ORONO, Maine — Jack Cosgrove has spent the past 20 years trying to keep the University of Maine football program competitive.
As the Colonial Athletic Association continues to evolve with the addition of Stony Brook and Albany, the Black Bears’ head coach is increasingly concerned about the ability to keep pace in the nation’s most prestigious Football Championship Subdivision league.
Cosgrove has spent the past two months seeking reassurance from UMaine athletics director Steve Abbott and president Paul Ferguson that the program will be provided with the resources and support necessary to accomplish that goal.
On Tuesday, less than 24 hours before the program was to begin receiving written commitments from its 2013 recruiting class, UMaine announced it had reached a new three-year contract with its veteran coach.
“Our discussions really had nothing to do with the contract itself,” Abbott said. “He didn’t have any personal demands. He’s purely focused on how we can improve the program and how we can reach those levels [of achievement] that we’re trying to get to.”
Cosgrove is making $175,000 during this, the last year of a five-year contract. He will earn an annual salary of $186,995 for the duration of his new deal, which runs through June 2016.
The salary increase includes $7,000 annually in additional compensation that replaces monies previously earmarked specifically for a car allowance and a membership at Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono.
“I don’t think I ever felt like it (the new contract) wasn’t going to get done,” said Cosgrove, who wanted to know his program would be supported adequately.
“I got what I needed to hear,” he said. “For me, it’s really all about trust and it’s all about knowing that you’re going to have a chance to be successful.”
Abbott said he and Cosgrove have used the 2011 season, during which UMaine went 9-4 and reached the FCS national quarterfinals, as a measuring stick.
“That’s the level we want to be playing at and our discussions focused on how we get to that level and how to get beyond it,” Abbott said.
“This spring we’re going to look at concrete steps we can take, things we can do internally with the resources we have, the possibility of fundraising and the aspiration of longer-term goals, to help elevate the program,” he added.
Cosgrove, who was hired in 1993, has led the Black Bears to a 111-118 overall record. The 111 victories are a program record and his 76 CAA wins rank fifth in league history. The team was 5-6 last season.
UMaine has won two conference titles and has made four NCAA playoff appearances under Cosgrove (2001, 2002, 2008, 2011). That includes three trips to the national quarterfinals.
“I am especially pleased that we have finalized the contract for Coach Cos,” said Ferguson, who noted the contract recognizes Cosgrove’s “successful decades of service, but also for his vision for the future of Black Bear Football.”
Cosgrove’s teams have produced 21 All-Americans and 129 CAA all-conference picks in the, regarded as the premier league in the FCS. The Black Bears received 26 All-CAA Academic honors from 2009-2011.
Cosgrove doesn’t have any delusions about any huge windfalls. He is well aware of the economic climate and UMaine’s financial limitations, along with the school’s location.
“I’m amazed at how distant we seem to be to those in other parts of the country, just in terms of the geography and the working knowledge of the state of Maine,” he said.
Albany and Stony Brook are likely to cut into UMaine’s New York recruiting now that they have a more lofty status as a member of the CAA.
“In order to be successful, in order to keep up with those that are in more prominent locations and have more facility-wise and budget-wise,” Cosgrove said.
“I don’t mind, never have, being the underdog, but I also know that you can only be so much of an underdog. That’s motivating,” he added.
Cosgrove, a native of Sharon, Mass., is a 1978 UMaine graduate. He was an All-Yankee Conference quarterback for the Black Bears.
He still is motivated by the chance to work with young men through football.
“We want them to be successful,” Cosgrove said. “We want to teach them, coach them and grow them and have them represent the state the way the state would like to see them represent us. And that includes winning. That’s what we pursue here.”
Cosogrove was named the Atlantic-10 Coach of the Year in 1996 and 2001, the 2001 American Football Monthly I-AA National Coach of the Year and the 2011 New England Football Writers FCS Division I Coach of the Year.
He has remained at UMaine over the years for a variety of reasons, including loyalty to his alma mater. Cosgrove has entertained a few other offers, including interviewing for the Rhode Island vacancy in 2007.
However, working at UMaine and living in Greater Bangor have kept him there.
“I would say the No. 1 thing is providing stability and structure for my family,” Cosgrove said. “Marilyn and I have raised a family of four children and we are very appreciative. The Bangor school system gets a lot of credit, Bangor athletic programs, youth programs, the friendships that my children and my wife (have built).“