ORONO, Maine — Karlton Creech doesn’t know much about life in Maine, but he is aware he will have to significantly expand his wardrobe.
On Feb. 10, the native of Chapel Hill, N.C., begins his new job as the director of athletics at the University of Maine.
“I love it,” Creech said Thursday afternoon when told the temperature in Orono was 8 below zero. “I’ll have to get some [warm] clothes.”
UMaine President Paul Ferguson announced that Creech will replace Orono native Steve Abbott, who relinquished the position in November to reprise his role as the chief of staff for Sen. Susan Collins.
“His level of professionalism, coupled to his strong experience in fundraising and management, will no doubt move Black Bear Athletics to new levels of excellence and community engagement,” Ferguson said in a press release.
The 41-year-old Creech, the senior associate director of athletics at the University of North Carolina, brings 10 years of senior athletics administration experience to UMaine. His three-year contract will pay him $175,000 per year. Abbott earned $140,000 annually.
Creech was one of three finalists invited to campus for interviews by the search committee, which considered a national pool of 68 applicants. The committee was led by Dr. Robert Strong, professor of finance and NCAA faculty representative.
“Karlton Creech brings a powerful portfolio of experience, fundraising success, school pedigree, administrative leadership, and excellent communications skills to the University of Maine,” said Strong, who added the committee was “left with the wonderful challenge of having to choose among excellent alternatives.”
The other finalists were Scott Kull, the associate athletics director for external operations at Texas Christian University, and Jim Herlihy, the director of athletics, recreation and intramurals at the University of Montevallo in Alabama. Both had ties to Maine.
Creech called the UMaine job a tremendous opportunity and said he was impressed by the people he met during his visit to Orono.
“Everybody I met was warm and welcoming and the tremendous sense of pride about the University of Maine and the state of Maine really came through loud and clear,” he explained.
Since 2012, Creech was UNC’s senior associate AD, serving as chief of staff and overseeing the department’s capital projects, human resources and facilities. From 2004 to 2012, he was associate executive director for UNC’s Educational Foundation Inc., where he managed capital projects, including coordination of the $88 million football stadium expansion.
“It’s a big operation, so the scale will be a little bit different at Maine, but I imagine, and what I’ve learned a lot already, is that the challenges and opportunities are very similar,” said Creech, who said UNC athletics has 250 full-time employees.
He likened UMaine’s athletics budget constraints to those of many public universities.
“My goal there is to understand what President Ferguson wants out of the athletic department from a budgetary standpoint, then do everything I can to go attract and invite people to support us,” he said.
“I think we’ve got so much that’s already established.”
Creech plans to hit the ground running next month by building relationships on campus and in the community.
“The two things I’m going to concentrate on early in my tenure are getting to know people, spending time with our student-athletes, our coaches, and getting out in the community.”
Creech left an impression on those with whom he interacted while in Orono.
“I think he’s an absolutely phenomenal hire,” said UMaine men’s hockey head coach Red Gendron.
“His communication skills were exceptional, which is a very positive thing for a leader, when you can concisely frame something.
“He has a presence about him that engenders confidence and suggests exceptional leadership skill,” Gendron added.
UMaine women’s basketball head coach Richard Barron served on the selection committee. He came away impressed by Creech’s interpersonal skills.
“What separated Karlton from the other candidates was his presence,” Barron said. “I think he really had a command of the group and his different audiences. He related extremely well.
“He’s present, in the moment, very engaged,” he added. “I think he’s very deliberate, thoughtful and he’s shown through his experience that he’s able to see projects through.”
Barron said the diversity of Creech’s professional experience was another attractive aspect of his candidacy.
“The ability to bring different groups together and communicate with them and to see a project through — to hear the different constituencies’ concerns and know how to handle that and balance that — that’s a huge trait that I think will serve us well in the position,” Barron said.
Creech earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from North Carolina State University and will complete a master’s degree in management and leadership from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., in 2014.
Creech and his wife, Staci, an elementary school teacher who is from Pennsylvania, look forward to living in Maine.
“I’m not going to miss 100 degrees and humid in June, July and August in North Carolina,” he said.
“We’re looking to come out there, embrace it and really enjoy living up there.”