ORONO, Maine — When Amy Vachon was named an assistant basketball coach at the University of Maine in May 2011 after coaching Catherine McAuley High School of Portland to the Class A girls basketball state title a few months earlier, she wasn’t giving any thought to ever becoming a head coach in college.
“I never jumped into being an assistant because I wanted to be a head coach like a lot of them do,” Vachon admitted on Friday afternoon, after signing a four-year contract to be UMaine’s head coach. She had served as interim head coach for 14 months.
It is effective March 1.
“I never had an end goal. It wasn’t something I had to do. If I was just going to be an assistant, I wanted to be the best assistant I could be. If I was good at it and I was happy, that would have been fine,” said Vachon.
But after serving as the interim head coach since Jan. 6, 2017, when head coach Richard Barron was forced to take a medical leave of absence, the head coaching position “definitely grew on me” and she has embraced it.
“I’m excited,” said Vachon, an Augusta native. “I’m really thankful for this opportunity, especially with the group of kids and staff we have. This is a great opportunity. The University of Maine has been really special to me. I’ve spent a third of my life here. I’ve had some really awesome experiences.”
Vachon is a former two-time, all-conference guard and a two-year captain at UMaine.
Vachon will earn $120,000 per year beginning July 1 and will receive $5,000 raises each subsequent year.
As of April, 2017, Barron was earning $152,440 per year and was scheduled to receive a yearly increase of $5,000.
Barron was named a special assistant to athletic director Karlton Creech on Dec. 1, 2017, and will remain in that capacity until June 30.
Barron’s future is uncertain and he didn’t return phone or text messages asking about his future.
This season, Vachon took a UMaine team picked to finish sixth in the coaches preseason poll to the America East regular-season championship. The Black Bears graduated three-time, first-team all-conference guard Sigi Koizar and five players transferred. Four were freshmen, including America East All-Rookie team selection and AE Sixth Player Award winner Laia Sole.
The Black Bears went 20-9 overall, 13-3 in the conference, and open the America East tournament Saturday at noon against UMBC at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.
Three of UMaine’s losses were on the road to No. 2 Mississippi State, No. 13 Ohio State and No. 18 Duke.
“Amy did an unbelievable job with them this year,” said Albany coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee after Sunday’s game.
Vachon stressed that the players and her assistant coaches have “made the transition easy for me. They made it fun.”
She added that their work ethic has been an important ingredient in this season’s success.
“They have worked hard and given the effort every single day,” said Vachon.
Last season under her guidance, the Black Bears went 11-7 and upset top seed New Hampshire to earn a trip to the America East title game.
“Last year wasn’t a normal situation. But we got through it and we came out OK. Our kids grew from it and so did I,” said Vachon.
Vachon said two of the greatest influences on her life have been her father, Maine Sports Hall of Fame coach Paul Vachon, who coached Amy at Cony High School in Augusta, and Barron.
“My dad means so much to me,” said Vachon, who became the associate head coach in May 2016 and was named interim head coach April 5, 2017.
“I don’t know to explain it. He has influenced me as a coach but, as a person, a father and a husband, there’s no one better. I’ve watched him interact with kids and that’s the biggest thing I got from him (as a coach). The way he deals with people is second to none.”
“I thought I knew something about basketball but I don’t know anything compared to him,” said Vachon, who was the recruiting coordinator under Barron.
According to her contract, if UMaine terminates her without cause, Vachon would receive an amount equal to her base salary for the number of years remaining on her contract.
If Vachon terminated the contract to take another NCAA Division I coaching job, she would be responsible for an amount equal to two months of her gross annual base salary.
The contract also reads that Vachon will be responsible for raising revenue through guarantee games in consultation with the director of athletics.
“Amy has done an outstanding job during the last 15 months, and she has earned the opportunity to be the permanent head coach of the women’s basketball team,” Creech said in a news release. “After taking over the program under adverse conditions, Amy led our student-athletes to continued success academically and athletically. The championship-level performance of the program under Amy’s leadership has been more than impressive.”
“Amy has provided amazing leadership for women’s basketball, resulting this year in a successful season that has rocked the Cross Center,” said UMaine President Susan J. Hunter. “She has been a tremendous asset to the program that she knows so well. It’s wonderful to see such a talented coach take her team to this level of achievement in America East and in the classroom. This is a proud moment for Maine and Black Bear Nation looks forward to the success of women’s basketball under Amy’s leadership.”
Barron said he’s thrilled that Vachon has been named the head coach.
“The tremendous success that the program has experienced over the past seven years can be directly attributed to Amy’s efforts, capped by the incredible achievement of a regular season championship in her first full year at the helm,” Barron says. “UMaine has won 15 conference championships and Amy has played or coached on nearly half of those teams. She epitomizes what UMaine women’s basketball is all about.”
Vachon said she is grateful to Hunter and Creech for their support and the faith they have shown in her and to Barron for taking a chance on her seven years ago and being a mentor and tremendous friend.
During her playing career, Vachon 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, the program’s lone NCAA postseason win.
During her career, the Black Bears posted a four-year record of 87-35, including a 61-11 conference mark.
Vachon, who was inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame in 2016, holds the UMaine record for the most assists in a season (234) and owns the UMaine and America East mark for career assists (759).
At Cony, she played on two-state championships teams, was a four-year BDN All-Maine selection and a two-time Gatorade Player of the Year. In 1996, she was named Miss Maine Basketball.
Vachon excelled in the classroom and knows the demands of Division I student-athletes. At UMaine, she was selected to the All-Maine Women Honor Society and made the dean’s list and the America East All-Conference Academic Honor Roll. She was a Maine Scholar-Athlete Award winner and a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Board.
Vachon graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2000 with a degree in elementary education. In 2002, she earned her Master’s of Education in school counseling at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
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