The University of Maine expects to have an outstanding list of applicants from which to choose as it embarks on the search to replace fired women’s basketball head coach Cindy Blodgett.
Even so, the university will be competing with numerous Division I programs that are looking for coaches in the wake of the 2010-11 season.
On the Division I level alone, there has been considerable turnover since the start of the season, which officially ended Tuesday night at Indianapolis with the national championship game between Notre Dame and Texas A&M. No fewer than 20 Division I programs are advertising for a head coach.
At this juncture, UMaine must be considered a lower-level “mid-major” program. The Black Bears compete in the America East Conference, which this season ranked a lowly 29th among 31 Division I leagues in the Rating Percentage Index, the statistical measure used to help select teams for NCAA tournament play and seedings.
UMaine’s RPI of 335 was among the worst in the country this season as only eight schools ranked lower than the Bears. Two of the coaching vacancies are at schools with lower RPIs, those being Texas State (336) and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (337).
Among 19 Division I head coaching openings gleaned from a variety of published sources through Tuesday, nine of the programs had an RPI of 317 or worse, placing them among the bottom eight percent of all teams at that level.
At 335, UMaine is in the lowest three percent. The average RPI of teams seeking head coaches is 243.
The most attractive openings at present would appear to be Xavier, UCLA and Wisconsin, although there are numerous other vacancies at schools such as New Mexico State, North Carolina-Greensboro, High Point, Tulsa, Winthrop, Illinois-Chicago and Weber State.
A common thread at many of the schools seeking coaches is the need to rebuild. That could be achieved with an energetic, enthusiastic coach capable of rallying his or her team and the local community.
Or it might be a coach with outstanding teaching knowledge, polished game tactics and a strong recruiting network.
“You need somebody who is going to bring the enthusiasm back to the program, somebody that can lift it up,” UMaine athletics director Steve Abbott said recently.
“Another thing is you need somebody who appreciates and respects the tradition of the program and has that drive and determination to return it to where it was,” he said.
UMaine, which is expected to offer a salary in the $110,000-$115,000 range, likely will be on the lower end of the Division I pay scale. Where the program might prove more attractive than other schools is the well-established fan base and support system headed up by the Friends of Maine Women’s Basketball.
Even having endured four consecutive losing seasons and a 24-94 record under former coach Cindy Blodogett, UMaine averaged 1,259 fans (tickets issued) last season. That ranked third in America East behind Binghamton (1,515) and league champion Hartford (1,327).
The other factor that could play a role in attracting candidates to Orono is the continued fundraising effort to renovate Memorial Gymnasium. The prospect of a cozier, basketball-only facility compared to Alfond Arena could help prospective coaches overlook the aging surroundings of Memorial Gymnasium and the adjacent field house.
With Vermont (Lori Gear McBride), New Hampshire (Maureen Magarity) and Albany (Katie Abrahamson Henderson) having replaced their coaches prior to the 2010-11 season, there is only one head coaching vacancy in America East other than UMaine. Stony Brook coach Michele Cherry stepped down during the regular season and was replaced on an interim basis by Evelyn Thompson.
UMaine’s only stipulation in terms of coaching experience is three years at the collegiate level. It does not specify anything about what division (I, II, III or other). That will enable the search committee to entertain offers from a wide variety of coaches with diverse experiences.
Former UMaine finalists working
When Blodgett was hired at UMaine in 2007, the search committee at the time identified three other finalists for the women’s basketball coaching position.
They were North Carolina-Asheville head coach Betsy Blose, University of California assistant Lindsay Gottlieb and former Illinois associate head coach Marsha Frese.
Here’s a brief update on what those coaches have done since 2007.
Blose has remained at UNC-Asheville, where her teams have compiled a 42-78 record (.350) over the last four seasons.
Gottlieb, who had been part of a resurgence with Cal, has been the head coach at California-Santa Barbara for the last three seasons. Her teams have gone 56-39 (.589), including a Big West Conference title and an NCAA tournament berth in 2009.
Frese has remained a career assistant. She completed a six-year stint at Illinois in 2009, then worked at Ball State during 2009-10. Last winter, she was the associate head coach at Northern Illinois.