Now comes the more difficult part: finding the right men’s basketball coach to replace Ted Woodward. Show of hands, please.
Who wants to relocate to bustling Orono, Maine for relatively low pay and 12-hour or more workdays? The job requires creativity and infinite patience.
You’ll need the tolerance to understand that Mainers’ skepticism of success of its men’s basketball team can turn to virulent cynicism. And quicker than anyone can say “wicked bad.”
The University of Maine is the badlands of NCAA Division I basketball. Winning games is just the beginning. Changing a culture of losing and apathy is the endgame.
Every athlete wants to feel appreciated, even if the attention comes just from classmates who don’t play. On campus and throughout the state, the men’s team has little identity. The next coach has to change that.
Hands still up? Thought so. There’s always a few who want the biggest challenge. Maine basketball doesn’t need a miracle worker. One or two miracles wouldn’t hurt, though.
Yes, I’m being flippant, but the crying is over. After one winning season in 10 years, Ted Woodward is no longer the head coach. That’s not cause for glee. Woodward is a good man but couldn’t meet anyone’s expectations of basketball success.
His departure solves one problem, many more challenges persist. Making Maine attractive to recruits is No. 1. Nearly everything else follows. From winning to building a new fan base to finding new sources of revenue.
So the bandwagon has been in storage for 10 years. Dust if off.
Karlton Creech, Maine’s new athletic director, would do well to recruit many of the members of the search committee that brought Richard Barron and new hockey coach Red Gendron to Maine.
Barron didn’t understand fully the enormity of his task in rebuilding the women’s basketball program at the outset. Talking to him at media day in October of 2011 was much different than the conversation we had five months earlier when he was introduced as the women’s new coach.
The optimism of May had given way to the more sobering knowledge that Mainers had checked out on his team. Instead of turning bitter, Barron went to work.
Barron had been a head coach at Princeton and a top assistant at Baylor. He had the experience and faith to believe in himself. He had a vision and a plan when he arrived in Orono.
Two losing seasons produced this year’s 17 victories. You might have wished for more homegrown players on Maine’s team but you won’t quarrel with a winning record and expectations of more to come.
Former men’s coach John Giannini came to Maine from Rowan University in 1996. Rowan is a Division III school in southern New Jersey. Three times he took them to the small college Final Four before he won a national championship. Those credentials were good enough for Maine.
Giannini had two 20-win seasons during his seven years at Maine. Twice, Maine played for the America East Conference championship and an invite to the NCAA tournament. Maine lost both times. The men’s team has never played in the tournament.
Being the coach to take Maine to the NCAA tournament for the first time is the big reward, of course. It’s attainable. It won’t happen quickly unless you don’t care where the new coach finds his talent.
The state simply doesn’t have the population to put more than one or two Mainers in the university’s starting basketball lineup in any given year. A player with the skillset of a Nik Caner-Medley (Deering High, Maryland) comes around once every 15 years or so.
And Caner-Medley didn’t so much as look over his shoulder at the University of Maine. He opted for college basketball’s big time.
Jack Cosgrove has proven Maine can recruit athletes in urban and suburban areas far from Orono. His football players don’t transfer out. Cosgrove hasn’t moved on.
I’ve lost count of the number of athletic directors Cosgrove has worked with in his 20-some years as head coach. Cosgrove has his vision and grand plan. He’s had to adjust it to every new AD.
That’s part of the problem at Maine. What is the big picture besides graduation rates and winning?
Creech and the university can find the right coach. They’ll just have to work at it.
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: