ORONO — There were no teary speeches and no pangs of regret.
When Jack Cosgrove made up his mind Monday evening to end his 23-year tenure as the head football coach at the University of Maine and join the athletic department’s front office, he did so without an outpouring of emotion.
“It was an easier decision than probably people would think,” Cosgrove said Tuesday after it was announced that he’ll fill a newly created position as senior associate director of athletics. “Good coaches are consumed by their jobs and they find a way to be overly critical of wins and losses. It’s just the nature of the beast. I won’t miss it.”
It was a startling reversal from last week, when he and Athletic Director Karlton Creech indicated that negotiations were soon to begin on a new contract for Cosgrove to continue as the football coach. His latest three-year deal, which pays him $187,000 annually, expires at the end of June.
But Creech said Tuesday that he had been discussing another possibility with Cosgrove for the past six months, a way to move him into athletic administration to tap into his experience and extensive list of contacts. Cosgrove coached his final game Saturday, a 22-6 loss at rival New Hampshire that left his team with a 3-8 record, its worst since 1995.
On Sunday, he had a long meeting with Creech, and his boss could sense a shift in Cosgrove’s thinking.
“I could definitely feel the tone changing, so that’s a good thing. My perspective is Jack’s a guy with great passion and energy and I think he wanted a new challenge,” Creech said. “I would have been very happy with Jack as our football coach for another term. I’m equally as happy that he decided to do this.”
What “this” is exactly is still being defined, Creech said. He wants Cosgrove to develop a leadership program for athletes and coaches at UMaine, to build relationships with high school coaches and athletic directors in the state, to help with fund-raising and make speeches on the university’s behalf, and to assist Creech with a “multiyear vision for Maine athletics.”
Cosgrove, 60, steps aside as the winningest football coach in school history, with a 129-135 record. Defensive coordinator Joe Harasymiak has been named interim coach.
Cosgrove will be on the committee that will search for his successor, something Creech is hoping to get done by mid-December. The search committee will include three other members of the athletic leadership group – Lynn Coutts, Seth Woodcock and Will Biberstein – plus the faculty liaison for football, Jim Settele, and Willow Sherwood of the human resources department.
SEVERAL COACHING APPLICANTS ALREADY
UMaine posted the job opening Tuesday, and Creech said applications already were streaming in. Cosgrove and Creech said previous Division I coaching experience is preferred. Cosgrove championed Harasymiak for the job, noting the work he had done with a defense that ranked third in the Colonial Athletic Association this year. Creech said Harasymiak had not yet applied for the opening, but that he wouldn’t be surprised if he did. Harasymiak was not available for comment.
He and Cosgrove’s other 10 assistant coaches are in a state of uncertainty while the process plays out. All of them operate under one-year contracts, and Creech said it will be up to the new coach to decide whether he retains any of them.
“We’ll never replace Jack Cosgrove,” Creech said, “but what we can find is a capable and motivated football coach. The great thing about Jack remaining at UMaine is he’s here as an adviser and mentor to help the new coach. So that’s an asset I would think any candidate would embrace.”
Cosgrove will remain under his coaching contract until his replacement is secured. Then he will negotiate a contract for his new position, Creech said. That job is being funded temporarily through the discretionary fund of university President Susan Hunter. The fund consists of private donations.
“That gives us time to develop a long-term plan for the position and the funding,” Creech said.
Cosgrove said he didn’t decide to accept his new role until late Monday afternoon. He told his family – wife, Marilyn, and children Matthew, Carly, Sydni and Jeri – that evening.
Cosgrove informed his players at a 7:30 a.m. meeting Tuesday, the same time a university news release was sent out about his new job.
“It was just really simple. To the point,” Cosgrove recalled. “It was good to be able to tell them first. It was good to be able to just simply shake their hands. It was not emotional for me.”
Senior defensive end Trevor Bates of Westbrook, who was named first-team all-conference later Tuesday, said he couldn’t attend the meeting with Cosgrove because he had an 8 a.m. exam. But he said the players were surprised by the announcement, and happy for their former coach.
“I thought he was up for a contract extension. I’m thankful that he decided to resign after I graduated,” Bates said. “He’s been a blessing to everyone he’s coached. It will be a hard transition for the players. The head coach, that’s kind of like the identity of the team.
“He got the best out of all of us, I think. He definitely got the best out of me.”
LED TEAM TO FIVE PLAYOFF APPEARANCES
Cosgrove led his teams to five FCS postseason appearances, most recently in 2013, when UMaine hosted a playoff game for the first time. That team finished 10-3 after losing to New Hampshire, which has beaten UMaine in 13 of the past 14 meetings.
Even so, Wildcats coach Sean McDonnell came to admire Cosgrove, saying that games against the Black Bears were always hard-fought, and that the coaches bonded over being the schools located the farthest north in their conference and not having fancy facilities.
“What he had to do with the resources he had up there is just amazing,” McDonnell said. “(His players) had that Cozzy toughness to them. You walked off that field, you knew you were in a battle.”
Cosgrove game to UMaine from his native Sharon, Massachusetts, in 1974 to play quarterback. When his career ended four years later, he had passed for 2,836 yards, still the 10th-best mark in program history.
He stayed for two more years as a graduate assistant, earning a master’s degree in educational administration. He then returned home, working as a teacher and football coach at Stoughton High School and later as an assistant coach at Boston College.
Cosgrove came back to UMaine in 1987 as an assistant coach and has never left. In all, he has spent 34 years in Orono. He worked his way up to offensive coordinator and took over as head coach in 1993 when Kirk Ferentz, now the head coach at Iowa, left for an NFL assistant job with then-Browns coach Bill Belichick.
Cosgrove has been embedded in the community. All four of his children either graduated from, or are current students at, UMaine. Son Matthew was a sophomore wide receiver on this year’s Black Bears team.
“Life takes you down different streets,” Cosgrove said. “I’ve stayed here because my family was born, raised here. Football’s been the greatest teacher in my life, a provider. I wanted it to be in an environment like this and not one where we were picking up and leaving all the time (for new jobs).
“I’m going to remember all the games a little bit. But I’m going to remember the faces even more so.”