Ken Ralph has served as the director of athletics at the University of Maine for nearly four years. He will become the new AD at Southwestern University, a NCAA Division III school in Texas. University of Maine photo

Ken Ralph said he wasn’t actively looking to leave his job as the University of Maine’s director of athletics. But he did not hesitate when he saw a chance to apply for the job as athletic director at Southwestern University, an NCAA Division III school in Georgetown, Texas.

“It’s a school I know really well. I’ve been there dozens of times over the years. It’s a school I really admire,” Ralph said Monday after UMaine announced he will be leaving at the end of the month. “When Southwestern came open, it kind of took me by surprise. For some reason, I knew I wanted to put my name in for that. It happened very quickly.”

Ralph’s final day at UMaine will be Aug. 31, one day shy of his fourth anniversary as the school’s athletic director. He will begin his new job at Southwestern on Sept. 15.

UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy will name an interim director of athletics, and a nationwide search for Ralph’s replacement soon will be launched. The interim athletic director will be the eighth person, and third interim AD, to run Maine’s athletic department since 2003.

“We are looking at some (interim) possibilities and we will announce that as soon as we can,” said Ferrini-Mundy. “We’ve been very happy with Ken Ralph. He’s brought incredible energy as well as deep understanding of many complex issues in athletics.”

The new athletic director will be hired at a time of major capital enhancements at the university, the state’s only NCAA Division I school. UMaine is in the early stages of a long-term plan to upgrade athletic facilities on the campus, spearheaded by a $90 million gift from the Harold Alfond Foundation. As of last spring, an additional $3 million had been raised for the project, which includes new stadiums for the women’s soccer, field hockey and softball teams, as well as upgrades to the ice arena and construction of a new on-campus arena that will be the home of the men’s and women’s basketball programs.


The new softball facility is under construction. Plans for the new field hockey and women’s soccer stadiums are set to go before university officials for approval later this month, Ralph said, while design work for the other facilities is moving forward. Seth Woodcock, UMaine’s senior associate athletic director for development, has raised more six-figure donations for the project over the summer, Ralph said.

To Amy Vachon, UMaine’s women’s basketball coach, those facilities will be Ralph’s legacy with the Black Bears, along with hiring a handful of new head coaches, including Ben Barr (men’s hockey), Jordan Stevens (football), Chris Markwood (men’s basketball), and Jordan Fitzpatrick (softball).

“Obviously, the facilities plan is huge. (Ralph’s) hires, those are amazing hires,” Vachon said. “I think whoever comes in, the facilities are the most important thing they’ll take on.”

Ralph, 53, is nearing the end of the four-year contract with an annual salary of $214,000 that he signed when he started at UMaine on Sept. 1, 2018.

“(Southwestern University) actually is just an opportunity that came up. President Ferrini-Mundy had offered me a contract extension and had put it in front of me multiple times,” he said. “We were kind of working our way through some things, but she had put a four-year extension in front of me. It was very generous of her to do so. I’m quite appreciative of her support.”

Southwestern competes in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference, along with Colorado College, the school at which Ralph served for 11 years as director of athletics prior to coming to Maine. He also was the director of athletics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute from 2002-07. Both Colorado College and RPI compete primarily at the NCAA Division III level, but have Division I ice hockey programs.


The University of Maine athletic department has 95 employees and a budget of approximately $19 million. Maine has nearly 11,500 students and offers 15 varsity sports. Southwestern University is a private school with about 1,500 undergrads. It offers 20 varsity sports, including football, with an athletic department staff of 59 and a budget of $4.3 million.

Returning to a Division III school allows Ralph to build closer relationships with student athletes. That’s what he enjoys most about the job, he said.

“The biggest appeal is that my passion has always been on the student development side of things. Working with your students, being a part of their life, and really watching them grow and mature and kind of experience all that a school has to offer. In the Division III level, you get to do a lot more (of) that,” Ralph said.

“At the Division I level, so much of your effort and attention is focused externally, whether it’s with ticket buyers or donors or with alumni relations or with other philanthropic endeavors. This really gives me a chance to get back to what I enjoy most about being involved with college athletics.”

Along with his work to improve UMaine’s athletic facilities, Ralph signed Vachon to a four-year contract extension in 2021, bringing her salary in line with the coach of the men’s basketball program, a rarity in Division I college basketball. When Vachon’s contract ends, she’ll make $180,000 per year, making her the third-highest paid coach at Maine, behind only Stevens ($245,000) and Barr ($235,000), and matching Markwood.

“I really like where our coaching staff is right now. That means a lot to me, that we’ve got high quality, very accomplished people leading our students. The facilities piece had to happen,” Ralph said.


In his final weeks in Orono, Ralph plans to work with the interim AD to make sure the facilities’ projects progress smoothly.

“I don’t want to leave any loose ends. I don’t want to just go running out the door,” he said. “It’s important to me to leave in a very professional manner, to make sure all these initiatives we’ve been working on will continue, to help whoever the president names as an interim to get up to speed and make sure the department is ready for this coming year.”

Ferrini-Mundy said there is no timetable for the new hire.

“We’re eager to get it right, of course, so we will begin to assemble a committee and advisers and start speaking with people about the characteristics and description we want. Then we’ll have a better sense (of timing) after we have an ad in place … we’re getting started already today,” Ferrini-Mundy said.

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