When his assistant coach took over the University of Maine women’s basketball team last season, head coach Richard Barron often stayed alone at home.

“Basically, in a room with a closed door, for a long time,” he said. “It was maddening.”

Barron was ill, with dizziness and imbalance. He sat in the dark – literally and figuratively – after months of inconclusive medical tests.

Barron, 49, finally received a diagnosis and underwent surgery in July. He’s now fit enough to rejoin the UMaine athletic department but not fit enough to coach yet.

The university announced Friday that Barron will be a temporary special assistant to Athletic Director Karlton Creech. Barron’s position will last through June 30, 2018. Barron will be paid $53,000, which was the portion of his salary that was not used after assistant coach Amy Vachon was promoted to interim head coach in Barron’s absence.

Barron’s future as a coach is still unclear.

“I’m still dealing with things, where it’s not sure whether I can get back to coaching,” he said.

But make no mistake about Barron’s desire …

“I’d love to get back to coaching,” he said.

The only impediments now are “hearing issues … I’m dealing with some deafness. It’s not completely resolved. But I’m feeling much better.

“The other issues were corrected with the surgery. I’m light years from my situation a year ago.”

A year ago, Barron began to feel dizzy. It became crippling and he announced his medical leave on Jan. 6. There was no timetable put on the leave but Barron was not improving.

“Disorientation, like a brain fog. I felt like I was falling,” he said.

He was also ultra-sensitive to sounds: “Clicking noises, a bag of potato chips … it would lay me out.”

The medical tests continued.

“A lot of guessing and a lot of speculation … a lot of rabbit holes,” Barron said. “Brain tumors were ruled out. The symptoms had some similarities to ALS, Lupus, MS … I just wished I knew.

“So frustrating. It was a pretty dark period.”

Barron finally received a diagnosis. He had a slight fracture in his skull above his inner right ear.

On July 13, at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, Barron underwent a craniotomy to repair the fracture.

“They cut a hole (where the fracture was) and then spackled in the hole,” he said.

He’s now almost fully recovered and ready for work.

“I couldn’t stay on disability pay forever, nor would I want to,” Barron said. “We spoke about what might be a way to return and contribute to the university.”

In Barron’s new role, he will help with fundraising and represent the athletic department at functions.

“Richard has many talents that will be able to support our community engagement efforts over the next few months,” Creech said in a press release, “to help grow the Alfond Fund and spread the positive message of UMaine Athletics.”

Barron came to Maine in 2011 to rebuild the women’s program. He guided the Black Bears to 23 wins in 2014-15 and 26 in 2015-16. Last year, under Barron and then Vachon, the Black Bears finished 18-16 with a second straight second-place finish in the America East tournament.

This year’s team is 4-3. Barron won’t coach this season. After that is unknown.

“We’ll play that by ear,” he said. “I don’t want my coming back to be disruptive.”

Barron, who is married with three children, aged 11 to 14, said if he returns to coach, it will be at Maine. He signed a contract extension almost two years ago that runs through 2020.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: @KevinThomasPPH

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