ORONO, Maine — For Bob Walsh, the decision not to fight to keep his job as University of Maine men’s basketball coach was a personal struggle of considerable duration.
“I knew I was going to serve out my contract and I knew I was going to fight as hard as I could for these kids and they fought as hard as they could for each other, said Walsh, who ended the fourth and final season of his initial UMaine coaching contract Saturday when the Black Bears lost to top-ranked Vermont 75-60 in the America East quarterfinals.
“You look into the future everyday and know the contract is going to end and you ask yourself whether does pursuing another contract, make sense? Is there a viable future for me?
For the 46-year-old Walsh, that answer was no, in part due to what he described as the changing structure of his job during the last 18 months.
“Budget changes, budget challenges, and scheduling challenges made it really difficult, it made it different, so our players had to face a tremendous amount of adversity,” said Walsh, who came to UMaine before the 2014-15 season after a successful nine-year stint at Rhode Island College where he guided that team to more than 200 victories and eight consecutive NCAA Division III tournament appearances.
“Some of it was simply bad luck, injuries, personnel. Ultimately our inability to get all of our personnel out on the floor for the last two years had a significant impact but our guys fought like crazy no matter what.”
Walsh told his players of his decision Monday afternoon, just before Barron was introduced as his replacement.
“I’m really proud of the kids and the culture we established and the approach that has become a part of Maine basketball,” he added. “These kids deserve a lot of credit and a lot of admiration from Black Bear fans everywhere.”
That collective work ethic was acknowledged by Barron during the media availability announcing his hiring as well as by Karlton Creech, who is serving in his last week as UM athletic director before leaving for a job at the University of Denver.
“The university would like to thank Bob Walsh for his hard work and dedication to the men’s basketball program,” Creech said in a news release. “Coach Walsh’s teams achieved academically while showing great toughness and perseverance on the court. We wish him the best moving forward.”
The Black Bears, who were 4-4 in conference play midway through Walsh’s first season with the team, ultimately were beset by transfers and injuries throughout his tenure and managed just a 24-100 record over four seasons. The Black Bears went 6-26 this winter en route to an eighth-place finish in the nine-team America East.
UMaine also failed to win an America East postseason game under Walsh, extending a streak of playoff futility that extends back to 2005 (14 games).
Walsh plans to continue coaching in the future.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Right now I don’t have a job, but I’ve been on the bench of a college basketball program since I was 20 years old, it’s been 25 years.
“I have a lot of other interests and potential opportunities in leadership and leadership development, but I love coaching. Building a team from scratch of 19- and 20-year-olds and getting everybody bought in and seeing those guys grow every day, I love it.”