make $175,000 annually in Orono. He is currently senior associate director of athletics at the University of North Carolina, where he was making $103,000. He will assume his duties in Maine on Feb. 10.
Within minutes of the announcement Thursday morning, he had updated his Twitter profile to include a Black Bears logo and his new title. He picked up 100 followers in a couple of hours and joked that he would be “all over” the social media platform after posting about once every six months previously.
Creech replaces Seth Woodcock, who has served as interim athletic director for the past two months after Steve Abbott decided to return to his position as chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.
He said he is aware of concerns about continuity atop the athletic department at Maine.
“I can’t predict the future. But I do believe we can learn an awful lot from the past,” Creech said. “I’m not a job-chaser. I haven’t moved all over the country to move up quickly in the industry. I want to succeed and have an impact. My hope is that I can spend a great career at Maine.”
Creech, a native of Chapel Hill, N.C., has been at the University of North Carolina since 2004. He started as associate executive director for the university’s Educational Foundation Inc., where he managed capital projects (including coordination of an $88 million football stadium expansion), the Annual Fund, marketing, fundraising and ticket sales programs, as well as donor stewardship and development. In 2012, he was promoted to a position serving as chief of staff and overseeing the department’s capital projects, human resources and facilities.
He previously worked for the Student-Aid Association at North Carolina State from 2001-04, coordinating ticket sales and fundraising.
Raising money has become the primary concern of athletic directors in recent years, and Creech said that was even evident at a major university like North Carolina.
“The scale is different, but the challenges are similar. Everywhere you go, there’s a finite amount of money,” he said. “We’re going to need to engage the community, get support for the program.”
Toward that end, Creech said his role in getting the money to renovate Kenan Memorial Stadium was eye-opening. It took three years, and was achieved while the football team was dealing with NCAA sanctions and not having success on the field. It wasn’t the best environment to be selling “premium” seating.
“We essentially made our worst seats in the stadium our best seats,” Creech said. “Those were end zone seats in the bright sunshine. But you can’t always rely on conventional wisdom.”
The university made videos in which its coaching staff pointed out that, when they study game film, it’s from the end zone view, not along the sidelines. Suddenly, those seats became more coveted.
The lesson: “You don’t have to wait for the team to win before you can do something significant,” Creech said, noting, “We did not solve the sunshine issue.”
Creech was one of three finalists for the Maine job from among 68 applicants. The other finalists were Jim Herlihy, who grew up in Millinocket and is athletic director at the University of Montevallo in Alabama; and Old Town native Scott Kull, an associate athletic director at TCU.
The search committee was led by Robert Strong, professor of finance and the university’s NCAA faculty representative. It included faculty, staff and community partners.
Creech said he was impressed by those he met on his belated campus interview. He spoke with administrators, athletes, coaches and boosters.
What he found, he said, was “a clear pride about the University of Maine and passion for Maine sports. That’s a great thing to come into. You want people to be proud of who you are. After my visit, I was even more excited about the opportunity.”
Creech said going to a much smaller university – Maine offers 15 sports, North Carolina 28 – was part of the appeal. He said it affords a better chance to forge relationships with coaches and athletes.
“I certainly want to be able to come in and be engaged and be a part of our department and our community,” he said. ”I think the scale is right for doing that.”
There was one other advantage to moving from North Carolina to Maine, although Creech said it was just a coincidence. The school colors are practically identical.
“I don’t have to buy new ties,” Creech said. “I think it’s just that great universities share light blue.”
Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or: