University of Maine women’s basketball coach Richard Barron will remain sidelined next season while seeking treatment for neurological conditions that cause weakness in his limbs and crippling migraine headaches.

The school said Wednesday that assistant Amy Vachon will be the interim coach for 2017-18. Vachon has filled that role since Jan. 6, when Barron began a medical leave.

The nature of Barron’s condition wasn’t made public until Wednesday, when the university released a statement by him concurrent with a news release on Vachon’s role next season.

Barron, who has spent time at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, said his condition is not life-threatening but “we still have lots of questions about the long-term prognosis.”

He said he suffers from “two parallel neurological conditions: Demyelinating Peripheral Neuropathy and Vestibular Neuritis.” The former causes pain, numbness and weakness in his arms and legs. Vestibular Neuritis, affecting nerves in the inner ear, has caused heightened sensitivity to sound along with migraines that “can be debilitating,” Barron said.

His symptoms first appeared Dec. 8, and Barron said doctors at first had trouble diagnosing the cause.

“Initially I feared that my condition was terminal,” he said. “Because of that uncertainty, I stepped away as head coach in early January.”

Barron, 48, is undergoing treatment with medication and therapies but added the symptoms could “stay with me for a year or longer or permanently.”

As a result, he recommended to Athletic Director Karlton Creech that the Black Bears give Vachon “full authority of the program … as I try these treatments.”

Although the university guarded Barron’s privacy, Vachon said he “has been in contact with us all season. So when he decided to release his condition, that was his decision. He wanted to share that with the people of Maine because he loves Maine and loves the program. It’s news to most people but not news to us.”

Vachon, who starred as a guard at Cony High and UMaine, has been on the coaching staff since Barron became head coach in 2011. She was named associate head coach in May 2016.

Maine was 7-9 this season when Barron had to step aside. The Black Bears finished 18-16 and advanced to the America East championship game.

Creech praised Vachon, who helped the Black Bears to four NCAA tournament appearances as a player, for her performance this winter.

“Amy stepped up at a difficult time during the 2016-17 season in coach Richard Barron’s absence and handled the head coaching duties with poise and confidence,” he said in a press release.

Vachon told the Portland Press Herald that Wednesday’s news “gives us some certainty and clarification moving forward.”

She said UMaine players were kept abreast of Barron’s medical condition during the season but added, “I’m not going to get into specifics of what the players knew and when they knew it.”

Vachon wouldn’t comment on what role, if any, Barron’s medical condition played in the decision of five international players to transfer shortly after the season.

“You would have to ask them. Of course I did (ask them). That’s a private conversation,” she said.

The transfers and the loss of two seniors to graduation – including three-time all-conference guard Sigi Koizar – leaves Maine with seven players.

Maine has one incoming recruit who has signed a national letter of intent, guard Kelly Fogarty of Walpole, Massachusetts.

Vachon said she has verbal commitments from other players who are expected to join the program during the upcoming NCAA signing period (April 12 to May 17).

“We have a great group of kids returning; seven kids who are really bought into the program, three returning starters,” Vachon said. “We have (one player) signed from Massachusetts and a couple more committed.

“I’m not worried about (filling the roster). We’ve always been about getting the right kids for our program. We’re not just going to take kids just to fill a spot.”

Vachon’s coaching staff consists of Edniesha Curry (two years with the program), former Maine player Samantha Baranowski (one year) and Jhasmin Player (three years over two stints).

Barron was an assistant coach and noted recruiter at Baylor when he was hired by Maine in 2011 to replace Cindy Blodgett, who was fired after going 29-94 in four seasons.

Before coming to Maine, Barron was 152-139 in 11 seasons as a head coach, including five years at Division III University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, and six seasons at Princeton.

In his five full seasons at Maine, Barron posted an overall record of 79-80. Over the last three, Maine had a 67-33 mark and shared in America East’s regular-season championship with Albany in 2014 and 2015.

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

 

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: SteveCCraig