ORONO, Maine — After 21 seasons as the head football coach, Jack Cosgrove is well aware University of Maine teams have some financial and geographic challenges not faced by most of their competitors.
Cosgrove’s contract expires in June, but before he agrees to an extension, he is curious whether the university plans to help elevate the football program as it plays in the nation’s premier Football Championship Subdivision conference, the Colonial Athletic Association.
Cosgrove and UMaine athletics director Steve Abbott met Monday to discuss football-related issues and a possible contract extension.
The 56-year-old Cosgrove said his primary concern is making sure the football program has the means to remain competitive. UMaine posted a 5-6 record this fall, including a 4-4 conference mark.
“It was time for there to be a clear picture of where we’re headed as a department and as a Division I program,” Cosgrove said. “I felt like the challenges that are coming forward with the league that we’re in, adding Albany and Stony Brook, are getting tougher.”
Abbott acknowledged funding is among the key issues facing UMaine football.
“One challenge for all our programs, and something that we have to continue to work on for the future, is our operating budgets,” Abbott said. “We have to look for ways to enhance the operating budget not only for football, but for all our sports.”
Other challenges include upgrades to facilities, such as renovations to the field house and Memorial Gym, and upkeep of the Mahaney Dome, along with efforts to enhance the football game-day experience.
Cosgrove pointed out there have been funding issues at UMaine since he became the head coach in 1993. The challenges of trying to keep up with some of the high-powered CAA programs in the Mid-Atlantic region have not stopped the Black Bears from being competitive.
“I know I can roll up my sleeves and work with the best of them. My staff and players can as well,” Cosgrove said. “But there comes a time when blood and sweat isn’t enough.”
The Black Bears have compiled a 111-118 overall record in Cosgrove’s 21 seasons. UMaine has made four trips to the NCAA playoffs, most recently in 2011, and shared league titles in 2001 and 2002.
The Bears have reached the national quarterfinals on three occasions — in 2001, 2002, 2011. Cosgrove’s 2002 team won a school-record 11 games.
Cosgrove has often mentioned the challenge of trying to recruit high-caliber players to attend UMaine. The recruiting budget was the only area he identified specifically in discussing potential enhancements.
“We’re a long ways from a lot of people. We have recruiting challenges and recruiting budgets are probably not what they need to be,” he said.
Cosgrove characterized his meeting with Abbott as productive and conceded their discussion brought more into focus the nature of UMaine’s financial challenges. He wanted to see whether the university might be willing to address some of his concerns.
“This is about just seeing a way to get closer to where we need to be and having a plan to get there,” Cosgrove said.
Cosgrove met with Abbott in September, but the coach asked that any discussion of a contract extension be postponed until after the completion of the season, citing the desire to avoid having the issue become a distraction.
The contract came up Monday, but was not the main talking point, Abbott said.
“He wanted to talk more about the program,” he said. “He’s focused on the success of the program and just being competitive.”
Abbott explained there is no timetable to negotiate an extension, but expressed his desire to keep Cosgrove.
“He’s been an institution with Maine football and the program continues to improve and have success,” Abbott said. “That, ultimately, is his decision.
“He loves the university, he’s very committed to the success of the university and he really wants to help the institution and the program succeed,” he added.
Cosgrove quickly dismissed the notion that the delay in negotiating a contract extension has anything to do with his compensation.
“It’s never been about that for me,” he said. “I’ve said no to other [more lucrative] opportunities. I never got into this profession in pursuit of the almighty dollar.”
Cosgrove earned a base salary of $175,000 during 2011-12, making him UMaine’s second-highest paid coach behind men’s hockey coach Tim Whitehead ($190,000).
One dynamic that has kept him in Orono is his passion for working with young people and trying to help them reach their potential.
“I get a lot of juice out of that. Some things are priceless,” Cosgrove said.
Greater Bangor and UMaine have been a good fit in raising his family.
“It’s got to be about family first. Having a stable environment for my wife and kids is always important,” he said.
Cosgrove pointed to beating rival New Hampshire and winning a conference championship as the most important goals the Black Bears pursue each season.
In spite of the challenges, he remains convinced UMaine can get the job done in the CAA in the years ahead.
“We’ve been successful before being behind everybody else. We can be successful again,” he said.