Growing up in Salem, New Hampshire, Ken Ralph gained an appreciation for the passionate following that the University of Maine sports teams have in their home state.

Ken Ralph

And even though he spent the last 11 years working as the director of athletics at Colorado College, he always kept an eye on the Black Bears. So when UMaine’s athletic director’s position came open earlier this year, he knew he had to apply.

“Seeing it open,” he said, “I realized that what Maine was looking for matched what I was looking for and matched my skill set.”

On Monday afternoon, Ralph was named UMaine’s new athletic director. He will begin Sept. 1, two days after the Black Bears play rival New Hampshire in their season-opening football game at Alfond Stadium. His contract is for four years with an annual salary of $214,000.

“I’d love to be there for the UNH game,” Ralph said Monday night. “If there’s any way I can do that, I’ll be there.”

Ralph, 49, replaces Jim Settele, who had been the interim athletic director since May 1. Settele had replaced Karlton Creech, who left Maine for the University of Denver. Creech was making $183,855 when he left.

Ralph becomes the seventh person – including two interim athletic directors – to run Maine’s athletic department since 2003.

One of the first things he mentioned is he plans on being in Orono for a while.

“I’m not looking for a steppingstone job. I’m not looking to build a resume,” he said. “The resume is what it is. This challenge is special. There are some opportunities here that professionally get my juices flowing. It’s exciting. But I don’t look at this as being easy. It’s going to be challenging.

“I understand there’s some trepidation about the fact that they’ve had so much turnover. People are looking for some consistency, some stability. I wouldn’t have taken this job if I weren’t looking for it.”

Robert Dana, who chaired the 12-member search committee, said Ralph was “impressive on many levels” but mostly in how he recognized the athletic department’s place, not only on campus but statewide.

“He had a great sense that this is the University of Maine and this is the athletic department of the people of the state of Maine,” said Dana, UMaine’s vice president for student life and dean of students. “I have a strong sense he will open the door to all comers and will be a welcoming aspect.”

At Colorado College, Ralph directed a program that included teams at both the NCAA Division I and Division III levels. The department had 51 people and a budget of $10 million. Maine’s athletic department has 93 employees and a budget in excess of $20 million. Over the last two years, according to the University of Maine System’s Audit Committee, UMaine’s athletic revenues were $20,962,674 in 2016 and $20,941,859 in 2017.

Ralph also understands that no matter how much the budget is, fundraising is going to be a huge part of his position at Maine. “Clearly it’s going to be important going forward,” he said. “Money is tight and the facilities have needs.”

Ralph, who graduated from the University of Alaska-Anchorage in 1991 as a five-time All-America swimmer, also served as the director of athletics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute from 2002-07. Before that he was an assistant athletic director and swim coach at Connecticut College.

Wherever he’s been, Ralph earned a reputation as someone who could raise money to get new facilities built. At Connecticut College, he helped secure a $500,000 gift to the school to renovate its indoor swimming facility. At RPI, he helped plan, design and raise money for the $92 million East Campus Athletic Village. At Colorado College, he oversaw the $27 million expansion and renovation of the El Pomar Sports Center, home to most of the school’s teams, and the construction of the $39 million Robson Arena, which will be the on-campus home to the school’s Division I men’s hockey team.

Creech was also an excellent fundraiser. According to the university, there was a 20 percent increase in annual giving to athletics under Creech. And he helped centralize fundraising for the athletic department with the creation of the Alfond Fund.

“We need to find some partners, engage and excite donors,” said Ralph. “We’ll shake some hands and sell people on our long-term vision. This is about steady progress, committing to a plan and doing it right.”

His ability to raise money wasn’t lost on the search committee.

“He’s got an excellent reputation as a fundraiser,” said Dana. “And that stems from his passion and his perspective of the athletic department being part of the whole community. He has a warm personality. And he certainly understands that this is an important piece of the budget at the university and all we can do to enhance it will only help the program.”

He also worked in compliance, marketing, event management and alumni relationships at Colorado College. “That makes it a lot easier for me to understand the full operation,” said Ralph.

“Ken has demonstrated leadership in helping ensure student-athletes’ success in the classroom and in competition, as well as experience in compliance, strategic planning, fundraising and community outreach,” said UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy in a press release.

Dana said the search committee reached out to the consulting firm Turnkey Search in its national search. The firm provided a list of 12 candidates that was whittled to four. Two were invited to campus. Dana declined to identify the other candidate.

Ralph said the biggest thing he can do at first is to listen.

“We want everybody involved,” he said. “There are a lot of folks who put in a lot of time and effort, and have a lot of sweat equity in that program.

“We’re not going to make changes simply for the sake of making changes.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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