WATERVILLE — Jack Cosgrove got lost at Colby College recently. He took a walk along the Quarry Road Trails on campus and soon realized he had no idea where he was. His daily walk turned into a nearly two-hour trek.

“But I set a Cosgrove record for phone calls to prospects and recruits,” he said, smiling. “Twenty-two in one night.”

Such is Jack Cosgrove’s life these days as he acclimates himself to a new job, a new campus, a new direction. Cosgrove, the head football coach at the University of Maine for 23 years before retiring in 2015, is now the football coach at Colby, a Division III program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2005 and won only one game a year ago.

His arrival has not only brought excitement to the program but rejuvenated the 62-year-old Cosgrove, who spent the last two years working in an administrative position in Orono.

“The feeling I have now, the closest I’ve come to that in the last 10 years is the 2011 and 2013 seasons (when Maine qualified for the NCAA playoffs),” Cosgrove said while sitting in his sparsely decorated office. “Those were special years in our program. That’s what you’re in this for, the experiences we shared there. That’s when the levels of excitement and enthusiasm are at their highest.

“I feel I have that type of energy now. There’s a sense of rejuvenation in this opportunity.”

That feeling extends to his assistant coaches and players at Colby.

“I see the energy he has as a person,” said Shane Normandeau, a senior offensive lineman and co-captain for the Mules. “Being around him reinvigorates you. If you’re having a bad day and run into him, he’ll pick you up.”

His new job isn’t without adjustments. Having coached at the NCAA Division I level for 29 years, Cosgrove was used to doing things a certain way. He had more coaches and players, many of whom were on athletic scholarships. His teams flew to some away games and he went on the road to recruit. At Division III Colby, a member of the New England Small College Athletic Conference, rules are different. Rosters and staffs are smaller, recruiting is done from campus.

And then there’s summer. At UMaine players stay in Orono for summer workouts. At Colby the players left campus in May, and Cosgrove and his coaches have had no contact with them other than phone calls or emails. The players will return to campus on Saturday with the first practice two days later.

“They’re all home, so you’re counting on them, really, to be responsible and accountable to the commitment they made to each other when we broke here,” said Cosgrove. “We gave them a summer program. Are they continuing to do the things we saw and came to expect from them in the winter and the spring? I thought we made a much stronger commitment to the weight room and the training requirements to actually play this game.

“We had a test day (in May) and I was really excited. We ran a conditioning test and everyone passed it. I thought I saw guys physically bigger and stronger and faster. I know their self-esteem went up. I know that the team came together and that the camaraderie and spirit of the team had grown. That was while we were together. They’ve been gone a while, and what’s it going to be like? Are they going to come back and test the same way they did in May?”

It’s a question Cosgrove can’t wait to have answered. “The potential is there,” he said.

changing the culture

Cosgrove’s arrival signals a new beginning at Colby. The football offices are getting a fresh coat of paint. A new computer program has been installed to break down video – similar to the one Cosgrove used at UMaine. It will allow coaches to share footage more easily with players, who can view it on laptops, phones or tablets. The system includes a feature that shows who has been watching film and when, so the coaches will know who’s prepared and who isn’t.

The school has redesigned the Colby football helmet, replacing the ‘C’ on the side with a mule that was designed by head equipment manager Rob Quinn. Cosgrove loves the mule. He believes his players should embrace the school’s mascot.

The new coach actually researched the mule. “When I was at Maine, I was a Black Bear and I knew what a black bear was,” he said. “If you’re going to be a Mule, you better know what it is.”

He said its characteristics are perfect for a football team: highly intelligent, strong, patient, durable, resilient, sure-footed and trustworthy (if you treat it well).

But Cosgrove knows that any new beginning needs to include a new attitude. Colby has gone 2-6, 1-7, 3-5 and 1-8 the last four years. The Mules open this season at home on Sept. 15 against Trinity, the defending NESCAC champion.

“It’s a monumental challenge,” said Cosgrove. “And it really starts with believing we can win that game. That’s where it starts, preparing our players to believe they can win.”

The belief at Colby is Cosgrove can do that. Tom Dexter is entering his 30th season as an assistant coach at Colby. He has great respect for the three head coaches he’s worked for – Tom Austin, Ed Mestieri and Jonathan Michaeles – but said Cosgrove brings something special to the program.

