Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Next! Who's next?
The revolving door that spins new hires into the cozy athletic director's office at the University of Maine is moving again. Steve Abbott announced his resignation Tuesday.
Four men and one woman have sat behind the big desk up the stairs in the old Memorial Gymnasium over the past 13 years. The latest Mr. Fix-It is done but the job isn't.
Abbott's toolbox had the proper wrenches and hammers. He is the son of Walt Abbott, Maine's revered football coach and a two-time athletic director himself. Steve Abbott grew up on the Maine campus. He knew what worked and what didn't even as he got on-the-job training.
He's the Harvard graduate who turned to politics first, working for Sen. Susan Collins. He spent 20 years running her election campaigns and her staff.
Abbott left to strike out on his own but now he's going back to his old job with Collins. She has more seniority now. More clout. She can make a bigger difference in Washington and Abbott couldn't resist the call to return.
Abbott weighed his future. He could serve an effective senator and his state in Washington. Or he could serve Maine as its university's athletic director on the campus that once was his home. Put that way, his resignation was inevitable.
"I believe very strongly in Susan Collins," Abbott said Tuesday. "I've had the opportunity to observe her in a way few people have. I've worked for her but she's become a friend. I was the best man at her wedding."
Yes, Abbott was a disappointment to some. He was the victim of expectations that were sky high when he replaced Blake James, who too often seemed to do things by the sports management books he once studied.
Abbott needed time to get after all the problems of an athletic department that had lost sight of its goals. He had the tools to lead but a staff that was too small and a budget that was too lean. Mr. Fix-It had to be Mr. Fund-raiser. He had to be Mr. Good Cop and Mr. Bad Cop.
He was the leader of an athletic department that needed a problem solver and morale booster. That he kept his home in the Portland area rather than bring his wife and children to Orono full-time bothered those who wanted more of his physical presence.
Despite the marvels of staying in contact through technology, people still wanted someone they could physically touch. The turnover of five athletic directors in 13 years made them feel out of touch.
The average tenure of athletic directors in the America East Conference, of which Maine is a member, is about 10 years, said Matt Bourque, a senior associate commissioner, a Maine graduate and former sports information director on campus.
Bourque doesn't believe any other America East school has had Maine's turnover rate.
Stability is good, instability is not, and especially not over a decade or more. Left unchecked, problems sink deeper roots.
Stability is good for dreaming about a future.
It's one thing to say there's a vision about Maine teams becoming competitive across the board. It's quite another to describe how that vision will become a reality.
The easy measuring sticks of an athletic director's worth are the people and buildings he leaves behind. Abbott brought Richard Barron to Maine to coach and restore women's basketball. You may see the light at the end of that tunnel this winter.
Abbott brought back Lynn Coutts to coach softball. He brought back Red Gendron to coach hockey most recently. The three are dynamic in their own ways.
There's so much more to do. Instead Abbott is handing off to someone else.
Yes, you'll say you saw this coming. Once a political animal, Abbott would always be a political animal.
He failed in his bid to win the crowded Republican primary for governor that gave us Paul LePage. It was assumed Abbott took the athletic director's job to maintain visibility with Maine voters.
Not true, Abbott said Tuesday. "I had a great experience running for office and despite the result, felt very positive. I may or may not run again. Right now I want to contribute. I want to help and serve Susan Collins."
Good for Sen. Collins.
Next! Who's the next best fit to guide UMaine athletics?
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: