ORONO – The phone call came in early March.

Jack Cosgrove, the University of Maine football coach, had just been speaking with Kirk Ferentz, the Iowa coach and former Black Bear head coach, about a recommendation for an assistant when another old colleague rang him up.

“Well,” Cosgrove said to Paul Ferraro, a fellow assistant on the Yankee Conference championship team of 1989 under Coach Tom Lichtenberg. “Who you got for me?”

“Me,” came the reply.

“What?” said Cosgrove, who quickly stood up, closed the door to his office and proceeded to ask why someone who had spent the previous seven seasons as an NFL assistant and had coached at such collegiate powers as Syracuse, Rutgers and Georgia Tech would want to come to Maine.

Why, indeed?

“What drew me here,” said Ferraro after a morning practice earlier this week, “was the experience I had in ’89. Not only at the university but in the state of Maine, and my experience with Jack.”

Ferraro, 53, takes over as defensive coordinator following the departure of Joe Rossi, who left Orono after five seasons to become special teams coordinator at Rutgers.

Rossi is one of the full-time assistants and two part-time assistants Cosgrove needed to replace after last fall’s 9-4 season and NCAA quarterfinal appearance.

“We lost not only some very good players off last year’s team but we lost some very good coaches, too,” Cosgrove said. “It’s challenging, but it’s nothing new here.”

Cosgrove long has promoted from within, and plenty of coaches who cut their teeth in Orono have climbed the ladder to brighter lights with bigger programs.

“I don’t know how I can say this other than, we don’t pay very well,” Cosgrove said. “But I’ve always told people when we hire them that you’re not going to make your money here, but you’re going to learn how to make your money here.”

Well, Ferraro had made enough over the past several years working for the Carolina Panthers (strength and conditioning, and special teams), the Minnesota Vikings (special teams) and St. Louis Rams (linebackers) before the entire St. Louis staff was dismissed in January.

He was prepared to sit out a year if the right job didn’t come up. When he saw the opening in Orono, he waited two days, then called Cosgrove.

A New Jersey native who played at Springfield College and spent 23 years in college coaching before reaching the NFL, Ferraro said the ability to choose his boss was the biggest factor in his decision.

“The man you work for is so key in terms of what your life is going to be like,” he said. “I know the kind of guy Jack is and I always had great respect for him when we were both assistants.”

So there they were Friday on Media Day, 23 years after their first team photograph together, now wearing matching white shirts and climbing the stands at Alfond Stadium for another group shot.

After a spring practice and five days this week, Ferraro seems to be right at home again, taking the back roads from Bangor to practice rather than the highway and assuming the defensive reins from Rossi.

“I feel like we haven’t even missed a beat,” said linebacker Donte Dennis, the team’s leading tackler in 2009 and 2010 before missing last fall after elbow surgery.

“We trust Coach Ferraro to the max. He’s made little tweaks but not much. Actually, he’s made the defense more simple for us.

“It’s letting us play fast and not think a lot out there. For us to be a great defense, that’s what we’ve got to do.”

As for Ferraro, he’s lived in 12 states and coached football for three decades.

He might be here one year or 15.

“I can tell you I’m not looking for the next job,” he said. “I’m happy where I’m at.”

NOTES: Paul Ferguson, the second-year university president, joined the players for Friday’s team photo and spoke of generating more game-day excitement this fall, particularly from students who may get their own section behind the opposing team’s bench. … Junior quarterback Marcus Wasilewski has heard all manner of mispronunciations of his last name (Wash-a-less-key) but none better than that of former safety Jerron McMillian, now with the Green Bay Packers, who called the QB “Wobble-eski”, which was shortened to “Wabba”. … Cosgrove said the 2013 additions to the Colonial Athletic Association of Albany and Stony Brook should help solidify what had been an increasingly Southern-leaning league. “You saw a void in the north,” he said, referring to the withdrawal of Hofstra and Northeastern and announced departure (now under possible reconsideration) of Rhode Island. “Now our conference looks like it’s going to have a bright future.” … Since the 2000 season, the winningest team in conference play (Massachusetts) only has seven more victories (58-51) than that of Richmond, which comes in at No. 8. Maine is sixth at 54-45.

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: GlennJordanPPH