It was easy to make comparisons between Richard Barron and the late Shawn Walsh, the legendary former University of Maine hockey coach, when Barron was introduced as the new head women’s basketball coach at Memorial Gymnasium in Orono Tuesday.
Like Walsh, he was charismatic, witty and extremely well-prepared.
He had done his homework. He knows exactly what he is getting into. He also exhibited a convincing confidence he can return the Black Bears to their glory days when they were reaching the NCAA Tournament every year.
He has inherited a mess.
The team went 4-25 last season, the worst in school history.
They were 24-94 in their four seasons under head coach Cindy Blodgett, who was fired after the season.
Barron is polished like a politician but he has a genuine sincerity that would befit the son of a Presbyterian minister, which he is.
Those traits plus his sense-of-humor and ambitious goals for the program translated into a successful recruiter in his various stops as the head coach at Princeton and assistant at Baylor and North Carolina State.
That is absolutely crucial.
He landed one of the nation’s most dominant players, Baylor’s Brittney Griner.
Baylor went 34-3 this season and reached the NCAA quarterfinals.
It’s understandable how parents would trust him to coach their daughters and ensure that they have a quality college experience while also developing as basketball players.
He intends to land the top in-state recruits and put a stop to the recent trend that has seen them leave the state.
He will leave no stone unturned in recruiting, including foreign players.
The nice thing for Barron is that Maine is in a weak conference (America East). The team can go from the outhouse to the penthouse with just two impressive recruiting classes.
Barron’s press conference was attended by more than 100 people, including alumni such as Ashley Underwood, Emily Ellis, Kissy Walker, Lauree Gott and Tracy Guerrette.
He will embrace the alums, the boosters and the community. He said his practices will be “open” to the public and he will gladly address any groups to drum up interest in his program.
“We’ve got to generate enthusiasm and energy,” he said.
Press conferences can be long and boring but he entertained the crowd with anecdotes.
“I don’t just want people to get behind our program, I want them to get behind all of the teams,” he said. “I’m looking forward to banging on the glass at hockey games. I have a son who chipped one of his teeth. He already looks the role (of a hockey player).”
He said on the drive up to Orono, his phone was ringing constantly.
Some people were congratulating him, some were inquiring about being part of his coaching staff and others were asking about the job he left behind at North Carolina State.
“A guy named Tom from the New York Times called,” said Barron who then told him how much he was looking forward to the job and how much he liked the Maine people and other exciting aspects of the new job.
“Then I took a breath and he told me he called because they had a special on subscriptions in the Raleigh area,” quipped Barron who also speculated that the large crowd was there to see “Survivor” star Underwood rather than him.
He appears to be the right man to lead this program out of the doldrums and back into prominence.