Fundraising, budget, leadership challenges await new UMaine athletic director

Posted Dec. 20, 2013, at 3:55 p.m.
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Michelle Pelletier
Click to enlarge
Scott Kull
Scott Kull
Jim Herlihy
Jim Herlihy
Karlton Creech
Karlton Creech

ORONO, Maine — University of Maine President Paul Ferguson will soon give his blessing to a new athletic director after the search committee submits a name to him.

That name will be Scott Kull, Jim Herlihy or Karlton Creech.

They are the three finalists and one will ultimately take charge in supervising and recruiting coaches, overseeing facilities, providing leadership and a vision for the program, connecting with the community, raising funds and balancing a $16.6 million budget.

The state’s only Division I institution is in the midst of an interesting transformation.

The $15 million renovation to the Memorial Gym and fieldhouse is underway; coach Jack Cosgrove directed his football team to its first Colonial Athletic Association championship; first-year men’s hockey coach Red Gendron has guided his team to a solid start with a 9-6-1 record and two struggling programs, the men’s and women’s basketball teams, are playing in the new Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

“It’s a very important hire in terms of stability and moving forward as a department,” said seven-year Maine field hockey coach Josette Babineau. “We’re all excited to see what the future is going to be for us.”

The hire is critical to the direction of the athletic department, according to 18-year athletic trainer Paul Culina.

“We have some great coaches and staff members and they need backing and direction. No coach can do it alone,” said Culina, who is also the director of hockey operations. “He will need to be in touch with everybody who makes the athletic department run.”

Beginning with Sue Tyler in 1995, Maine has had five athletic directors in 18 years.

Steve Abbott was the latest, spending three seasons running the program. He served as the interim AD for seven months, then signed a two-year contract to be the AD and stayed on for five extra months before Seth Woodcock was named the interim AD.

Abbott has returned to work for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins. He was her chief of staff before becoming the AD.

The new athletic director will need to “connect with the community” and be able to “raise money and galvanize the coaches,” according to longtime UMaine supporter Frank Jordan.

“At this point, all the coaches are taking care of their own programs. There isn’t a great team effort going on. There’s no one to blame for that. It’s just a fact. It’s the way it is,” Jordan added. “Everyone needs to be brought together and everyone needs to be held accountable for what they’re doing.”

Fundraising is a priority for the new AD, according Pat McBride, a former UMaine assistant athletic director for development who now works at the University of Vermont.

“Maine is trending in the right direction and that’s a great thing. A lot of good things have happened the past few years,” McBride said. “The biggest challenge for the new AD remains the same: find a way to fund all the priorities and the way that’s probably going to happen is through engaging community and business leaders and alumni in the process.

“He has a great opportunity to get out and share a pretty good story with them about what is going on at Maine right now and talk to folks about investing in the sustainability of the success,” he said, adding that Maine needs to build strong community, business and alumni relationships because of its remote location.

“One of the key things for him will be to find a way to leverage the really valuable assets at Maine. One of them is it’s the only Division I institution in the state and that could really be a rallying point from Madawaska to Kittery. He needs to understand it and figure out a way to engage the entire state in the success of the athletic department,” said McBride.

Former Maine hockey equipment manager and director of hockey operations Josh MacDonald said the new AD also needs to bring new donors into the program as well as look to bring former donors such as Stephen and Tabitha King back into the fold.

Ninth-year baseball coach Steve Trimper believes the new AD will have to wear “a couple of hats.”

“First and foremost, he has to be a great leader for everyone in the department from coaches to the support staff to the facilities and field maintenance people,” said Trimper. “Great leaders know how to communicate. He’s also going to have to tell people what they don’t want to hear. That’s part of being a leader.

“Secondly, he has to embrace the university and the community,” added Trimper.

Jordan and Dennis Libbey, former Maine shortstop and longtime M Club member, said that it is essential that the AD’s family lives in the area and embraces it.

Abbott never moved his family up from Portland and often stayed in Orono with his father, former Maine football coach and AD Walter Abbott.

“If your family doesn’t want to be here, you can’t do the job. You can’t serve two masters,” said Jordan. “If you’re in charge of a $25 million operation, it’s all hands on deck. Everybody has to be here.”

Abbott defended his decision and said his situation was unique for a number of reasons.

He explained that he knew it was going to be a short-term commitment so he didn’t want to uproot his family and take his children out of their schools for just a limited period of time and then turn around and move again after fulfilling his tenure as the AD.

The job wasn’t an easy one for Abbott and won’t be for his successor.

“There are certainly challenges here financially. No one is going to compare us to Florida State and what they have in resources and money. We aren’t on the same planet,” Trimper said. “But we need to be able to keep up with the programs within our conference. We have to learn to be creative in the way we do things.”

Abbott pointed out that not much time is spent behind a desk.

“You won’t be in your office often,” he said. “A lot of the time, you won’t even be in the state. You’ll be traveling to games, fundraising trips or conference meetings.”

Planning and a vision for the future are also important qualities for the new athletic director.

“First and foremost, we need somebody who recognizes the great potential we have at the university and in the athletic department and who has a sound vision for moving our program forward,” said women’s soccer coach Scott Atherley, who recently completed his 15th season at Maine. “He has to have a game plan for how we’re going to move forward. There are so many positive things in place right now.”

Former AD Haskell said an AD’s main responsibility is hiring “good coaches who can recruit” and said they should be evaluated on their conference performances because most of Maine’s nonconference games are on the road against superior teams with better resources.

Two of the three finalists have Maine connections.

Kull is an Old Town native and has been the associate athletic director for external operations at Texas Christian University since 2005. Previously, he was the associate athletic director-general manager of national collegiate sports marketing company Host Communications Inc. and the director of athletic marketing at Florida State University.

Millinocket native Herlihy has been the director of athletics, recreation and intramurals at the University of Montevallo in Alabama since 2008. He had previously been the assistant athletic director at Florida Gulf Coast University and had spent 12 years in professional baseball in administrative jobs.

Creech has been the senior associate director of athletics at the University of North Carolina since 2012. From 2004-2012, he was associate executive director for UNC’s Educational Foundation Inc., where he was a fundraiser for the athletic department. He had also coordinated nationwide fundraising for the student-aid association at North Carolina State.

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