BANGOR, Maine — With head coach Richard Barron continuing on medical leave to battle a debilitating illness, associate head coach Amy Vachon, who led the University of Maine women’s basketball team during the second half of this season, will serve as the interim head coach for the 2017-2018 season.
The move went into effect on Wednesday.
Barron, who began taking an extended medical leave on Jan. 6, said in a statement that he urged UMaine athletic director Karlton Creech to give Vachon “full authority of the program.”
Creech has taken that step with the naming of Vachon.
Creech and Vachon addressed the media on Wednesday afternoon at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
“Amy stepped up at a difficult time during the 2016-17 season in coach Richard Barron’s absence and handled the head coaching duties with poise and confidence,” Creech said in a news release before meeting the media.
“As coach Barron takes the time needed to seek improvement for his health, we are once again confident in coach Vachon’s ability to successfully lead the program over the next year, and we thank her for her loyalty and service to the University of Maine.”
Barron, who remains under contract, on Wednesday provided an update of his condition and steps being taken to bring it under control. He explained that he has “two parallel neurological conditions.”
One leaves him with pain, numbness and weakness in his arms and legs and the other causes migraines that can be debilitating, “especially outside of a controlled environment.”
Barron, who signed a four-year contract extension in March 2016, said his doctors have told him there is reason for, “long-term optimism with medications and therapies but is also something that could stay with me for a year or longer or permanently.”
Barron, who recently revealed that he is being treated at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, said that as his health issues continue, it is important that the basketball program have some “certainty — certainty that I cannot give at this time.”
Creech said at the news conference that Barron “is still under contract” and could return to coach again someday.
Barron makes $150,000 per year and that will expand to $155,000 in July.
But Creech also said “like any university employee, he has medical leave built up as one of the benefits of being a university employee and he’s now in that stage.”
Creech noted that since there was so much uncertainty about Barron’s health during the season, he didn’t feel it was right to appoint Vachon as the interim head coach at that time.
“Now that the season is over and we know more, it is appropriate to give her the interim head coach title. That allows her the full authority to recruit and do everything any head coach would do on behalf of the program,” said Creech.
Vachon will make $100,000 as the interim head coach after earning $42,864 as the associate head coach.
Vachon said at the news conference that the move “gives clarity to our players, which is really important; clarity for recruiting and clarity to coach Barron, too.
“It’s really hard for him to step away but he knows the program is in good hands and that we’ll do the best we can,” said Vachon, who talks to Barron frequently.
Last winter, Vachon guided the Black Bears back to their second straight America East championship game and an 11-7 record. The results of those 18 games are credited to Barron’s coaching record.
He is now 96-96 in six years at UMaine, including an 84-49 mark over his last four seasons.
Vachon was assisted by Edniesha Curry and Samantha Baranowski and director of basketball operations Jhasmin Player, who became an assistant after Barron went on leave.
Vachon indicated that there “may be some changes” to her staff, although all are still working with the players and recruiting right now.
Creech said he was proud of Vachon and her staff for being “selfless” and said they “worked together and put the interests of the student-athletes and the university ahead of their own in many situations.”
Vachon and her staff have been busy since the March 23 announcement that five players have decided to transfer, including America East Sixth Player of the Year and All-Rookie team member Laia Sole.
Between transfers and graduating seniors Sigi Koizar and Sheraton Jones, that left her with just seven returning players and one signed incoming recruit: Shooting guard Kelly Fogarty.
“The seven kids we have returning are fantastic. We have a lot of talent coming back. We have three returning starters [sophomore Tanesha Sutton and freshmen Blanca Millan and Fanny Wadling] and [freshman] Julie Brosseau started when Sigi was out [injured],” said Vachon. “I’ve met with them and told them I wouldn’t want to coach anyone else. They are 100 percent invested in what we do as a team and in the classroom. They work their tails off.”
She intends to bring in more players but said she won’t bring in players just to fill out her roster.
“We have high standards on and off the court. If we recruit a student-athlete, they have to be good basketball players but great kids who buy into what we’re doing. If we end up with nine players, they will be nine solid kids who people will love to see play because they will put their heart and soul into it,” said Vachon.
Vachon said the five players who transferred did so for different reasons and she didn’t know whether Barron’s situation played into it.
“You’d have to ask [the players],” said Vachon. “I’m not going to get into our private discussions. I wish them the best of luck.”
When asked if she was surprised by the unprecedented exodus, she said, “I don’t want to talk about the transfers. It happened a couple of weeks ago.”
Creech pointed out that there were over 700 transfers in men’s Division I college basketball a year ago, so transferring has become a “norm.”
“Student-athletes are more aware of the transfer process and how to do it. It certainly isn’t a situation that is unique to us and you’ll continue to see that,” he said.
Four members of the University of Maine’s men’s program transferred a year ago.
Vachon had thanked Creech and University of Maine President Susan Hunter for the opportunity in a news release.
“Although it is not an ideal situation, I could not be more excited to continue working with our team. I also want to thank coach Barron for his continued support of me and this program,” she said. “He has poured his heart and soul into this program and I have been fortunate to have him as a mentor and a friend. I am looking forward to a tremendous 2017-18 basketball season.”
Barron said he has great confidence in Vachon.
“Amy has been a stalwart of the program for the past six years and has been a part of every decision. She will not only bring what she has learned from me to the position, but what she has learned through her career as a player and coach,” said Barron, who also thanked well-wishers, his players and coaches, Creech and Hunter for their support.
Vachon, who was promoted to associate head coach in May 2016, joined the staff as an assistant coach in May 2011. She also has been the recruiting coordinator.
Prior to joining the UMaine staff, Vachon was the head girls basketball coach at Catherine McAuley High School in Portland, guiding the squad to the 2011 Maine Class A state championship.
Vachon was a two-year captain at UMaine and led the Black Bears to four straight NCAA tournament appearances. She was a member of the 1999 team that knocked off Stanford in the first round.
Vachon, who was inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame in 2016, holds the UMaine season record for assists with 234 and the school and America East career mark (759).
She is the daughter of former Cony High School girls basketball coach and Maine Sports Hall of Famer Paul Vachon.
She excelled in the classroom and graduated magna cum laude in 2000 with a degree in elementary education. She earned a master’s degree in education two years later at the University of North Carolina.