“I think it’s the presence that is Jack Cosgrove,” said Dexter, the wide receivers coach. “He’s such a dynamic, inspirational person. He seems to bring a proven leadership that people will really follow.

“He inspires young men. It’s been his life’s passion. You can tell he’s really polished at it and he’s bringing it to our campus.”

Cosgrove’s effect on the players became apparent soon after he was hired. He began the job Jan. 8 and immediately wanted to get involved in the offseason program. Problem is, NESCAC rules prohibit supervised workouts in the offseason. So he spoke to the team captains, who took the lead.

“Actually it was a big-time players’ movement that we decided that we wanted to take control of this, work hard and set expectations higher than they were in the past,” said Normandeau, who played at Kennebunk High. “It was a testament to the whole team … we held ourselves to a higher level of accountability and higher expectations than past offseasons. Coach Cosgrove told us in one of our first meetings that if we wanted to change our results, we had to change our way.”

While Cosgrove frets about whether the players have continued their workouts in the summer, Normandeau said he needn’t worry. Players have not only maintained their individual workouts, but he said they got together in groups in Massachusetts and New Jersey to work out, watch film and prepare for the fall.

“Part of it is that the players are excited to be playing for him,” said the 6-foot-4, 300-pound Normandeau. “They realize he has Division I levels of expectations that we want to live up to. It’s a testament to the players that they’re buying into what he wants.”

Defensive coordinator Sean Conerly said the players’ excitement is tangible. “We’ve had more contact with our kids, through emails or phone calls, than ever before because the kids are reaching out to us,” he said. “They’re excited to talk about how excited they are to work out and get back on campus.”

THIS IS HOME

Cosgrove grew up in Sharon, Massachusetts, where he was a three-sport star in football, hockey and baseball. He never expected to become rooted in Maine.

“Growing up an Irish-Catholic kid in a suburb of Boston, you don’t stray far from home,” he said.

Cosgrove initially accepted a scholarship offer to play football at the University of Massachusetts under Dick MacPherson, but his high school coach persuaded him to visit Maine. He and his father, also named Jack, made the trip up and young Jack was hooked. “The biggest thing that impacted me was attending a basketball game at The Pit,” he said. “It was a Friday night. I was blown away by it. I thought this was so cool.”

He played quarterback for the Black Bears from 1974-77, twice earning second-team Yankee Conference honors. Then he returned home to Massachusetts to coach football at Stoughton High for four years. From there he went to Boston College as an assistant. Then in 1987 he returned to Orono as an assistant coach and never left. He and his wife, Marilyn, raised four children in Bangor and never wanted to go anywhere else.

“We prefer trees over traffic,” he said. “It got to the point where I was saying ‘no’ to jobs. People thought I had lost my mind. We put a high value on our quality of life.”

The quality of football at Maine had “peaks and valleys,” he said. He became head coach in 1993 and led the Black Bears to five NCAA playoff appearances and a 129-135 career record. Three times he was named conference coach of the year. Four of his players were drafted by the NFL, including Jamil Demby, drafted last April by the Los Angeles Rams. Another dozen played in the NFL as undrafted free agents, the latest being Pat Ricard, a two-way player for the Baltimore Ravens.

But over his last few seasons, Cosgrove began to question what he was doing and knew he had to stop coaching. So in November 2015, two days after a 3-8 season ended with a 22-6 loss to New Hampshire, he stepped down.

“I think I just needed to be away from it,” he said. “The coaching at Maine, everybody knows it’s a tough job – do more with less. I think the biggest thing that wore me down was the travel. Because we could not fly, the recruiting trips to Pittsburgh, D.C., Richmond, and you know the value of recruiting and how well we did it, they were all done by car. Buffalo. Those are 12-hour drives.”

He felt worn down.

“I didn’t like the guy in the mirror,” he said. “I’ve always felt that I was a husband and a father and a coach, in that order. And I think at times I wasn’t being the guy I wanted to be as a husband and a father. And it’s because that’s the commitment you have to make to be successful at Maine.”

