Steve Abbott, who served as U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ chief of staff for 12 years before stepping down in 2009 to run for governor, will return to his political post.

“I am delighted that Steve Abbott will be returning to my office as chief of staff this fall,” Collins said in a written statement Tuesday. “Steve’s commitment to public service and his knowledge of Maine are extraordinary, and I am very pleased that he once again will be putting his exceptional talents toward the goal of helping me better serve the people of Maine.”

Abbott has served as the University of Maine’s interim athletic director since September 2010.

His return comes at a key time for Collins, who is up for re-election next year and could face a primary challenge from a more conservative Republican. Collins, who is serving her third term in the Senate, is among her party’s most moderate members, something that doesn’t always sit well with the conservative flank of her party but earns her plenty of support among independents and Democrats.

At the moment, Collins does not have any challengers in 2014, Republican or otherwise.

Abbott, 50, left Collins’ staff in 2009 to run for governor. He finished fourth in the June 2010 Republican primary, behind Les Otten, Peter Mills and Paul LePage.

Three months later, Abbott was appointed to the UMaine post. He replaced Blake James, who left to take a position at the University of Miami.

Although he was always an interim AD, Abbott spent three years as head of UMaine athletics.

“I have greatly enjoyed working with Steve to further the success of Black Bear athletics,” UMaine President Paul Ferguson said in a prepared statement. “We have worked diligently together to support our student athletes, enhance our athletic facilities and manage a fully compliant Division I program.”

Abbott’s tenure at UMaine was notable for a pair of high-profile firings. In 2011, he dismissed women’s basketball coach Cindy Blodgett, a Clinton native and the best women’s player in school history, after four losing seasons. This spring, he fired men’s ice hockey coach Tim Whitehead after 12 seasons at the helm, including two seasons that ended with losses in the NCAA championship game.

In the area of fundraising and new construction, Abbott helped negotiate a $15 million renovation of the Memorial Gym and Field House, helped by a $5 million donation from the New Balance athletic footwear company.

He was in the process this summer of trying to negotiate a deal to host many UMaine basketball contests at the new Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. That deal has not been finalized.

“The University of Maine is a special place to me and my family,” said Abbott, whose father, Walter Abbott, was a longtime football coach at UMaine. “Given our family history and my lifelong affinity for Black Bear athletics, I am especially pleased to have been a part of the athletics department these past three years.”

The university has begun a national search to find a successor to Abbott.

Before 2010, Abbott spent most of his career in politics. He graduated from Harvard University in 1987 and the University of Maine School of Law in 1991. He spent several years as an attorney at Pierce Atwood in Portland, one of the state’s largest law firms, before joining Sen. Collins’ staff in 1997 after she was first elected.

When Abbott left Collins’ office in 2009, the senator appointed Mary Dietrich to fill the role. With Abbott’s return, Dietrich will retire from politics and pursue opportunities in the private sector, according to Collins’ office.

— Staff Writer Glenn Jordan contributed to this story.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell

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