ORONO — The University of Maine has hired Bob Walsh, head coach at Division III Rhode Island College, to be its new men’s basketball coach, multiple sources told the Maine Sunday Telegram.
A formal announcement could come as early as Sunday, with a public introduction Monday.
Walsh interviewed on campus Friday and was offered the job but returned to Rhode Island so he could break the news to his current players, one source said.
Sources told the Telegram on Saturday that the university interviewed two candidates for the position last week – Walsh and Northeastern assistant coach Dave McLaughlin. Another source said McLaughlin, who interviewed Thursday, was notified he would not be offered the job. McLaughlin played basketball at Colby College in Waterville in the 1990s.
Walsh has a 204-63 record in nine seasons as head coach at RIC, a public school located in Providence, Rhode Island, that competes in the Little East Conference with the University of Southern Maine. Walsh’s teams have reached eight NCAA tournaments.
Karl Henrikson, USM’s coach since 2003, knows Walsh well. His teams faced Walsh’s twice each season, and Henrikson praised the hire.
“Bob has paid his dues,” Henrikson told the Telegram on Saturday evening. “He’s always thinking of the game at a higher level. Do I think he can transition to (Division I)? Oh gosh, yes. I’m excited. I’m anxious to see him succeed.
“He’ll bring interest to that program. I’m not saying he’ll get every D-I player from (the state) to go to Maine, but he’ll make it important to attend the University of Maine.”
Monday will mark exactly three weeks since former coach Ted Woodward’s contract was bought out by the university. Woodward’s team finished 6-23 this season, running his career record to 117-178 in 10 seasons at Maine.
Walsh would seem to fit two of the primary criteria that Maine Athletic Director Karlton Creech said he was seeking in a new coach – proven success as a head coach at some level, and experience with a Division I program.
Walsh was an assistant at Providence College for seven years before leaving for the RIC job.
He also has been an administrative assistant at Iona and an assistant coach at San Diego.
Creech did not respond to messages left for him by the Telegram on Saturday. He was noticeably absent from the football team’s final spring scrimmage.
Walsh’s task at Maine will be daunting. Three of the school’s top four scorers from a year ago – Dimitry Akanda-Coronel, Shaun Lawton and Xavier Pollard – are transferring. The Black Bears have never reached the NCAA tournament.
The next signing period for men’s basketball recruits is May 21, which would give Walsh roughly two weeks to try to fill out his first roster.
“Bob Walsh is always on. I don’t mean it to sound he’s very intense, but he’s always coaching. He doesn’t have down time,” Henrikson said.
“It’s always about the athletes you get. Bob has been able to bring some very good athletes (to RIC) and make them play his system. The kids bought in. Bob is very direct: This is how it’s going to be done. It’s not that they’re just doing things pretty well. They’re running a good offense and they were playing a good defense very well.”
Walsh’s most recent RIC team consisted entirely of players from the Northeast, none taller than 6-foot-6. Freshman Austin Cilley, a 5-7 guard, was the leading scorer at 12.4 points per game. The Anchormen finished 20-9.
Maine advertised its men’s basketball coach opening until April 23, receiving more than 100 applications. Of those, 60 were considered qualified. Creech used a search committee to narrow that list to a handful of coaches who were interviewed via video conference before bringing the two finalists to campus.
The search committee consisted of Eileen Flaherty and Seth Woodcock of the athletic department, women’s basketball assistant coach Amy Vachon, former Black Bears basketball player Kevin Reed, faculty member Niclas Erhardt, and Megan Sanders of the university’s human relations department.
It wouldn’t be the first time that Maine has turned to a successful small-college coach to spark the men’s basketball program.
In 1996, the Black Bears hired John Giannini after he won a Division III national championship at Rowan University in New Jersey. He left to coach La Salle in 2004 and was replaced by Woodward. Giannini’s .530 winning percentage remains the best in Black Bears men’s basketball history.
Henrikson said he sees similarities between Walsh and Giannini, noting both men have high energy and are very approachable, working hard to sell their programs to fans. Building excitement in the community was another trait Creech said he was seeking.