With Karlton Creech living out the old Busch beer slogan and heading for the mountains, the folks that oversee the only D-1 athletics program in this state have a major hire to make this spring.
Can you handle the truth? The department is on thin ice worthy of an Ice Road Truckers episode.
Teams often struggle to eke out winning records, rarely compete for conference titles, and fan interest throughout the state is waning. Many facilities need updating and of course money is tight. Some Black Bear loyalists are disgruntled with ticket prices, games in Portland, and the dissolution of long time “Friends” groups. The new AD will face some challenges for sure.
I personally like Creech and think he has done a good job in his time in Orono. He made some tough choices regarding coaches, and has worked tirelessly building programs to help strengthen the financial future. The next person will have to do more of the same.
It all begins with Maine men’s hockey. This program must win generate income. Fans have jumped back on the Maine Zamboni this year. Red Gendron has ridden a schedule filled with underachievers (Maine boasts just one win against a team above .500 record as of this writing) to a 16-12-4 record and a 25 spot in the pairwise. It’s a vast improvement over recent years but consider this: before bottoming out at 11 wins in his final season, Tim Whitehead won 19, 17, and 23 games in his final years. Fans wanted him gone. Now with somewhat soft 16 wins, fans and the outgoing AD seem pleased. The new AD might need to have loftier standards for this program.
There’s lots of room for improvement with other major programs too. Black Bear Football won just four games this past year, down from six the year prior. Just down the highway another tiny state school has gone to the playoffs literally every year for almost two decades. Not to mention they just finished a nearly 20 million in renovations to their stadium. The Wildcats have built a northern juggernaut. I want the new Maine Athletic Director to have a similar plan for Maine football.
Maine Men’s basketball is now one of the worst programs in the nation. They Bears have an RPI of 338 out of 351. If you’re not into such stats, just know that only thirteen teams in the country suck worse. Creech and the current crew in Orono essentially have sacrificed the program by making them play 13 of 17 on the road to start the year in the name of collecting money for the department. Bob Walsh is sure to take the fall for the Cyanide pill others have slipped this program. I’d love the new AD to make men’s hoops a priority.
In terms of attendance, men’s hoops only slightly outdraws women’s ice hockey, a team that has had a nice year but is a major drain on the already beleaguered budget.Â Zero revenue and more than $800,000 budget. The new AD must have some better ideas on how to comply with Title 9.
Despite anther successful season and an admirable job by Amy Vachon, attendance is down at women’s hoops. Third year in a row. The good news is Maine could beÂ top seed and the conference tournament is hosted by Maine. The bad news is, despite having the impressive new Cross Center in Bangor, the tourney is in Portland.
That should be another wake up call to the next Athletic Director that D-1 athletics in Orono is a hard road to hoe. Internal candidates such as Lynn Coutts, Seth Woodock and Richard Barron know this already.
It will take an amazing, innovative and dynamic person to figure out how to fix facilities, field competitive teams, and keep all of the sports intact. Yes, I mean trying to keep football and baseball, sports which many northeast schools have folded in recent times.
I don’t want that to happen. That’s why I hope the search committee hires the right person for the job. Someone who will stay and take Maine with them to the top of the mountain.