ORONO, Maine — Richard Barron is known as a program builder within the NCAA Division I women’s college basketball world, turning around struggling fortunes at Princeton University and most recently the University of Maine.
Now Barron faces another reclamation project, but one that won’t require him and his family to move after he was named UMaine’s new men’s basketball head coach Monday.
“I’m very happy and very humbled that the administration felt that I was valuable here and had something to offer, especially to these men’s basketball players,” said Barron, who guided the UMaine women’s basketball team to a pair of America East regular-season titles and three straight postseason appearances over six seasons as head coach before going on medical leave in January 2017.
Barron has signed a five-year contract to be head coach of the men’s basketball team, effective Monday. Beginning July 1, his annual salary will be $160,000, with a $5,000 increase at the start of the second year.
Barron replaces Bob Walsh, who has guided the Black Bears for the last four years but with his initial contract expiring opted not to seek an extension to continue with the program. UMaine went 24-100 during his tenure, including 6-26 this winter.
“Richard Barron has an impressive track record of success throughout his career,” said outgoing UMaine athletic director Karlton Creech, who introduced Barron at an afternoon media availability but limited his comments to quotes in a news release.
“His skill as a basketball coach is unquestioned. Richard has an incredible basketball IQ and the ability to share that knowledge through coaching and teaching. Under his leadership, our men’s basketball student-athletes will learn and grow.”
He underwent surgery last July at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles and returned to work at UMaine last December as a special assistant to Creech.
“Richard’s previous success as our women’s basketball coach makes him uniquely qualified to understand what it takes to build a program here at UMaine,” Creech said.
Barron, who last coached men’s basketball from 1991 to 1995 as an assistant at the University of the South-Sewanee in Tennessee, takes over a UMaine men’s program that has never qualified for the NCAA Division I tournament and has not won an America East conference postseason game since 2005.
But he sees in a roster that will graduate just two players this spring the raw materials for growth, and said that getting to know the current Black Bears — several of whom attended Monday’s event — is his No. 1 priority as he immediately assumes all head coaching responsibilities.
“These guys work their tails off and that’s a credit to them and a credit to coach Walsh,” Barron said. “I just met with them and that’s what I told them, that I could see they love each other and that they work hard. I can work with that.
“I’m excited that I get to inherit a team that cares about each other as much as they do.”
Barron, who also has experience as an assistant women’s basketball coach at Baylor and North Carolina State, doesn’t anticipate too many changes with coaching men’s basketball.
“I think for the most part that coaching is coaching,” said Barron. “There are some differences, definitely. I don’t think there’s any question that my coaching women will help me be a better men’s coach. I think the level of communication and empathy that coaches show and my experience on the women’s side will help me be a more empathetic and a better communicator on the men’s side.”
One person who agrees with that assessment is Amy Vachon, who took over as the UMaine women’s basketball head coach when Barron went on medical leave, and was signed to a four-year contract to remain in charge of that program last Friday after leading the Black Bears to this year’s America East regular-season championship.
“I know there are a lot of people, especially from the men’s side, who will have their opinions on it, to put it nicely, but coach Barron can coach,” said Vachon, whose team will host Hartford at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor on Friday for the America East tournament championship for berth in the NCAA tournament.
“He’s a really good basketball mind, and he can see people’s strengths, and he’ll develop an offensive or defensive scheme based on what those strengths are,” she said. “That’s what he was able to do with the kids we had when he came to the women’s program, and then as we got new kids and new talent he was able to change things.”
Barron is optimistic he can reinvigorate a UMaine men’s program that has not had a winning record since the 2009-10 season, and says his familiarity with the university will be of considerable benefit.
“I wish there was a formula that we knew and all we had to do was follow it but it’s not that simple, it’s not just a recipe,” he said. “I think it’s going to be evaluating as you go, and maybe one of the things I’ve learned at my different stops along the way is that every school and every program is different and you’ve got to figure it out there.
“The advantage I have here is obviously we’ve learned a lot from my time here already.”
Barron also is content to make the most of the resources available to support the UMaine men’s program while continuing to play several “guarantee games” on the road against high-major Division I foes in order to help support the athletic program.
This winter the Black Bears went 0-6 in such games while generating approximately $455,000 in income.
“The right perspective is important, but comparison is the thief of all joy,” Barron said. “We’re not going to win by trying to compare ourselves to every other school or see what their budget is or what our budget is. That’s not what’s going to make us successful.
“I think we have enough resources to be competitive, and I certainly think we have enough resources in terms of our university and our personnel to provide a wonderful student-athlete experience, and as we show that we’re good stewards of the resources we have they’ll continue to grow.”