Coach Richard Barron has directed the University of Maine women’s basketball program back to league prominence during his four seasons in Orono.

The Black Bears, who languished under coaches Ann McInerney and Cindy Blodgett, are again among the most respected teams in the America East Conference and New England.

UMaine is coming off a 23-9 campaign during which it won the program’s first league regular-season title in 10 years and played in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.

After going 12-47 in Barron’s first two seasons, the Black Bears have posted a 40-24 record (.625 winning percentage) the last two years.

“He’s really just doing everything we would want and expect from a head coach,” said UMaine athletics director Karlton Creech, who praised assistant coaches Todd Steelman, Amy Vachon, Sean Smith and staffer Tracey Guerrette.

“A lot of the credit, any great coach will tell you this, has to go to the student-athletes,” Creech added.

The program’s turnaround and success make Barron a more valuable and marketable commodity as he completes the fourth year of a five-year contract that he signed in June 2011.

Creech stressed that UMaine would like to keep Barron and his staff on board.

“We certainly want to extend that relationship and have Richard lead our women’s program long term,” Creech said, lauding the program’s community outreach and achievements in the classroom under his direction.

“I want Richard to be happy and fulfilled in his career,” he added. “Ideally, that would happen for a very long time at the University of Maine.”

Barron, who on Monday departed for a recruiting trip in Europe, could not be reached for comment.

Creech said he and Barron have not discussed a possible contract extension.

“As the next year progresses and we near the end of his current contract term, which will be June 2016, we’ll start to have those conversations,” Creech said.

If moving up is Barron’s ultimate goal, there should be several good opportunities in the next year. Already, there are women’s head coaching vacancies at Georgia of the Southeastern Conference, Kansas (Big 12) and Rice (Conference USA).

Barron’s resume includes stops as an assistant at powerhouse Baylor and North Carolina State and as the head coach at Princeton. There is prestige and big money to be earned at larger schools.

Creech said that dynamic is a reality of college athletics, where coaching success is often rewarded by new opportunities.

“I’m sure as Richard continues to excel in his role as the head of our women’s basketball program, he’ll encounter those opportunities in the future,” he said.

This year, Barron is scheduled to earn $119,000 at UMaine, where he has received an annual increase of $3,000 on top of his initial $110,000 salary. When the final bump takes effect on July 1, his contract will be worth $122,000.

In contrast, recently fired Kansas women’s coach Bonnie Henrickson earned $505,000 — plus incentives.

There is a buyout clause in Barron’s contract that would kick in if he left UMaine early. He would have to pay $59,500, one-half his salary.

A contract provision reduces the buyout from one year’s salary to six months in the event the athletic director at the time of the contract signing (Steve Abbott) no longer holds that position.

Barron’s as-yet-unrealized contract incentives include a $3,500 bonus for winning the America East championship and a $5,000 prize if UMaine receives a bid to the NCAA tournament.

As Barron and assistant coach Amy Vachon scour Europe for future Black Bears, UMaine begins postseason workouts with one of the most experienced teams in the country, one that will feature eight seniors and two juniors.

Prospects for 2015-2016 appear bright, but UMaine faces another significant roster overhaul once the aforementioned group is gone.

In the meantime, Barron and his family must decide whether they are happy here or wish to take the next step.

“I want Richard to be happy and fulfilled in his career,” Creech said. “Ideally, that would happen for a very long time at the University of Maine.”

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...