The next athletic director at the University of Maine faces many challenges, from the economy that has touched all parts of society to finding a way to make Black Bear teams more successful.
UMaine’s ability to cope with those challenges produced mixed results at best under outgoing AD Blake James, who announced this week he was leaving that post to return to the University of Miami as senior associate athletic director for external affairs.
Several athletic facilities were improved, among them the baseball field, field hockey complex and new artificial turf on the football field.
Maine’s student-athletes also fared well in the student part of that equation, receiving numerous awards from both the university and the conference.
But the student side of an athletic program is highlighted only when the athletic side is struggling, and as for the athletic side at Maine these days — well, not so good.
The hockey team’s resurgence last winter was a hopeful sign, and the football team is just one year removed from qualifying for the playoffs in arguably the most competitive Football Championship Series league in the country.
But overall, trips to the NCAA playoffs have been fairly rare in recent years, surely not often enough given that America East isn’t exactly the SEC.
And if you’re going to invest millions into an athletic program, competing for championships must the primary goal — otherwise just invest the money directly into academics.
What the university’s athletic department seemingly has lacked in recent years is a passionate leader, one who can motivate not only others within the department but alumni who retain an emotional attachment to the program, the citizens who provide support through their tax dollars, and the future generations of student-athletes who need to see the program as an destination to pursue success both on and off the field.
It needs someone who doesn’t love the University of Maine because it provides them a paycheck, but someone who loves the University of Maine for the possibilities it offers anyone willing to put in the effort.
Jack Cosgrove quickly comes to mind. He graduated from the University of Maine, played quarterback for the Black Bears, and now is in his 18th year as head coach of the football team at his alma mater.
With the recruiting odds against him because of geographic realities as well as the small high school football-playing pool in state, he has continued to find the diamonds in the rough who have enabled Maine to remain near the upper echelon of the Colonial Athletic Association and earn its share of trips to the NCAAs.
Cosgrove knows what UMaine has done for him and his family in terms of carving out a quality life in his adopted state. He wants to be here, so it’s easy for him to sell all that UMaine offers to others.
Ask him today if he’s interested in the AD job, and his response is simple: “I’m the football coach.”
But with the new football season drawing near, that’s what he should say because he is the football coach right now and a permanent replacement for James may be a year or more away given that the university is about to start another search to replace outgoing president Robert Kennedy.
But once football season is over, there’s time for Cosgrove to more actively pursue the job if he wants. The university, national searches and all, should pursue him, too.
For the University of Maine athletic department needs a dose of passion, passion that would come naturally from Jack Cosgrove.