Long, winding career road led Barron to UMaine

Posted May 18, 2011, at 9:41 p.m.

Richard Barron, who was named University of Maine women’s basketball head coach last week, was at a crossroads two years ago.

After two seasons as the associate head coach of the Baylor University women’s basketball team, he was seriously contemplating a new career path.

Barron had been accepted at the Princeton Theological Seminary and was considering becoming a minister.

Barron’s father, William, is a retired Presbyterian minister. His late grandfather, Narciso Gonzales Barron, also was a prominent Presbyterian minister.

“Growing up in the church, singing the choir, bell choir, youth group, leading worship — they all kind of play a part,” Richard Barron said. “You don’t realize it growing up, but there’s a certain affirmation for what you’re doing and you want to do it again.”

Princeton had been an important stop on Barron’s career road. He worked six seasons (2001-07) as the Tigers’ head women’s basketball coach.

While there, he met and married the former Maureen Davies, who was then Princeton’s head softball coach. As the family grew with the addition of twin girls Rae and Lane and son Billy, the Barrons decided one of them (it turned out to be Maureen) should stay home to raise the kids.

“We felt that was really important to us,” Barron said. “That led to the move to Baylor.”

He took the job, which would be financially rewarding and give him the chance to work and learn alongside coaches in a high-profile program.

The hectic pace of coaching in the highest echelon of Division I basketball at Baylor, with primary responsibilities in recruiting and scouting, took a toll on Barron. The job often had him on the road.

“The kids thrived. It was better having a mother at home than no parents,” Barron said. “For me it was hard, I just missed them. I found I couldn’t keep that pace up.”

In 2009, after two seasons at Baylor, Barron needed a change.

“At that moment, that’s when I really started to struggle with my calling,” he admitted.

Barron has always had different career interests and options. He went to college with the thought of eventually becoming a doctor and even took the MCAT, the Medical College Admission Test, while at Kenyon (Ohio) College.

He juggled that prospect with that of going into the ministry. Later, after launching his college coaching career at Sewanee (Tenn.), Barron was accepted at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, where he hoped to pursue a combination MBA (master’s of business administration).

He ultimately stuck with coaching basketball.

“I had always seen the aspiration of being a doctor or a minister or a coach as one and the same,” Barron said. “There was a strong aspect of nurturing that went into those.”

He discussed his emotional conflict with his father. William Barron hearkened back to the family’s roots — in basketball.

“As I think about going into the ministry instead of being a coach, my father reminds me about my grandfather,” Richard Barron said.

He recounted how N.G. Barron served as an Army chaplain and coached a team that beat a University of Kentucky squad coached by the legendary Adolph Rupp.

“He gave me permission to choose either one, but I think he thought I was feeling a certain amount of pressure at that time in my life,” the younger Barron said, explaining it was his father who had fostered his love for sports.

Soon after, he received a job offer from newly hired North Carolina State women’s basketball coach Kellie Harper.

“That opportunity seemed somehow to be providential,” said Barron, who at N.C. State was blessed to be involved with the Kay Yow Foundation. It is named after the Wolfpack’s late coach and promotes cancer awareness.

His experience at N.C. State, where he was the most experienced staff member, rejuvenated Barron and led him to seek a head coaching job.

Even though he had been approached about other head coaching jobs in recent years and had applied for another this spring, he saw in UMaine a good fit and a challenge.

Not only did it put him in charge of a Division I team, it gave him the chance to help heal a program and restore self-esteem in a basketball community that has fallen on hard times.

“It’s all about need,” Barron said. “You want to be somewhere where you’re wanted, where you’re needed.”

That means much more than money to Barron, who even at $110,000 per year will earn substantially less money than he did in his previous two positions.

“I’ve never let money make my decisions,” he offered. “I’ve almost done the opposite.”

While at Sewanee, Barron was approached by a friend who worked on Wall Street. At the time, Barron was part owner of a successful local restaurant.

The two met in New York City to discuss a job that included a starting salary of $400,000 with bonuses that could triple that amount.

Upon his return Barron, then a marathoner, went for a 20-mile run. He quickly realized what he had couldn’t be bought.

“I ran along the bluff, looking off to these gorgeous views. I could see these hawks in the air,” said Barron. He asked himself, “How much would I pay to get out of New York City on the weekend to experience this?”

Barron’s early coaching career was characterized by unexpected developments.

He started as a men’s assistant at Division III Sewanee. In 1996, after four seasons, he was poised to attend Darden.

At his going-away party, shortly after the women’s head coach had resigned abruptly, he was offered that job on an interim basis and took it.

A year later, Barron again was bound for Darden. He had resigned and put his house up for sale. Then came a knock on his door.

“It was several members of the women’s basketball team,” he said. “They were teary-eyed and they said, ‘you can’t leave.’”

Unwilling to let them down, he stayed four more seasons. Barron guided Sewanee to a 77-48 record, the program’s first league title and a No. 8 national ranking.

He admitted the experience opened his eyes to the world of women’s athletics.

Barron became involved with the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, writing articles for the organization. They included what he described as a mea culpa outlining how he had previously believed old stereotypes of women’s athletics.

“The article was met with a lot of respect and appreciation from women and men alike,” Barron said. “I accidentally ingratiated myself with the women’s basketball community.”

He has been part of that community ever since, getting his Division I start at Princeton in 2001.

The next stop on Barron’s coaching road is Orono. He believes the UMaine job will enable him to continue fulfilling his life’s mission.

“There’s not a thing I’ve done in my life that I regret,” he said.

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