Is it a profession or an obsession?

Bob Walsh, the new men’s basketball coach at the University of Maine, became fixated on the sport while he was growing up in New York City.

Unfortunately for him, his physical growth stopped at 5 feet, 7 inches. So Walsh aimed a little higher. He set out to be a coach, and has kept that goal in mind with every decision he’s made since high school.

He attended a prestigious private college to get a degree in sociology, but primarily because he wanted to coach its junior varsity basketball team.

He pursued a master’s degree in mass communications at his parents’ alma mater, but was more interested in hanging around the coaches’ offices to watch film and help out in any way he could.

He interviewed for one coaching job on the other side of the country, and jumped in a car eight months later to return to the East Coast for another coaching opportunity. He left that major-college program to take over the foundering team at a small college.

Finally, on Tuesday, Walsh signed a four-year contract that will bring him to Orono to replace Ted Woodward, who was dismissed April 14 after a 6-23 season.

At the age of 42, Walsh is getting his chance to lead one of the nation’s 351 Division I men’s basketball programs.

“He is excited about the challenge and being able to put his mark on the program,” UMaine Athletic Director Karlton Creech said Wednesday. “He’s got that experience of how to build a program, and I think that’s where we are when you look at our win total. I think we are in a rebuilding situation.”

Walsh spent the past nine seasons bringing Rhode Island College into national prominence in Division III. His teams went 204-63 and played in the past eight Division III NCAA tournaments.

Walsh’s salary was $64,235 in 2013, according to an online database of Rhode Island public employees’ salaries. His contract at UMaine calls for him to earn $100,000 in the first year, rising to $105,000, $110,000 and $120,000 in subsequent seasons.

There are some notable differences between Walsh’s deal and that of his predecessor. For example:

Walsh doesn’t get membership in a country club or use of a courtesy car.

He will receive a $3,500 bonus if the Black Bears win the America East Conference regular-season championship, and a $5,000 bonus if they reach the NCAA tournament – something the program has never done.

If the university fires Walsh without cause, he will be entitled to all of his remaining salary.

Walsh must provide 30 days’ notice if he intends to resign. If he leaves for another Division I head coaching job, he must pay Maine a year’s salary.

Walsh was interviewed Friday and offered the job the same day. The two sides worked out the details of the contract until Tuesday afternoon. An introductory news conference for the new coach is planned for Friday afternoon at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

“I always wanted a coaching job where I could be comfortable and I could stay forever. I never wanted to chase the game,” Walsh said.

“I think there are a lot of similarities between RIC and Maine. They are both state schools in smaller states as far as population, where basketball is really important. There’s a great basketball culture in the high schools in Maine and I think there’s an energy that basketball is important. We need to tap into that.”

Walsh was a scrappy point guard in high school, choosing that position, he said, because it meant the ball was in his hands much of the time. It was evident early on that his playing days would be limited, though, so he began plotting his coaching career.

He attended Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, because it was known as a training ground for young coaches. He played on the junior varsity team for two seasons. By his junior year, he was coaching it.

Next, it was off to Iona College in New Rochelle, New York, where his mother, Evelyn Walker, and his late father, Donald, had graduated. It was close to home and Walsh knew the athletic director, who gave him a graduate assistant job in the Sports Information Department.

Compiling statistics was fine, but what Walsh really wanted to do was pick the brains of the coaches, including Tim Welsh, who was in his first year at the helm.

Walsh’s free time became consumed by analyzing film of upcoming opponents, organizing practices and visiting possible recruits – whatever he could do to help out and make an impression.

But it wasn’t the same as real coaching. So Walsh applied for an assistant coaching job on Brad Holland’s staff at the University of San Diego. A college classmate worked there, and recommended him. But, in the era before cellphones, Walsh didn’t get Holland’s initial request for an interview.

His friend set up a second opportunity, on a Sunday night when Walsh was tending bar at Marty Doyle’s in New York. He got the job and was in San Diego by Thursday.

“He was born to coach college basketball,” said Holland, a former UCLA star who played four seasons in the NBA. “As a young assistant, he thought like a head coach. You could see this is a guy who’s going to do something in the game. I knew we weren’t going to have him long.”

Eight months later, Welsh was the new head coach at Providence College and beckoned Walsh back east. Walsh left San Diego at 1 p.m. on a Friday and was at his mother’s house in New York by 9 p.m. Monday. He was moving up the coaching ladder, working in the Big East Conference, which he had grown up watching, and he was thrilled.

Walsh spent seven years at Providence, but felt that his growth as a coach was slowing. Being a head coach would accelerate his learning, he believed, even at the Division III level, where players don’t receive athletic scholarships and few fans pay attention.

He took with him the defensive system he learned in that one year at San Diego. It emphasizes aggressive pressure in a man-to-man setting, primarily in the half court. The victories quickly followed.

“He has thought and prepared for just about every situation that has come his way,” said Mike Romano, Walsh’s assistant coach at Rhode Island College for the past two seasons and his successor as interim coach there. “He asks his players for 100 percent on the defensive end and then he gives them freedom on the offensive end.”

The Anchormen allowed 68.6 points per game in the 2013-14 season, holding opponents to 40.7 percent shooting. But the offense wasn’t always clicking. They scored just 71.9 points a game, on 41.9 percent accuracy.

Still, it’s a system that Walsh believes will succeed at UMaine, given time.

“I find that as a coach, 75 percent of the things I talk about in the huddle are much more about toughness and competing and leadership than strategy,” he said. “We established a culture at RIC that I’m really proud of. You take that culture and you mix in talented and tough kids, and the results speak for themselves.

“If I can be only one, a great coach or a great leader, I want to be a great leader.”

Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or at:

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Twitter: MarkEmmertPPH