Two of the most successful women’s basketball coaches in Maine history returned Friday to the positions in which they carved their respective niches.
Gary Fifield is back at the helm of the University of Southern Maine program, while his former assistant coach and successor, Mike McDevitt, has accepted the head coaching job at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish.
The schools made their respective announcements Friday, even coordinating the men’s media availability so as not to conflict with each other.
Fifield retired as the Huskies’ coach last September — as the most successful Division III women’s coach in NCAA history with an .863 winning percentage — after 21 seasons to move into full-time administration as USM’s associate director of athletics.
He directed Southern Maine to a 541-86 overall record, including five appearances in the NCAA Division III Final Four (three championship games), 20 NCAA tournament berths and 17 Little East Conference championships.
“Nine months ago, I [wouldn’t] have thought we’d be back here,” Fifield said at a Friday press conference.
“The year away gave me a chance to reflect and re-energize and to see what I missed,” he explained. “The biggest thing I missed was the relationships with the players, helping them grow, and teaching the game and being at practices.”
Fifield was replaced on an interim basis by McDevitt, who last winter led USM to a 22-7 record, the LEC crown and an NCAA tourney spot.
“He was a tremendous asset to me for five years,” Fifield said. He did a great job with the team last year. I know this was a very difficult decision for him.”
USM had completed its university-mandated search for Fifield’s successor recently when Saint Joseph’s asked to speak with McDevitt about its vacancy. Deb Reardon resigned last month after guiding the Monks to a 65-65 record over the last five seasons.
“[McDevitt] was clearly our top candidate,” said USM athletic director Al Bean, who had offered him the job, but had to prepare for his possible departure.
“[Fifield] and I had a conversation about the [USM] program and moving forward, and about his possible interest in coming back,” Bean said in a press release. “We had that in the back of our minds.”
McDevitt chose Saint Joseph’s.
He has deep ties to the school. The Ellsworth native guided the Monks women to a 326-117 record (.736) from 1987-2003. He had starred at Saint Joseph’s as a player, graduating in 1983 with 1,381 points (11th in SJC history) and 674 rebounds (8th).
“I’m very excited to return to Saint Joseph’s College,” said McDevitt, whose daughter Megan will be a sophomore at the school in the fall. She also is a member of the basketball team.
“I have so many great memories from my years there; St. Joe’s holds a special place in my heart,” he said in a release.
Megan McDevitt, the oldest of Mike and Margaret McDevitt’s three children, averaged 5.3 points in 14.9 minutes per game as a reserve last season.
The McDevitts, who live in Cumberland Center, had split their time last winter between USM and Saint Joseph’s.
“The family part of it, when I talked to him [Friday], was the overriding thing,” Elfring said. “His wife would come to see our game and his mother would be over watching his daughter play [at Saint Joseph’s]. He didn’t get to see her play too many games.”
Fifield is among the winningest coaches in NCAA Division III history. Only Len Barmore of Louisiana Tech owns a higher career winning percentage (.869).
Through 2007-08, the Vermont native’s .863 career winning percentage ranked first among Division III coaches with five or more years experience and his 541 career victories were seventh among active coaches. His USM teams won 20 or more games in each of his 21 seasons, extending the program’s Division III record to 28 straight campaigns.
Fifield was named the WBCA Division III National Coach of the Year in 2005 was the LEC’s top coach 13 times.
McDevitt was an assistant under Fifield for five seasons during which the Huskies went 144-14 (.923) with five LEC crowns, four “Sweet Sixteen” appearances and two “Final Four” berths.
At Saint Joseph’s, McDevitt’s teams claimed seven conference championships and qualified seven times for the NAIA National Tournament. Through last season, he ranked 19th among active Div. III coaches with a .734 winning percentage and was 37th in career wins.
He was a five-time league coach of the year and served as an assistant with the men’s program for two seasons before taking over the women.
“This is a great day for women’s basketball at Saint Joseph’s College,” Monks AD Brian Curtin said in a press release. “Mike is a highly respected coach with a long history of success. He possesses a special passion for Saint Joseph’s and we know he will lead the program to great things.”
Saint Joseph’s and Southern Maine are scheduled to play Nov. 29 in Standish. In the meantime, Elfring said McDevitt and Fifield are likely to play a friendly round of golf together soon and probably will share rides to do some summer recruiting.