BY GLENN JORDAN
Portland Press Herald
Jack Cosgrove grew up in greater Boston, has plenty of family in Boston, and spent two years as a Boston College assistant football coach before returning to Orono and his alma mater, the University of Maine.
So when the Eagles head coaching job opened up Sunday with the departure of Frank Spaziani, coupled with Cosgrove’s five-year contract expiring next June, it might be reasonable to assume he might entertain the notion of coaching at an institution with considerably more resources than Maine.
After all, in 2007, when he last re-upped with the Black Bears, Cosgrove was a finalist at Rhode Island before withdrawing his name from consideration to continue his tenure in Orono, where his 20-year career as head coach matches Fred Brice (1921-40) as the longest in program history.
But no, Cosgrove said Monday after a meeting with Athletic Director Steve Abbott. Greener pastures are not on his mind.
“My biggest concern is having a picture of the (future of) the University of Maine athletics,” said Cosgrove, who turned 57 in October. “I’ve invested 20 years here. I could easily invest a lot more. But I also know that sometimes it’s not blood and sweat that’s going to get it done.”
The Colonial Athletic Conference is among the most competitive in the country among NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision leagues, and next fall two strong programs will be added: Stony Brook (10-2) beat CAA member Villanova on Saturday to advance to a second-round playoff game at Montana State on Saturday night and Albany, which ruined Maine’s home opener in September, finished 9-2.
The Black Bears, one year removed from an NCAA quarterfinal appearance and No. 8 national ranking, slipped to 5-6 overall and 4-4 in conference action but won three of their last four games. Whether they can continue to be competitive in the CAA, which features southern schools that routinely draw 10,000 and 20,000 fans to home games, may hinge on whether the university is willing and able to invest in the future of football at the CAA’s northernmost outpost.
“The (four) Virginia teams have a different perspective on football than New England teams, they just do,” Cosgrove said. “The further south you go, the more Biblical football becomes.”
What he hopes to avoid in Orono is anything similar to the Book of Job.
“I recognize the situation in the state of Maine with the economy and those type of things,” said Cosgrove, adding that he has an obligation to “know what I’m getting into here. It’s been 20 years of hard work and it looks like it’s maybe even more difficult now (to remain competitive). But that’s just what it is.
“I’ve known that and I’ve always embraced the challenge, but I felt like I just needed a little clearer picture of how big that challenge is going to be.”
Abbott provided some of the answers Monday, all that he could, Cosgrove said.
“We had a very good discussion,” said Abbott, whose father, former head coach Walt Abbott, recruited Cosgrove to play quarterback at Maine. “He loves this place. He loves the program. He wants the program to continue to succeed and to get better.”
As for the university’s position, Abbott said a contract extension offered to Cosgrove during the season remains on the table.
“Jack has been a tremendous coach here,” Abbott said. “I think very highly of him. He’s coached here for 20 years and I’d be happy to have him coach here another 20 years.”
Meanwhile, Maine’s assistant coaches — all of whom are tied to Cosgrove’s situation — are out on the recruiting trail. In the interest of stability and continuity, both men said they would like to reach a decision soon.
Cosgrove and his wife, Marilyn, have four children – three at Bangor High and one, Jeri, a sophomore at the university. Their son, Matthew, is a senior who played receiver and defensive back for the Rams.
“It’s not good to be in this situation,” Cosgrove said, “so that’s why I’m hoping it goes quickly on both ends, one way or another.”
Notes: Fifth-year senior linebacker Donte Dennis, sidelined for the season-ending 55-6 victory at Rhode Island because of a knee injury, saw a specialist while home in New Jersey for Thanksgiving break and learned he won’t need surgery after all. “Turns out it was sprained,” Dennis said. “He said I didn’t even need an MRI. I’ll have to do a little rehab, but that’s really it.” Despite missing the last game and a half, Dennis led the team in tackles for a third season, joining Stephen Cooper as the only Black Bear to do so.
Glenn Jordan — 791-6425