ORONO, Maine — Poised, quietly confident and funny.
Those were a few of the words used Tuesday to describe Richard Barron, the new head women’s basketball coach at the University of Maine.
Barron charmed an enthusiastic gathering of some 100 people who turned out to meet him in Memorial Gymnasium, the place where he’ll spend hundreds of hours over the next few years putting the Black Bears through their paces.
The 42-year-old Barron, whose hiring was announced Monday, said in spite of recent on-court struggles, the tradition of excellence in the UMaine women’s basketball program remains intact.
His goal as the Bears’ head coach is to restore the level of talent and create a groundswell of support that can again make UMaine a competitive program in the America East Conference and beyond.
“We’ve got to build energy. We’ve got to build enthusiasm right from the start and we’ve got the ability to do that right now,” Barron told a group that included UMaine coaches, staff members, alumni, student-athletes and boosters.
Barron, who replaces fired UMaine All-American and Clinton native Cindy Blodgett, comes to UMaine after spending two seasons as an assistant coach at North Carolina State. He kept the crowd’s attention with his frankness and had everyone laughing with his one-liners and anecdotes.
However, it was his emphasis on how UMaine’s tradition remains intact that had the greatest impact.
“We are not a once-proud tradition, we ARE a proud tradition,” Barron said. “There’s no past tense in that. We are.”
Barron said UMaine was a good fit for him and his family — wife Maureen and their three children — and that the timing was right to become a head coach again after four years as an assistant first at Baylor, then at N.C. State.
He was the head coach at Princeton for six seasons (2001-07).
“I like having my fingerprints all over everything,” Barron said.
“That’s who I am. That’s how I’m wired. I’m excited about it.”
Barron and Gardner-Webb head women’s coach Rick Reeves were the only two candidates for the UMaine position who were invited to campus for interviews.
Barron said he had applied for one other position during the offseason.
“There was one other I would consider kind of a higher-profile job that I did apply for, but that was the only one,” he said, but would not elaborate.
UMaine athletic director Steve Abbott and UMaine President Robert Kennedy spoke prior to Barron, who was introduced by former UMaine star Emily Ellis, who served on the search committe directed by former UMaine dean Robert Cobb.
Barron quickly stressed to those in attendance that having a successful program was predicated on a system of interdependence between those inside the program and those on the outside.
“It’s a call to action,” he said. “We’ve all got to have a part in this.
“We can’t take it for granted. We’ve got to work at it every day. If our fans want a good product, they’ve got to be part of that success.”
Barron’s short-term priorities have included contacting UMaine’s recruits and working on hiring a coaching staff.
“I’ve talked with those players and they seem to be excited about coming to Maine still,” he said, adding some may visit campus this week while he is there.
Recruiting, Barron admitted, will be among the most important aspects of developing a winner. He said UMaine won’t limit the scope of its recruiting in terms of geography, including Canada and Europe on the list of potential regions to tap.
“The answer is pretty much everywhere,” Barron said. “We will not limit ourselves in any way.”
Barron did emphasize the need to establish UMaine as the basketball program of choice for instate basketball players.
“We definitely want the best players in the state to stay home, though,” he said. “There’s been a trend for some of the better players to leave the state and that’s got to stop.”
Barron wasn’t willing to pencil himself into any preferred basketball philosophy or style of play. He said all was dependent on the players he brings in.
“I like to get the best players available, period,” he explained. “I want to win. If that means winning with a four-guard lineup because that’s the five best players we can put on the floor, we’ll do that.”
On the coaching front, Barron conceded time is of the essence in terms of quickly identifying and hiring the best possible assistants.
“We’ve got work to do. We’ve got to catch up,” he said.
Barron appears to be well aware of the challenges he will face in re-establishing the UMaine program. He said the completion of the planned Memorial Gym and fieldhouse renovation project would provide a huge boost.
In the meantime, practicing in Memorial Gym and playing in Alfond Arena is a dynamic that must be accepted for the time being.
“We can’t use it as an excuse,” Barron said. “There isn’t anybody we play on our schedule who’s going to spot us 10 points because we didn’t get to practice on our home floor. We’ve got to go out there and beat them anyway.”
Large crowds cheering on the Bears at Alfond Arena would be the best way to overcome the inconvenience, he said.
Building a winning team is going to take commitment on the part of all involved with the program. That begins with hard work that leads to daily improvement.
In the end, it will be a group effort involving not only players and coaches but the entire UMaine community.
“We’ve got to build energy, we’ve got to build enthusiasm right from the start and we’ve got the ability to make that happen right now,” Barron said.