Walt Abbott has a problem. On the day the University of Maine gained an administrator, he lost his chief wood splitter. Winter is just around the corner and there are several cords of firewood waiting for a maul.

Not that the 73-year-old senior Abbott can’t handle that chore by himself. But he does enjoy his son’s company.

When it came time Friday for university president Robert Kennedy to announce his appointment of Steve Abbott to become Maine’s interim athletic director, Walt Abbott was about 120 miles away. He was building an addition to a camp on land in Rumford that’s been in the Abbott family for six generations.

“He didn’t want it to seem like he was looking over my shoulder,” said Steve Abbott, 48. “I know he was happy.”

You should be, too, if you have any rooting interest in Maine teams. Kennedy’s decision to tap Abbott to move into the office of the departing Blake James was brilliant. It doesn’t matter who or how many people called Kennedy to pitch Abbott’s name.

Bob Cobb, the respected and recently retired Dean of the College of Education and Human Development at Maine was one, he said Saturday afternoon. It’s believed Abbott’s former employer, Sen. Susan Collins, also made a phone call.

At the same time, Walt and Steve Abbott probably picked up on a conversation they’ve had for years regarding what happens when your community calls and asks you to step up.

Steve Abbott was too young to remember or even listen to John F. Kennedy exhorting Americans to ask what they can do for their country. Yet variations of that ideal have guided Abbotts. Country, state, community. It’s all the same.

“His love for Maine is genuine,” said Walt Abbott, who dedicated his 50-year career as football coach, teacher and mentor to the University of Maine. Personal ambition wasn’t behind his son’s candidacy for governor. Steve Abbott believed he could serve Maine.

That voters in the Republican primary two months ago didn’t see that is a wound that is healing. “There are no silver medals running for office,” said Steve Abbott.

After serving Collins for 12 years as her campaign manager and chief of staff, Abbott had moved his family to Portland when he decided to run for governor. He wasn’t interested in a quick return to Washington and a salary four or five times more than the $140,000 he will earn at Maine.

He is not likely to be a candidate for the permanent job as AD. Today he sees himself as the bridge between James and the AD who will be hired by the man or woman who succeeds Robert Kennedy when he leaves in nine months.

Jack Cosgrove said again Friday he wants the job as Maine’s next AD. He was ready to step in as Maine’s interim AD and remain as head coach of the football team even as the dual responsibilities would have challenged and taxed his time management skills.

Walt Abbott is Cosgrove’s mentor. Cosgrove watched Steve Abbott grow up, leading the Orono High football team to unbeaten seasons and becoming captain of the Harvard football team.

Cosgrove and Robert Kennedy do not have a relationship. It is highly unlikely Kennedy would have asked Cosgrove to become interim AD.

Don’t worry about Steve Abbott’s qualifications as AD. He was finishing up work on his Ph.D in sports administration at the University of Massachusetts when Collins called some 12 years ago, asking him to work for her.

As chief of staff, he hired those who helped her become one of the Senate’s more productive senators. Collins has a reputation of demanding a lot from her staff. Abbott met those demands and provided calm leadership among her staffers.

Friday, there was genuine excitement in the room when Kennedy announced Abbott’s appointment. Athletically speaking, the university needs to reconnect with fans. Abbott doesn’t know magic. He does know how to get things done.

“I used to get tired hearing coaches say sports prepare you for life,” said Abbott. “Now I know how true that is. Sometimes you suffer defeats. When you persevere, good things happen.”

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.