ORONO — He has more control over his hot Irish temper than he did 10 years ago. He knows even better how to reach into the hearts and minds of men who are 35 years younger.

But don’t ask Jack Cosgrove if he is a smarter head football coach than he was in 2001, when his University of Maine team last reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA playoffs. He’ll shoot you his best are-you-kidding-me look.

Maine beat Appalachian State 34-12 last Saturday in Boone, N.C. A three-time national champion and perennial contender got taken down by a motivated and well-prepared Maine team. Today, Cosgrove’s stock couldn’t be higher.

Four and five years ago it couldn’t have been lower, recognized as a caring and sincere human being but criticized as a football man who had lost his fastball.

“I’m the same guy (as I was in 2001),” Cosgrove said on Tuesday after doing yet another radio interview from his office, this one with an ESPN affiliate in Georgia. “I’ve been blessed. I’ve got three great coordinators and a locker room full of young men with the same goals.

“My job is to stay out of their way.”

He puts the pain of losing on himself and shares the satisfaction of winning with everyone. He’s listened to the backroom talk that the university should downsize or eliminate the football program to funnel scarce resources to hockey and soldiered on.

There isn’t a person in his program who doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder, Cosgrove says. “We don’t even get to talk to recruits unless someone has already said no to them. I’ve had high school coaches in the past tell me his kid couldn’t play for (the University of Massachusetts), but he could play for you. Both schools were in the same conference, so what was he saying?”

Somewhere in the chatter going into last weekend’s round of playoff games, Maine heard it didn’t have much chance in going on the road and beating Appalachian State. That’s all Cosgrove and his staff needed to further motivate their players. Maine is the underdog to Georgia Southern this week, too.

Cosgrove is the same coach. What’s around him changes. His coaching staff was gutted in 2007 when longtime assistant Bob Wilder was named the head coach at Old Dominion. Counting Wilder, Cosgrove lost four coaches. Maine has six full-time assistants.

I don’t care if you’re a newspaper, a bank, or a pencil factory, that turnover in mid-level management hurts. With the low salaries Maine offers, Cosgrove had to find new assistants with potential rather than men with experience.

“I want him to be a good person before he’s a good coach. When we recruit kids we sell relationships. A player is going to get good coaching wherever he goes, or should. This is a profession.

“You can’t always find good relationships. We want our players to know we care about them, the potential they can realize here and what they do after they’re here.”

After beating Appalachian State, Cosgrove heard more congratulations, more kind words. John Huard, the former Denver Broncos linebacker who played on the Maine team that went to the 1965 Tangerine Bowl, sent a particularly heartfelt note.

“Hearing from the alums means more because they know how difficult it is to win here,” said Cosgrove. “We do more with less.”

He is 55 years old and wishes he had more patience. “I feel like I’m running out of time. For me to be a good coach, I need that level of energy and patience. I want to know that no one can keep up with me.”

Ask him his strengths and he’ll talk about his eye for detail and planning, organizing. He has vision, wants goals and does get frustrated when those around him can’t or won’t see the endgame.

His goal, beyond beating Georgia Southern this Saturday? Consistency of winning at a place where the materials to succeed are too often out of reach.

His flaws?

“I wish I was a better husband and a better father.”

His 16-year-old twin son and daughter and 13-year-old daughter have started basketball practice.

“I haven’t been to any of their basketball scrimmages.”

 

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