ORONO — The Karlton Creech Era of UMaine athletics officially arrived last week.

There can be no doubt who’s in charge after the new athletic director skillfully guided longtime football Coach Jack Cosgrove to the sidelines, into a role that feels vaguely ceremonial.

Maine announced Tuesday that Cosgrove was willingly stepping aside after a 23-year run as head coach in order to become a senior associate director of athletics. At the time, it felt sudden and shocking.

In retrospect, it seems more like a case of Creech, in his second year in Orono, wanting to find out what the football program will look like post-Cosgrove, sooner rather than later.

Cosgrove, 60, didn’t figure to have too many autumns left at the helm anyway. Replacing him now allows Creech to get his coach in place, for better or worse.

The coup for Creech was in selling the idea, first to Cosgrove, then to the public.

Creech said that he broached the concept of Cosgrove moving into an administrative role in May, when they first sat down to discuss an extension of his contract, which had one year remaining. Creech said he was still thinking, though, that his football coach would be sticking around for another term.

But, if you really want your coach to remain, why offer another alternative? Creech did so repeatedly.

Cosgrove said the discussion suddenly “became more serious” Nov. 5 when Creech approached him with a look in his eyes that suggested, “This is going to be a great thing for us, if you consider doing it.”

That was the week after the Black Bears lost at Villanova to fall out of playoff contention.

By Nov. 19, as Cosgrove prepared his 3-7 team for its season finale at New Hampshire, he said Creech came to him and said he had gotten approval for the new position in the athletic department, and that he wanted to move ahead. That was the day after Creech was quoted in a Portland Press Herald article saying his desire was for Cosgrove to remain as coach and that contract negotiations would begin in earnest after Thanksgiving.

By last Sunday, the day after a disappointing 22-6 loss to the Wildcats, Cosgrove and Creech had a long talk, with the coach returning home to mull it over. Of course, when your boss suggests over and over that perhaps a new role would best suit you, it becomes apparent what his true desire is. By Monday, Cosgrove said he’d do it.

At 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, the news release went out, complete with quotes from Cosgrove, Creech and university President Susan Hunter. Nothing in that timing indicates that this was a last-minute decision. A senior athletic department administrator seemed to confirm that after the Tuesday afternoon news conference, telling a reporter that he shook his head and winced when he saw the newspaper story stating that Cosgrove was poised to stay on as coach.

That news conference, at which Cosgrove and Creech both said all the right things, certainly didn’t feel like a celebration of a new chapter in the career of the winningest coach in program history with a 129-135 record. Only one member of Cosgrove’s family attended, and only one of his now-former players. None of his assistant coaches was there. Hunter didn’t show up, either.

It was left to women’s basketball Coach Richard Barron, after his team’s game the next day, to lead the crowd in an ovation for Cosgrove, who was sitting discreetly in the stands.

There is no doubt that Cosgrove still can be a valuable asset for the athletic department, even if his new duties, which are still being spelled out, sound suspiciously like busy work. “The development of a department-wide leadership program for our student-athletes and coaches” was one priority that Creech outlined for Cosgrove. That doesn’t exactly get the competitive juices flowing.

Cosgrove would be a great goodwill ambassador for his alma mater, where he has now spent 34 years after heading north from his native Sharon, Massachusetts. He is well-regarded and likeable, renowned for his work ethic.

In a Tuesday interview, he became most animated when talking about his potential to be a fund-raiser.

“I’ve been a salesman for the place in recruiting. I’ve been in a lot of homes,” Cosgrove said. “Is this any different? I don’t think it is. Recruiting is recruiting, whether it’s a student-athlete or dollars. It’s all the same.”

Creech will set out to make his second major coaching hire in as many years, with a committee of seven that includes Cosgrove. When he replaced men’s basketball Coach Ted Woodward shortly after he arrived in 2014, however, that felt like an obvious decision. Woodward had a dismal 117-178 record in 10 seasons.

Moving on from Cosgrove is a much bigger gamble, not just because of the five FCS playoff appearances. Maine’s 3-8 record this season was a bit of an anomaly for a program that has been consistently competitive, if never quite excellent.

New Hampshire, which made its 12th consecutive NCAA playoff appearance this fall under Coach Sean McDonnell, has become the standard to aspire to in the Colonial Athletic Association. Perhaps that success can be replicated in Orono.

But the struggles of another old UMaine rival, Rhode Island, should not be discounted. The Rams haven’t made the playoffs since 1985, haven’t had a winning season since 2002, and have been a Black Bear punching bag for years under Cosgrove.

Either extreme is possible in sports.

Whoever coaches the Black Bears next season and beyond, it’s impossible to imagine him being a bigger champion of the university. Cosgrove is a true believer in UMaine, dating to his days as the quarterback in the 1970s and his time as an assistant coach in the 1980s. He wastes no opportunity to extol the virtues of the program.

In his place comes the unknown, a tantalizing prospect for some, a cause for unease for others.

But make no mistake, this was Creech’s power play, and it is ultimately his reputation that will rise or fall depending on what future autumns look like at Alfond Stadium.