ORONO, Maine — Steve Abbott on Tuesday announced his departure from the University of Maine, where he serves as athletic director, to rejoin the staff of Sen. Susan Collins.
Abbott, who in June agreed to remain in that position through December, revealed that he is rejoining Collins’ staff and will leave UMaine later this fall. Abbott served as Collins’ chief of staff for 12 years before he left to run in the 2010 Republican primary for governor. He finished third in that race.
Margaret Nagle, UMaine’s Senior Director of Public Relations and Operations, said in an email it is possible Abbott will sever ties with the university by mid-November.
Abbott, 50, informed America East Conference directors of athletics of his decision via an email Tuesday morning, according to a league source who saw the correspondence.
Sen. Collins confirmed the move Tuesday afternoon.
“I am delighted that Steve Abbott will be returning to my office as chief of staff this fall,” she said in a statement. “Steve’s commitment to public service and his knowledge of Maine are extraordinary, and I am very pleased that he once again will be putting his exceptional talents toward the goal of helping me better serve the people of Maine.”
She also confirmed that her current chief of staff, Mary Dietrich, will retire at the end of the month.
“After 26 years of federal service, Mary informed me earlier this year that she planned to retire from the Senate at the end of the fiscal year to pursue opportunities in the private sector,” Collins said Tuesday.
“I have greatly enjoyed working with Steve to further the success of Black Bear Athletics,” UMaine President Paul Ferguson said. “We have worked diligently together to support our student athletes, enhance our athletic facilities and manage a fully compliant Division I Program.
“I look forward to continuing our working relationship in his role with Sen. Collins,” he said in a statement.
“The University of Maine is a special place to me and my family,” Abbott said in a press release from the university Tuesday afternoon. “Given our family history and my lifelong affinity for Black Bear athletics, I am especially pleased to have been a part of the Athletics Department these past three years. I have great respect for the staff and coaches, and I continue to be impressed by the commitment and the work ethic of our student athletes. They are a real credit to this institution.
“I have been a Black Bear fan since before I was a ball boy for the football team four decades ago and I look forward to returning to the stands as a fan of all our teams as soon as my employment here ends,” Abbott said.
Nagle said Abbott’s departure will lead to the naming of an interim AD, the timing for which has not been determined. In the meantime, a search process has been initiated under University of Maine System policy, while the formal selection and naming of a search committee is pending.
Nagle said Ferguson hopes to be able to name Abbott’s successor by early spring 2014.
Last month, Abbott began his fourth year heading UMaine athletics. The Orono native was hired on an interim basis in September 2010 after Blake James left to take the senior associate AD position at the University of Miami.
Former UMaine President Robert Kennedy awarded Abbott a two-year appointment in March of 2011 and Abbott later agreed to an extension through June 30, 2013. UMaine in June announced Abbott would stay on through December.
At that time, Abbott said the summer was not conducive for conducting a search for his replacement.
UMaine athletics looks to rebound from a lackluster overall performance during 2012-2013. Black Bear teams posted win-loss record of 110-183-15 with its most prominent programs — men’s hockey, football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, field hockey, women’s soccer, softball and women’s hockey.
During the last decade, only 2007-08 was worse, when those teams were 79-183-10.
Abbott will depart having played a role in some notable changes in the athletics department during his tenure.
In 2011, one day after the announcement of his initial two-year contract, Abbott fired women’s basketball coach and Clinton native Cindy Blodgett. The former All-America player for the Black Bears coached her team to a 24-94 record in four seasons.
In April, Abbott fired men’s ice hockey coach Tim Whitehead after a 12-year stay in Orono. UMaine had enjoyed only sporadic on-ice success in recent years and attendance at home games was declining.
Although he arrived well into the planning and fundraising process, Abbott also has been at the forefront of UMaine’s proposed $15 million renovation of the field house and Memorial Gymnasium buildings on campus. He was instrumental in a key element of the fundraising for those projects when he negotiated a $5 million donation from the New Balance athletic footwear company.
Throughout his tenure, Abbott has maintained a home in Portland with his wife Amy and children Hannah and Henry.
This summer, Abbott has been trying to broker a deal with Global Spectrum, the company that is operating the new Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, to play many of UMaine’s home basketball contests in the facility. He recently said final details are being worked out on such an arrangement.
Abbott put his career in politics on hold after a failed run for governor of Maine in 2010. Before that, he served as Collins’ chief of staff from 1997 through 2009. He managed her Washington office and oversaw her six offices in Maine, supervising a staff of more than 50 people.
Abbott also served as Collins’ campaign manager during her successful re-election campaigns in 2002 and 2008.
Abbott is a 1981 graduate of Orono High School, where he was a member of six state championship teams in football and basketball. He earned a history degree from Harvard College in 1985 and captained the Crimson football team as a senior.
He later studied sport management at the University of Massachusetts before earning a degree from the University of Maine School of Law in 1991.