ORONO, Maine — It took only one phone call for the University of Maine to find the man who eventually would become its next women’s basketball coach.
UMaine athletic director Steve Abbott announced Monday that veteran coach Richard Barron has been hired to direct the Black Bears program.
Barron, who spent the last two seasons as an assistant coach at North Carolina State, replaces Clinton native and former UMaine All-American Cindy Blodgett, who was fired March 29 after four seasons and a 24-94 overall record.
“Richard has a fantastic resume and a great combination of experiences,” Abbott said. “In addition to his outstanding resume and his great background, he has a tremendous vision for how to build the program and the belief that Maine can field a great basketball team again.”
The 42-year-old Barron, who interviewed in Orono on April 29, has agreed to a five-year contract that will pay him $110,000 per year. The deal is contingent upon the approval of University of Maine System Chancellor Richard Pattenaude.
If Barron were to leave before the five years are up, his buyout would require him to pay UMaine one year’s salary, Abbott said.
Gardner-Webb head women’s coach Rick Reeves was the only other candidate for the UMaine job to interview on campus.
Barron, who will be introduced Tuesday during a 4 p.m. press conference in UMaine’s Memorial Gym, becomes the 10th women’s coach in UMaine history. He is the third man to hold the position, joining James Baldwin, who was 0-2 from 1920 to 1922, and Peter Gavett (106-37, 1983-88).
Barron, who was en route to Orono and unavailable for comment, boasts an extensive coaching resume that includes 11 seasons as a head coach (with a 151-139 overall record) and eight more as an assistant.
His name arose when Robert Cobb, the chairman of UMaine’s selection committee, began his inquiries by making a call to Baylor University athletic director Ian McCaw, a former UMaine athletic administrator and Northeastern University athletic director.
McCaw recommended Barron, who spent two seasons (2007-09) as the recruiting coordinator at Baylor. He helped land the nation’s top prospect, Brittney Griner, in 2008.
“He made a very big contribution here as a coach, as a recruiter,” McCaw said Monday. “He’s very intelligent and has a great presence about him. He will surround himself with high-quality people, both assistant coaches and student-athletes. I think he will launch the University of Maine women’s basketball program on a rapid upward trajectory.”
“That was Bob’s experience to reach out to that UMaine network and the people that have been there,” Abbott said of making the initial phone call.
Barron arrived in Waco after spending six seasons as the head women’s coach at Princeton. He guided the Tigers to a 74-91 record and the 2006 Ivy League title. With Princeton, Barron inherited a team that went 2-25 before his arrival but had an 11-16 record during his first season (2001-02).
“He’s coached at the highest levels of college basketball,” Abbott said. “He turned around the program at Princeton, a Division I program that when he inherited it, had the third-worst RPI [Rating Percentage Index] in the country. When he left, they were in the top 100.”
UMaine ended last season ranked No. 334 of 343 Division I programs in the RPI, the statistical measurement used by the NCAA to help determine postseason at-large bids and tournament seedings.
Barron made a great impression when he met with UMaine team members during his visit.
“All that we talked about were positive things and that he would have a positive effect on this team and on this program,” said senior Samantha Wheeler, who sat out most of last season with postconcussion symptoms. “We had that mindset that he is exactly what we were looking for. “
Wheeler said Barron’s focus was on doing whatever he can to help the players gel and win.
“He wants to be here for us,” said Wheeler, who along with classmates Brittany Williams and Samantha Baranowski were liaisons to the search committee. “It’s all about us and focusing on our goals for next year. He answered the questions that we had, exactly how we hoped he would. He definitely left a great impression with us.”
Wheeler also expressed the team’s collective appreciation for being allowed to participate in the search.
“It was good that we did have a say in [choosing] the new coach,” she said. “I think it was really helpful for the committee to know what we were expecting in a coach. They did a very good job.”
Abbott praised the search committee for its work in processing 70 applications and identifying the top candidates in three weeks.
“I’m delighted with the work of the committee,” said Abbott , who pointed out each of the seven members reviewed all 70 applications. “They took the mission seriously.”
Abbott said UMaine had numerous quality applicants and that many of them happened to be men.
“Our policy at the University of Maine is that we take the best applicant for any job and that includes a job in athletics,” he said.
Barron began his coaching career at The University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., where he was an assistant coach with the men’s program before leading the women for five seasons (1996-2001), posting a 77-48 mark.
Barron is a Tennessee native who played basketball and baseball at Kenyon College in Ohio. He graduated cum laude in 1991 with a degree in biology.
He and his wife, Maureen, have twin daughters, 7, and a 4-year-old son. Maureen Barron is the former head softball coach at Princeton, where her teams went 195-149-1 from 2001 to 2007.
Barron succeeds Blodgett , who took over for Ann McInerney in 2007. Her teams routinely finished at or near the bottom of the America East standings and lost first-round playoff games in each of her four seasons.
Former UMaine athletic director Blake James had extended Blodgett’s contract for two years through the 2012-13 season before he left last September for a job at the University of Miami. UMaine went 5-24 last winter.
Blodgett’s firing marked the second time in five years a UMaine women’s coach left before her contract expired. McInerney stepped down in May 2007 with one year remaining on her deal but was paid for that year. McInerney resigned shortly after a traffic stop by police during which she gave a false name to a police officer while a passenger in the car of then assistant coach Kathy Karlsson, who was arrested for OUI.
The women’s basketball team rose to prominence during the 1990s. Blodgett was the catalyst during the heyday (1995-98) and her 3,005 points ranked fifth in Division I women’s history at the time of her graduation. She still holds 20 UMaine basketball records.
Blodgett also is the all-time leading scorer in Maine schoolgirl basketball history with 2,596 points and sparked Lawrence High of Fairfield to four consecutive Class A titles.
Blodgett’s coach at UMaine, Joanne Palombo-McCallie, went on to coach Michigan State and now is the head coach at Duke, which last season lost to No. 1 Connecticut in the NCAA Elite Eight.
Sharon Versyp took over for Palombo-McCallie and kept UMaine at or near the top of its conference until her departure in 2005 to coach at Indiana University.