Richard Barron, the newly named University of Maine men’s basketball head coach, is in a unique position of taking over the men’s program after being a successful women’s basketball head coach at the same college.
Taking over a program that just had its poorest four years in the school’s basketball history and has never been to the NCAA Tourney are huge obstacles for Barron to overcome but he has a history of turning around programs, which he did at Maine and Princeton.
He faces the new challenges with several more things that are different than going to another women’s program. His only other men’s college coaching experience was his first college job from 1991-95 as an assistant coach at Division III Sewanee College in Tennessee where he became the women’s head coach in 1995-96.
A big adjustment for Barron is that men usually aren’t as coachable as women. When I ran co-ed shooting camps and gave individual shooting lessons, I found that women were more positive and open to coaching. Coaching shooting is the hardest basketball skill to teach, correct, improve or learn.
Another adjustment Barron faces in the men’s game is coaching more athletic players both offensively and defensively. The quickness, strength and game’s physicality are different, especially on the defensive end.
A big issue Barron faces is whether he will be able to establish a new recruiting base. Recruiting has been a problem for past Maine men’s coaches because of the program’s lack of success and its remote location.
It has been difficult to get top out-of-state recruits to come to Maine and the state produces very few Division I prospects from its high school ranks. A good sign, however, occurred on Friday when Portland High standout Terion Moss verbally committed to Maine. On that day he was also named Mr. Maine Basketball after already winning the Maine Gatorade Player of the Year award.
Barron also now faces the task of deciding who will be his assistant coaches and whether any of the current assistants will stay. The assistant coaching salaries don’t compete well against most Division I colleges while some assistants may also be skeptical of coming to Maine when considering whether a successful women’s coach can also be successful with a men’s program.
Transfers could also slow down Barron’s attempt to rebuild the program as Aaron Calixte and Dan Evans are leaving. When some leave, others follow, which has occurred to both men’s and women’s programs at Maine over the last two years. If more players don’t leave, then the men’s team has a solid base to build around.
Barron seems eager to meet all of the challenges head on and his past record of success must have been a key factor in support shown by the UMaine administration, which surprisingly didn’t bother with a national search in seeking a replacement for Bob Walsh.
In the last 30 seasons, the Maine men’s program has compiled only eight winning records: 1991-92 (17-15, coached by the late Rudy Keeling), ‘93-94 (20-9, Keeling), ‘95-96 (15-13, Keeling), ‘98-99 (19-9, coach John Giannini), ‘99-2000 (24-7, Giannini), ‘00-01 (18-11, Giannini), ‘03-04 (20-11, Giannini) and ‘09-10 (19-11, coach Ted Woodward).
The UMaine women’s program was 24-94 in the four years before Barron was hired and the men’s program has been 24-100 in the past four years. He turned around the women’s program and now the state’s college basketball fans will be closely watching to see if he can do the same with the men’s program.
He may want to give John Giannini a call and ask for some advice.