Colby College football coach Jack Cosgrove pumps his fist in approval during a recent practice in Waterville. The former longtime University of Maine coach is in his first season guiding the Mules. Credit: Courtesy of Ben Wheeler Photography

WATERVILLE, Maine — The office remains a bit cluttered more than eight months after his hiring, boxes to one side of the desk and photographs lined up against the wall on the other side of the room.

But any full-scale reorganization now may have to wait until November. It’s game time again for Jack Cosgrove.

The face of University of Maine football for more than two decades until stepping down as the Black Bears’ head coach in late 2015, Cosgrove will return to the sideline Saturday an hour south where his new team at Colby College will host defending New England Small College Athletic Conference champion Trinity College of Hartford, Connecticut, in its 2018 NCAA Division III season opener.

Credit: Courtesy of Ben Wheeler Photography

Colby and Trinity arrive at this meeting at Harold Alfond Stadium on the Mayflower Hill campus from opposite ends of the football spectrum. Trinity went 8-1 a year ago including a 35-0 victory over the Mules. Colby finished 1-8 and at the bottom of the NESCAC standings. The Bantams have defeated Colby in 38 of their previous 50 meetings.

“We haven’t had a lot of success against them,” said Cosgrove, who was hired as the Mules’ head coach in December. “But we’re going to talk about what we can do rather than what we can’t.”

The Mules appear to be reinvigorated by their new mentor, who has 29 years of Division I coaching experience. And Cosgrove himself is energized by them, as well as his new opportunity after a two-year hiatus.

“It’s hard for me to picture him away from the game,” said Matt Richman, a senior wide receiver from Sudbury, Massachusetts. “He is just so about the game, and you can see the level of excitement he has.”

Cosgrove, 62, left the UMaine head coaching post after 23 seasons, a school-record 129 victories, three conference championships and five NCAA Division I Tournament appearances.

“I got worn out,” said Cosgrove, citing specifically the travel required in recruiting. “I looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I was seeing. I like to enjoy life, and I felt like I wasn’t. I didn’t feel like I was a great husband or a great father, and it was because I was so absorbed with the coaching.

“I always used to say to myself that if you’re a bad coach you can always work at fixing it, but if you’re a bad husband or father you better stop coaching.”

Cosgrove, who had been affiliated with UMaine for the majority of his life since arriving on campus as a student-athlete in 1974 — save for two years as an assistant coach at Boston College and four years as a high school coach in his native Massachusetts — initially remained on campus as a senior associate director of athletics.

But two years into that job he realized coaching remained his calling.

“They were great with me in terms of the AD situation,” said Cosgrove, twice a second-team All-Yankee Conference quarterback during his playing days at UMaine. “I got to see a world that was very revealing to me and very challenging — and it made me miss coaching.”

Credit: Courtesy of Ben Wheeler Photography

Cosgrove applied for the Colby opening after Jonathan Michaels resigned from the post in early December.

“When I was driving home after interviewing here I distinctly remember thinking, ‘I really want this job. I hope they want me,’” he said. “Obviously it worked out.”

The months since Cosgrove’s hiring have marked a transitional period for both coach and players.

Unlike in the Division I football world, NESCAC coaches don’t travel to recruit — that’s done largely by phone, email and prospective student-athletes visiting campus — and the academic standards are more rigorous.

“The challenge is can they get in, are their academic credentials good enough to get in here?” Cosgrove said. “You have to be able to see in the young man you’re recruiting that he’s going to compete in the classroom like he does as a football player, so that’s an area I hope to establish some credibility with here.”

NESCAC coaches also aren’t allowed to supervise offseason workouts either during the school year or the summer — when the Mules go home rather than stay on campus to train as is routinely the case at Division I programs.

So as Cosgrove sought to establish a Division I-level work ethic with the Colby players, he entrusted the returning seniors to lead the way.

“I frankly told them to change our results they had to change their ways, and they’ve been willing to do that,” said Cosgrove, whose new program has not had a winning season since 2005 and is 7-26 over the last four years.

Credit: Courtesy of Ben Wheeler Photography

His new players have accepted the increased demands.

“He really emphasized a changing culture where guys are more accountable and more motivated to do the work when nobody was watching, when they were by themselves during the summer,” said senior safety Will Caffey of Melrose, Massachusetts.

Players who lived in the same area often held weekly group workouts to complement their individual work while they balanced their football preparation with summer jobs.

“I felt like that if I missed a lift coach Coz was going to find out some way,” said Jake Schwern, a senior running back from Glen Ridge, New Jersey. “So I definitely wanted to stay on top of everything. I feel like everyone on the team felt that way and wanted to make a good impression when we got back here in the fall.”

Cosgrove maintained contact with his players during the summer through regular phone calls and a weekly letter, so he wasn’t surprised by his team’s conditioning level when the Mules returned to campus.

“They came back and tested, and you could see that the guys did the things they needed to do over the summer to be ready to play football in the fall,” he said.

Now comes the weekly grind of preparing for the next opponent.

“By the fall of ‘17 I knew I missed it, I had to get back,” Cosgrove said. “By then I liked what I saw in the mirror. I felt better, I felt healthier, and I felt I had fixed being a better husband and father.

“This is just what the doctor ordered.”

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...