For years, Jack Cosgrove kept saying “no.”

On Friday, however, the former University of Maine football coach had to say “yes.”

Cosgrove, the career leader in victories at UMaine, coached the Black Bears for 23 seasons before stepping down in 2015 to take an administrative post in the school’s athletic department. On Friday, it was announced he will become the new football coach at Colby College in Waterville. He starts his new job on Jan. 8.

“My pace slowed down the last two years, and I guess I was able to get a chance to evaluate what I wanted to do,” said Cosgrove, who was serving as UMaine’s senior associate director of athletics. “I enjoyed what I was doing, but I felt like something was missing, and that was the interaction on a bigger scale, a teamwide scale that I get from the game of football. … It’s got me feeling young again.”

The chance to make that return so close to home proved irresistable.

“The most fortunate thing about this job is it’s down the street. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if Colby were in Wisconsin,” he said. “For a number of years I chose to say ‘no’ to people, and now I’m saying ‘yes.’ … It keeps me in a state that I love and a place that I don’t see myself ever leaving.”

The Black Bears won three conference championships and made five NCAA postseason appearances under Cosgrove, who won a school-record 129 games. He will take over a struggling Colby program that finished 1-8 this season under Jonathan Michaeles, who resigned earlier this month after six years. Colby went 14-35 under Michaeles, whose lone victory this fall came in the final game against rival Bowdoin.

The school has poured resources into improving its athletic standing, however; and that drive to win, combined with Cosgrove’s urge to get back to the sideline, proved too much for him to pass up.

“I was completely taken by Colby College and their overwhelming presentation and desire to pursue excellence,” he said. “I came away really impressed and was hoping they would offer me the job. When it came to the point where they did, it didn’t take me long to say ‘yes.’ It was an opportunity to get back to doing something I truly loved, I truly missed.”

He’ll have work to do. Colby, an NCAA Division III program, hasn’t won a New England Small College Athletic Conference championship since earning a share of the title in 2000. The Mules posted runner-up finishes in 2004 and ’05 but have declined in the standings since then, last reaching .500 in 2013.

The hope is that Cosgrove will lead a turnaround similar to what he achieved at Division I UMaine. His first team, in 1993, finished 0-11; by 2001 and 2002, Maine advanced to the NCAA playoffs.

“Jack’s extensive experience, energy, and proven success make him the right person to lead Colby football into a new era,” Colby athletic director Jake Olkkola said in a news release.

Cosgrove’s hiring is the latest in a series of moves Colby has made to enhance its athletic presence. The school announced in April that it will be building a $200 million athletic center on campus that will become the largest in the NESCAC and contain the state’s only Olympic-sized swimming pool. The 350,000-square-foot complex is scheduled to open in 2020, will replace the current Harold Alfond Athletic Center and will include a gymnasium, a hockey arena, training rooms and coaching suites.

Former Maine football coach and athletic director Walt Abbott said those moves — and landing Cosgrove as a coach — show Colby is serious about become a presitigious athletic program.

“Bringing Jack on board will be nothing but an asset to the football department, no question,” said Abbott, the Black Bears’ coach from 1967 to 1975 and athletic director from 1991 to 1992 and 1994 to 1995. “I think Colby’s a great football job, I really do, with all the facilities and the positive direction they’re heading.”

Colby sophomore Jack O’Brien, the team’s starting quarterback this fall, said he hadn’t heard about Cosgrove’s hiring until the school made its announcement Friday.

“My phone’s been running over with all my teammates calling me and me texting them and whatnot. There’s a buzz about it,” he said. “We’ll see what he brings, and we’re going to be excited to get it going and see what he has in store for us.

“He’s obviously experienced in the area. He knows New England, which we think will give us an edge. He’s an established guy. … He’s obviously shown that he knows how to build a program, and we’re excited for him to bring that up to Colby.”

Kennebunk’s Shane Normandeau, a junior offensive lineman and captain, was on the Colby search committee and said he was “blown away” during Cosgrove’s interview.

“I was ecstatic,” he said. “Just the presence he has, the way he carries himself. … I think everything’s looking up. These are very exciting times. The name ‘Coach Cosgrove’ carries some weight, especially within Maine.”

Cosgrove contacted his former players, including Gardiner native Chris McLaughlin, on Friday morning with the news.

“You could tell he missed coaching,” said McLaughlin, who played for Maine from 1996 to 2000 and now lives in Bowdoinham. “This is in his blood.”

McLaughlin, who played on the offensive line, said Colby quickly will enjoy a recruiting edge over its conference rivals.

“This is a game-changer,” he said. “Because of his connections and his history, those alone will change the recruitment landscape considerably. This is going to create some serious ripples. Colby is getting a good one.”

Mark Harriman, the head coach at Bates College, agreed.

“It’s great for Colby and I think for football in the state of Maine,” Harriman said. “You’re bringing in a guy who’s been there and done that in a lot of different ways, and that’s going to make all of us kind of sit up and take notice.”

Harriman met Cosgrove in 1980, when he was a graduate assistant in Orono.

“I think he’s a dynamic leader,” he said. “When he’s speaking with people, he commands attention. Obviously his track record at Maine is a given, but I think it’s the intanigble of him being someone you can just tell has a passion for what he’s doing.”

Cosgrove played quarterback at UMaine in the 1970s, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 1978 and a master’s degree in educational administration in 1981 while serving as a graduate assistant coach with the football team. He and his wife, Marilyn, have four adult children.

Central Maine Newspapers Sports Editor Bill Stewart contributed to this report.

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