Chris McLaughlin played football under Jack Cosgrove at the University of Maine in the late 1990s. When McLaughlin saw him at a Black Bears game in November, he knew the former coach wanted to be back on the sidelines.

“You could tell he missed coaching,” said McLaughlin, a Gardiner native who now lives in Bowdoinham. “This is in his blood.”

Cosgrove, the career leader in football victories at UMaine, coached the Black Bears for 23 seasons before stepping down in 2015 to take an administrative post in the school’s athletic department. On Friday, it was announced he will become the new football coach at Colby College in Waterville. His new job starts on Jan. 8.

“My pace slowed down the last two years, and I guess I was able to get a chance to evaluate what I wanted to do,” Cosgrove said. “I enjoyed what I was doing, but I felt like something was missing, and that was the interaction on a bigger scale, a team-wide scale that I get from the game of football. … It’s got me feeling young again.”

The Black Bears won three conference championships and made five NCAA postseason appearances under Cosgrove, who won a school-record 129 games.

He will take over a struggling Colby program that finished 1-8 this season under Jonathan Michaeles, who resigned earlier this month after six years. Colby went 14-35 under Michaeles, whose lone victory this fall came again in the final game against rival Bowdoin.

Cosgrove’s hire is the latest in a series of moves Colby has made to enhance its athletic programs. The school announced in April that it will build a $200 million athletic center that will include the state’s only Olympic-sized swimming pool. The 350,000-foot complex is slated to open in 2020.

“I was completely taken by Colby College and their overwhelming presentation and desire to pursue excellence,” he said. “I came away really impressed and was hoping they would offer me the job. It was an opportunity to get back to doing something I truly loved, I truly missed.”

He’ll have work to do. Colby, an NCAA Division III program, hasn’t won a New England Small College Athletic Conference championship since earning a share of the title in 2000. The Mules posted runner-up finishes in 2004 and ’05 but have declined in the standings since, last reaching .500 in 2013.

The hope is that Cosgrove will lead a similar turnaround to what he achieved at Division I Maine. His first team in 1993 finished 0-11; by 2001 and 2002, Maine advanced to the NCAA playoffs.

“Jack’s extensive experience, energy, and proven success make him the right person to lead Colby football into a new era,” Colby athletic director Jake Olkkola said in a press release.

Former Maine football coach and athletic director Walt Abbott said the facility upgrades – and landing Cosgrove as a coach – show Colby is serious about become a prestigious athletic program.

“Bringing Jack on board will be nothing but an asset to the football department, no question,” said Abbott, the Black Bears’ coach from 1967-75 and athletic director from 1991-92 and 1994-95. “I think Colby’s a great football job, I really do, with all the facilities and the positive direction they’re heading.”

Colby sophomore Jack O’Brien, the team’s starting quarterback this fall, said he hadn’t heard about Cosgrove’s hire until the school made its announcement Friday.

“My phone’s been running over with all my teammates calling me and me texting them and whatnot. There’s a buzz about it,” he said. “We’ll see what he brings, and we’re going to be excited to get it going and see what he has in store for us.

Kennebunk’s Shane Normandeau, a junior offensive lineman and captain, was on the Colby search committee and said he was “blown away” during Cosgrove’s interview.

“I was ecstatic,” he said. “Just the presence he has, the way he carries himself. … I think everything’s looking up. These are very exciting times. The name ‘Coach Cosgrove’ carries some weight, especially within Maine.”

Cosgrove reached out to his former players, including McLaughlin, on Friday morning with the news. McLaughlin said Colby will quickly enjoy a recruiting edge over their conference rivals.

“This is a game-changer,” he said. “Because of his connections and his history, those alone will change the recruitment landscape considerably. This is going to create some serious ripples. Colby is getting a good one.”

Mark Harriman, the head coach at Bates College, agreed.

“It’s great for Colby and I think for football in the state of Maine,” Harriman said. “You’re bringing in a guy who’s been there and done that in a lot of different ways, and that’s going to make all of us kind of sit up and take notice.”

Harriman met Cosgrove in 1980 when he was a graduate assistant in Orono.

“I think he’s a dynamic leader,” he said. “When he’s speaking with people he commands attention. Obviously his track record at Maine is a given, but I think it’s the intangible of him being someone you can just tell has a passion for what he’s doing.”

Cosgrove played quarterback at UMaine in the 1970s, graduating from the school with a bachelor’s degree in 1978 and a master’s degree in educational administration 1981 in while serving as a graduate assistant coach with the football team. He and his wife, Marilyn, have four adult children, all of whom attended UMaine. Cosgrove earned $102,000 in his position with the Maine athletic department during the 2016-17 school year.

Central Maine Newspapers Sports Editor Bill Stewart contributed to this report.