BANGOR, Maine — Bob Walsh admits his dream job would have been playing shortstop for the New York Yankees.
He jokes that once his beloved Yankees signed Derek Jeter, he turned his attention to basketball.
However, it wouldn’t be as a player that Walsh would make his mark. John Carey, who directed a basketball camp in the Bronx, New York, saw Walsh’s potential when he was a freshman in high school.
“I got a camp evaluation, which I still have, from Shamrock Basketball Camp,” Walsh said. “It said, ‘Bob will be a great coach.’”
Only a few years later, he realized Carey was on to something, and Walsh began preparing for a career on the sidelines.
On Friday afternoon, Walsh was formally introduced as the head men’s basketball coach at the University of Maine during a press conference at the Cross Insurance Center.
How passionate is he about his chosen profession?
“My goal is to be the oldest living basketball coach,” Walsh told a gathering of about 30 that included UMaine staff members and coaches, family members, former players and the media.
Kinsey Durgin of Bethel, who played for Walsh at Rhode Island College from 2005-07, was among three former players in attendance.
“He’s a great guy. There’d be 20 of us here if it was Saturday,” Durgin said.
He was the third coach in three years at Rhode Island College for Durgin, who said everything changed with Walsh.
“Just his ability to get everything he can out of us, the culture that he runs,” Durgin said. “He’s very direct, he’s very intense, but he’s extremely fair.”
The 42-year-old Walsh replaces Ted Woodward, who was fired last month after 18 seasons at UMaine, including the last 10 as the head coach.
UMaine Director of Athletics Karlton Creech said the success of Walsh’s teams at Division III Rhode Island College (204-63 record, six Little East Conference titles, eight straight NCAA tournament appearances) proved he can coach.
Creech said Walsh had the head coaching experience UMaine wanted, but that it was his other attributes that caught the eye of Creech and the six-member search committee.
“I loved the systematic way that he approaches his work, the process orientation,” Creech said. “The academic accountability is huge at our university and something that he’s really made a tenet of his program at [Rhode Island College] and that was extremely impressive.”
Walsh was the head coach at Rhode Island College for nine seasons, that coming on the heels of a seven-year stint as an assistant coach at Division I Providence College. He built the program’s success around defense.
“I think if we can get our guys bought into a consistent, tough defensive approach like we have done, there’s great room for improvement,” Walsh said.
“I want them to play with freedom and confidence and make plays on offense and, if we make mistakes, we’re just going to make sure we get it back on defense,” he added.
At UMaine, Walsh found the opportunity for which he had been searching, one that will enable him to expedite his development as a coach.
“I’m thrilled about it,” Walsh said. “Coaching at a place where I’m comfortable and can stay for a long time is really important to me.”
Walsh will be at UMaine for the next four years. His contract will pay him $100,000 for the first year, the same amount earned by Woodward in his final season.
However, Walsh will receive $5,000 increases in 2015 and 2016, then will receive another $10,000 increase for the 2017-18 fiscal year.
“We’re still at the bottom of America East with our salary structure, so I did want to make the commitment that I could make to Bob that we were going to increase that over time,” said Creech, who qualified his comment by saying he does not know how much conference newcomer UMass Lowell is paying its men’s basketball coach.
The contract also calls for Walsh to receive a $3,500 bonus if UMaine wins the America East championship and a $5,000 bonus if the Black Bears earn an NCAA bid, whether it is the league’s automatic qualifier or an at-large selection.
Creech said a similar clause is in effect for women’s basketball coach Richard Barron.
In the event Walsh is terminated “without cause,” he would be entitled to the remainder of his contract. If Walsh terminates the agreement and accepts another Division I job, he would have to pay UMaine one year’s salary.
Walsh explained that his most pressing challenges are to establish a rapport with his UMaine players and to hit the recruiting trail.
“The first thing is to get to know my players. I’ve got to develop trust and a relationship with those guys, and that’s hard to do, given the timing,” said Walsh, referring to the fact the spring semester is over and players are returning home for at least part of the summer.
Walsh met with team members on Wednesday and asked them, anonymously, to each write down three adjectives that described the team and the program.
“They had great feedback. They were all really together and really excited,” Walsh said. “I did a lot more listening than talking, because I wanted to learn and start to develop a trusting relationship with them.”
Neither Creech nor Walsh views moving up from Division III to Division I as a major obstacle to re-establishing the UMaine program. Creech pointed to former UMaine coach John Giannini as having made the transition.
“Wherever you are, you’ve just got to recruit good enough players to win with,” said Walsh, who admitted the more restrictive Division I recruiting rules will be a challenge.
“The structure of recruiting forces you to get your work done a lot earlier. You’ve got to be a step ahead,” he added.
Walsh said he has not made any decisions in regard to choosing his staff.