While the University of Maine announced Monday that former women’s basketball coach Richard Barron was taking over the men’s program, the origin of such a move seemingly began last summer.

Men’s basketball coach Bob Walsh was entering the final year of his four-year contract. He lacked an extension – a signal his job might be in jeopardy after guiding the Black Bears to an 18-74 record in three seasons.

Meanwhile, Athletic Director Karlton Creech and Barron were discussing Barron’s options at Maine, including coaching the men’s team. Barron was on extended medical leave at the time.

“Something we discussed, but obviously hypothetical,” Barron said by phone Monday. “We talked about it for some time now – at least the possibility.”

The possibility became reality Monday. Barron, 49, will receive a five-year contract as the school’s new men’s basketball coach, with an annual starting salary of $160,000. He takes over a program that has never appeared in the NCAA tournament and has lost its last 14 games in the annual America East Conference playoffs.

“Richard Barron has an impressive track record of success throughout his career,” Creech said in a press release. “Richard’s previous success as our women’s basketball coach makes him uniquely qualified to understand what it takes to build a program here at UMaine.”

Bob Walsh

And while the university press release stated that Walsh “did not seek a contract extension,” there were no indications he would have been offered one. His final season ended Saturday when the Black Bears lost at Vermont in the America East quarterfinals to finish 6-26.

“The university would like to thank Bob Walsh for his hard work and dedication to the men’s basketball program,” Creech said in the press release, though he declined media interviews Monday. “Coach Walsh’s teams achieved academically while showing great toughness and perseverance on the court. We wish him the best moving forward.”

Monday’s announcement comes at a time of significant changes for UMaine athletics. Creech is in his final week at the school, preparing to take a similar position at the University of Denver starting May 1. On Friday, Maine announced Amy Vachon as the new head coach of its women’s basketball program, after she served as the interim coach while Barron was on medical leave.

A women’s basketball coach making the switch to a men’s program is unusual at the NCAA Division I level. One of the few examples is LaSalle’s Speedy Morris, who moved after two years as the women’s coach (1984-86) to becoming the school’s men’s coach for 15 years.

Barron has been coaching women’s teams since 1996, when he became head coach of the Division III University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, after four years as an assistant with the men’s team.

While Barron will have to make new recruiting contacts, the coaching won’t change much.

“Part of what we run will be determined by what we’re best at,” he said.

Barron has succeeded in rebuilding programs at the University of the South and then Princeton. He served as an assistant at Baylor and North Carolina State before taking over Maine in 2011, replacing Cindy Blodgett, who was 24-94 in four years.

Under Barron, Maine struggled for two seasons, became winners in his third year, then won 50 games over the next two seasons (2014-16). He was named the America East Coach of the Year in 2015.

Barron transformed the 2016-17 team with a stellar class of international recruits but didn’t finish the season. Extreme dizziness and disorientation forced him to take a leave. After months of medical tests, a slight fracture was discovered in his skull above his inner right ear. He underwent surgery on July 13 to repair the fracture.

Other than some deafness in his right ear, the surgery eliminated Barron’s other symptoms.

Barron was on medical leave from Jan. 6 to Dec. 1, 2017, when he returned to the school as a temporary assistant to Creech. At the time, Barron said, “I’d love to get back to coaching … (but) I don’t want my coming back to be disruptive.”

Maine’s 24-100 record under Walsh was the worst stretch over four years in program history. He said his greatest challenge was the lack of funding.

“I don’t think geography is a huge challenge. It’s support,” Walsh said in a phone interview. “Because of geography, travel cost more, recruiting cost more.

“There are some things that certainly need to be looked at and need to be addressed as far as infrastructure, if men’s basketball is to have a chance.”

Maine has been hurt by players transferring to other programs – five in 2016, four last year. This year’s 16-player roster had only two seniors, neither of them a starter. Among the returning players is 6-foot-7 sophomore starting forward Andrew Fleming of South Paris and Oxford Hills High.

“I came to Maine wanting to play for Coach Walsh,” Fleming said. “It’s kind of upsetting that I won’t play for him for the next two years.”

When Walsh did not get a contract extension last year, “it was something that was hard not to pay attention to,” said Fleming, who felt the team was improving despite the record.

“Anyone who watched us play this past season saw us compete.”

Barron met with the players on Monday.

“He was excited to be our coach but he knew it was tough for us,” Fleming said. “I’m excited but I loved playing for Coach Walsh.”