UMaine’s New Coach Walsh

As a supporter of athletics at the University of Maine, when one hears the words “Coach Walsh”, thoughts immediately turn to the legendary hockey coach, Shawn Walsh, and the two national championships he brought to Orono in the 1990s.  Words like “dominance” and “dynasty” accompany those thoughts, as we reminisce fondly about the glory days of UMaine hockey.

Now the words “Coach Walsh” are associated with different words.  Instead of words that bring to mind long-term success in Orono, we think of words like “change” and “optimism”.

With just over a week to reflect on the (first unofficial, then finally official) announcement that former Rhode Island College head coach Bob Walsh had been named the new men’s basketball coach in Orono, we here at Fill The Steins can’t help but be encouraged by what we’ve learned about Coach Walsh so far and the direction we hope he leads the men’s hoops program.

Clearly, Coach Walsh’s numbers at RIC speak for themselves — 20 wins in every season but his first, a 21-3 Little East Conference tournament record, and a 10-8 Division III NCAA tournament record.  The number, however, that should be most striking (and perhaps heartwarming) to those of us in Black Bear Nation is zero. 

Zero is the number of NCAA tournament games Rhode Island College had won prior to Coach Walsh’s arrival.  Coincidentally (or not), that’s exactly the number of NCAA tournament wins the Maine men have at the DI level.  What’s even more impressive is that Coach Walsh earned this achievement in just his second season on the job (2006-07), when he took RIC all the way to the DIII Elite Eight.

Okay…time to take a step back and get hit with a solid dose of reality.  Maine’s not going to Elite Eight in 2016, we promise.  Candidly, a two-year turnaround ending in an America East championship and the school’s first ever NCAA tournament berth might not quite be realistic.  It’ll probably take a year or two more than that but, by all accounts, Coach Walsh is the right man for the job. 

After Karlton Creech rightly fired Ted Woodward, we opined that Creech needed to take the program in an entirely new direction with his first major hire at Maine.  We called for someone with no ties to the program (or even the state), someone with a strong coaching pedigree, and someone who wouldn’t mind dealing with recruiting to a cold-weather school.  Coach Walsh fills all those requirements in spades. 

But there was one “requirement” we had that Coach Walsh doesn’t fill.  We also recommended going with someone who had no head coaching experience.  And while Walsh has no DI head coaching experience, his nine years at the helm at RIC will certainly have him more well-prepared for the initial struggles and adversity Ted Woodward’s successor will have to face.  Creech is showing why he’s the director of athletics, not us (although we can promise FTS would have LOTS of fun in that role).  Creech understands that the Maine men’s job is a complex one and it’ll take someone with experience steering a ship, no matter how small that ship may have been, to steer our beloved Black Bears away from the iceberg and to the promised land of the NCAA tournament.

We said Coach Walsh likely won’t get Maine to the NCAA tournament in two years.  Honestly, though, we think he can do it in three.  Given Creech signed Walsh to a four-year contract, we think that’s a fair, realistic expectation.  Sure, he needs to smartly use what’s left of the signing and transfer window to fill up the roster after the near-countless defections from the Woodward administration.  But, let’s face it, America East isn’t the Big Ten, or even the Atlantic 10, for that matter.  There are generally no RPI top 100 programs in the conference, which means a turnaround can happen relatively quickly with the right man in charge.

We believe Coach Walsh is that man, and we fill the steins to both him and Karlton Creech for making this happen.  While we believe Coach Walsh will ultimately lead the Maine men to the promised land, we also think Coach Walsh should, given the current state of the men’s basketball program, get a pass on next season’s results.  We also believe, given his track record of success and clear passion for winning, he won’t want one.

What do you think about the Bob Walsh hire in Orono?  Share your thoughts in the comments section below and on Twitter using #FillTheSteins!
Photo courtesy One Bid Wonders

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About "Fill The Steins": A multimedia platform devoted to providing an informative, entertaining forum that celebrates "the college of our hearts always" and its graduates' contributions to academics, athletics, and popular culture, as created by alumni and students, for alumni and students. FTS is not affiliated with the University of Maine or UMaine System and does not represent the views or opinions of the university in any way, shape, or form.
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