Richard Barron stepped away from his duties as the University of Maine women’s basketball coach in January, hoping that the time away would answer questions about the health issues he was having.
Three months later, his diagnosis and prognosis are considerably clearer, but he remains on medical leave and is not able to return to the gym with the Black Bears. Barron is still under contract with UMaine.
UMaine on Wednesday announced that athletic director Karlton Creech has appointed Amy Vachon as the interim coach for the 2017-2018 season, giving her the reins of the program as Barron continues to deal with health concerns.
Barron, 48, also released a statement that for the first time publicly identified what he has been dealing with during the last four months.
The full statement is published below.
“Early this season, I started to notice some changes in my health. On Dec. 8, I had sudden sensorineural hearing loss accompanied by vestibular issues. We struggled to diagnose the underlying cause and initially I feared that my condition was terminal. Because of that uncertainty, I stepped away as head coach in early January.
“Thankfully, it appears my condition is not life-threatening. However, we still have lots of questions about the long-term prognosis. I have two parallel neurological conditions: Demyelinating Peripheral Neuropathy and Vestibular Neuritis. The former leaves me with pain, numbness, weakness, etc. in my arms and legs. The latter has caused Hyperacusis, Diplacusis and Vestibular Migraines. The hyperacusis and Vestibular Migraines can be debilitating, especially outside of a controlled environment.
“My doctors have told me that there is reason for long-term optimism with medications and therapies but it is also something that could stay with me for a year or longer or permanently.
“With that information, I felt that it was important that the women’s basketball program have some certainty — certainty that I cannot give at this time. I recommended to Karlton Creech that we look for a way to give full authority of the program to Amy Vachon as I try these treatments.
“I have great confidence in Amy and her leadership of the program. 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.
“I want to thank everyone in the community and beyond who have reached out to show their concern for my family and me. I have appreciated all of your calls, texts, letters, cards and emails. They have meant a great deal to us. I especially want to thank Karlton and President Susan Hunter for their support and understanding. They have made a difficult situation easier.
“I also want to acknowledge the hard work and promising results of the women’s basketball staff and student-athletes who all had to come together in my absence.
“I remain bullish on UMaine Women’s Basketball and look forward to the future of the program.”
Barron has restored the UMaine women’s program to respectability during his five-plus seasons. His teams have posted a 96-96 record while winning back-to-back America East regular-season titles in 2015 and 2016 while advancing to consecutive league championship games in 2016 and 2017.
UMaine was 7-9 this season before Vachon took over and guided the team to an 11-7 mark, although all wins and losses are credited to Barron. The Black Bears are 67-34 (.663) over the last three seasons.
Barron, who replaced former UMaine All-American Cindy Blodgett in 2011, was named the 2015 America East Coach of the Year. He has excelled in recruiting international players, including a 2016 senior class that featured six foreign student-athletes.
There were nine international players on this year’s team, although one graduates and five others are planning to transfer.
Barron, a Tennessee native, came to UMaine after spending two seasons as an assistant at North Carolina State and six seasons as the recruiting coordinator at Baylor University. Previously, he was the head women’s coach at Princeton for six seasons.
He started his coaching career at The University of the South, where he was an assistant with the men’s team before directing the women’s program for five seasons.