After retiring, he moved into an administrative position and liked what he was doing, helping develop and promote the football program. He wanted his successor, Joe Harasymiak, to be able to coach and not worry about that other stuff.

But last fall something changed. He started to miss the interaction with the athletes.

“I had recovered from feeling worn out, my health was better, and I was spending more time with my wife and family,” he said. “And what do I do? I think about football.”

His wife, Marilyn, wasn’t surprised.

“Coaching is his thing, he’s so good at it,” she said. “It’s just in his blood and it’s what he does. I think this situation couldn’t have come at a better time and couldn’t have been a better opportunity for him. He was ready to get back into coaching.”

The position at Colby came open when Michaeles resigned in December. Cosgrove didn’t give the job a second thought, at least not until he started getting calls from one of his former players, Dave Cusano, who is now the track coach at Colby. Cusano was on the search committee at Colby and first called for advice about how to approach the search, then called because many of the candidates were using Cosgrove as a reference.

And then one night, Cosgrove thought to himself, “Why don’t I apply?”

His wife agreed, so he did. Two days later he was in for an interview. After, as he drove north to Bangor, he said to himself, “I really want that job.”

Cosgrove was hired Dec. 29 and started less than two weeks later. He bought a condominium a couple miles from his office and his life revolves around Colby football right now. Marilyn has remained in their Bangor home, spending the summer with two of their children, Matthew and Sydni, who is finishing up her senior year at Maine. “We see each other plenty,” she said.

Cosgrove believes his time in administration has made him a better football coach. He knows how important it is to get all facets of the campus behind the program, especially the faculty. “I’m trying to learn about the Colby culture,” he said.

Cosgrove knows that he’s going from Division I to Division III but doesn’t see it as a step down.

“I’m coaching football,” he said. “Football is the same game.”

Yes, there are many differences. At Maine he had 10 assistant coaches. At Colby he has seven assistants, including five holdovers from Michaeles’ staff and Mark Snyder, who played for the Mules last year. Cosgrove wanted that continuity. “I felt I have a lot to learn from them,” said Cosgrove. “They’re a great resource.”

He’s trying to get students involved in videotaping and analytics.

Maine’s roster is bigger, 95 players to 75 for Colby. And Division I schools can redshirt freshmen who aren’t quite ready to play at that level. At Colby, freshmen are expected to contribute immediately.

Colby has 17 fewer preseason practices than Maine to get ready for its opener. “Including spring football, there’s about 27 more opportunities (at Maine),” said Cosgrove. “That’s a big difference. We’re playing the same game so we’ve got to figure out a way to get ready.”

The academic standards at Colby are higher, limiting his pool of recruits. And NESCAC rules prohibit coaches from going on the road to recruit. It’s all done via email, phone or by inviting recruits to campus. Once a student gets on campus, Cosgrove said, “This place sells itself in a lot of ways.”

But, as Cosgrove said, despite the differences, football is football.

He still looks for the same three traits in every player he’s recruiting: attitude, effort and discipline. Those are the same traits his father, who drove a milk delivery truck, taught him when he was young, when his dad was his youth sports coach. “He loved athletics,” Cosgrove said. “He saw the value in the things I talk about today.”

HIGH HOPES

Cusano, who played safety for Cosgrove at UMaine, peeks in the head coach’s office almost daily now, a little star-struck that he is now coaching in the same building as his mentor. He already sees a difference in how the football players act on campus, how they treat others.

“He brings a professionalism to the job,” said Cusano.

More than that, Cusano believes Cosgrove will benefit the athletic department.

“All these coaches here, regardless of the sport, now have this juggernaut in the department to bounce ideas off,” said Cusano. “Coaching situations, fundraising situations, disciplinary situations, organizational situations.”

Cosgrove knows there are going to be those who expect immediate results, that a former Division I coach should win immediately at Division III. He shrugs. Watching film, he said, he now realizes how good NESCAC is. He compared its level of play to that of the Yankee Conference in the 1970s, in which he played.

“I don’t know how long it’s going to take to get there,” he said of high expectations. “But we’re going to work real hard to get there as soon as possible.

“Early on my inspiration has been the attitude I’ve seen. How soon we’ll get there, I can’t answer that. But it will always be the goal to win, with a boldness to it.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

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Twitter: MikeLowePPH