ORONO, Maine — Steve Abbott has agreed to stay on as the athletic director at the University of Maine for six more months.
Abbott’s two-year deal runs out on Sunday but he said he met recently with UMaine President Dr. Paul Ferguson to discuss his future. Abbott said he will remain temporarily, “because it’s a time where it isn’t in the best interest of the university to deal with a search right now.
“We’re basically delaying the June deadline. The president didn’t want to do a search this summer with everything going on,” said Abbott, who will receive half of his yearly salary of $140,000.
“You’ve got the [field house and] Memorial Gym renovation, the [pending] deal with the Cross Insurance Center [for men’s and women’s basketball home games] and the apparel deal that we’re working on,” said Abbott. “A search is a very time-consuming process.”
“I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to keep working here and to help try to make a difference,” said Abbott.
UMaine spokeswoman Margaret Nagle said Wednesday afternoon that Ferguson would not be available for comment.
The 50-year-old Abbott, an Orono native, said he can still apply for the position once it is posted and will make a decision by the end of the summer.
Abbott recently completed his third school year at UMaine after taking the job on an interim basis in September 2010 after Blake James left to work at the University of Miami.
In 2011, Abbott agreed to a two-year extension through June 30, 2013.
UMaine recently completed a season during which its teams posted an overall win-loss record of 110-183-15, which was the second-worst in the last 10 years. Only one team, baseball, finished above .500.
However, Abbott says his concerns are more private than they are professional.
He, his wife, Amy, and children Hannah, 12, and Henry, 9, live in Portland and he said he would like to spend more time with his family. When he can’t get home, he spends nights at his father Walt’s home in Orono.
“The logistics is the biggest issue for me,” said Abbott. “The hardest thing is not being home on [many] weeknights.
“But I have no complaints. I have a job that I love. It’s a thrill for me to be part of the University of Maine’s athletic department,” Abbott continued. “People involved in college athletics spend a lot of time away from their families
“My family is very well-settled in Portland. The kids are doing extremely well, they have great friends and we live in a great neighborhood,” added Abbott.
“It’s just a reality we have to confront. It would be a very difficult time for the kids to make a transition [to Orono]. But they could do it.”
He said it has been a treat for his family to come to Orono for athletic events.
“The kids have had the opportunity to be around fantastic coaches and a lot of great student-athletes. They have been role models for them just like the coaches and student-athletes at the university were for me when I was growing up in Orono. They motivated me as an athlete and a student. I’ve been a fan of these teams my whole life,” said Abbott, whose father is the former University of Maine football coach and athletic director.
“There are a lot of benefits. There are some great rewards,” said Abbott, a former Orono High School standout and Harvard University football captain. “Your children get to see the value of a college education and what it means to make a commitment and to work hard and the rewards for doing it.”
Five people have served in the Maine AD post since 1995: Suzanne Tyler (1995-2002), interim Paul Bubb (2002-03), Patrick Nero (2003-05), Blake James (2005-10) and Abbott (September 2010 to present).
Abbott said he isn’t sure about his future plans but indicated that it will be a family decision.
“I’ll be working [somewhere],” said Abbott.
A former lawyer, Abbott served as chief of staff for Sen. Susan Collins from 1997 to 2009. He said he spent a lot of time away from home in that job but not nearly as much as at UMaine.
Abbott’s tenure has had its challenges, including the firing of former University of Maine All-America guard Cindy Blodgett as the women’s basketball coach in 2011 and 12-year men’s hockey coach Tim Whitehead in April.
“When you have a position like this, you’re forced to make unpopular decisions,” said Abbott. “It goes with the territory.”
He said he is optimistic about the programs’ prospects for the 2013-14 season.
“The sports that get less attention, like field hockey and [women’s] soccer, are in very good position. I think they will continue to do well. They have a great upside,” said Abbott.
Abbott also expects some of the high-profile sports to have productive seasons.
“The football team should have a very decent season. They should be real competitive in the [Colonial Athletic Association] and should be in the mix for the [Football Championship Subdivision] playoffs,” said Abbott.
He said head coach Jack Cosgrove has done a “great job” assembling a “very good young coaching staff,” including two talented coordinators in Kevin Bourgoin (offense) and Paul Ferraro (defense), and a strong group of players.
He expects the women’s basketball program to show a healthy bounce back from a 4-24 campaign and the men’s hockey team to have a resurgence under Red Gendron and new assistants Jay Leach and Ben Guite.
“There’s a great new energy. Ben and Jay are two fine assistants and there’s a great group of players coming back. There’s a lot of good things [surrounding the hockey program],” said Abbott.
The hockey team went 11-19-8 and missed the NCAA tournament for the fifth time in six years after a nine-year run making the tourney.