National searches scare me.

The University of Maine promises to leave no resume unturned in its pursuit of a new women’s basketball coach. That’s what I’m afraid of.

Maine made a colossal mistake hiring Ann McInerney to take over one of its prized programs. I’m leaving her alleged failures as a designated driver and any related white lies out of the equation, too.

McInerney couldn’t coach her way out of a wet paper bag in Orono. She inherited a program with seven NCAA tournament appearances in the preceding decade, not to mention enough talent to stay on top of a conference that’s two steps beneath mid-major.

Two years. Twenty-three wins. Three homegrown talents (Bracey Barker, Ashley Underwood and Katie Whittier) with careers that deserved a happier ending.

Ladies’ hoop once ran neck-and-neck with hockey for on-campus and in-state supremacy. Other than Connecticut and Tennessee, no state in the union boasted a women’s athletic program of that stature.

Maine was a model program. Now it’s a mess.

I have to wonder if the university plucked McInerney and her pedestrian .647 winning percentage from Division II Merrimack because it thought she’d stay a while. Maine’s job had become the women’s equivalent of Gonzaga and Butler, providing bright young minds with the opportunity to strengthen their resumes and bolt for the big time.

Brunswick native Joanne Palombo McCallie built the house, shepherding the Black Bears to an NCAA tournament win over Stanford and notable scares of LSU, Old Dominion and North Carolina. She was last seen leading Michigan State to the 2005 national title game.

Sharon Versyp stocked a bare cupboard and kept the brand in the national spotlight. Maine took Texas Tech to the wire in Versyp’s brush with March Madness. Her Purdue team just traveled to the Elite Eight.

Those mighty cornerstones are crumbling. Men’s basketball is ascending, with Junior Bernal, Mark Socoby, Sean Costigan, Troy Barnies and Sean McNally all choosing to continue their careers close to home. The women? Quick, name two players on next year’s prospective roster.

Time’s up.

Maine needs to eschew global thinking and act locally. There is no shortage of candidates in the 207.

Stefanie Pemper of Bowdoin and Gary Fifield of Southern Maine lead two of the nation’s elite Division III programs. And the greatest Black Bear of them all, Clinton native Cindy Blodgett, seems to be the right age (early 30s) with the right recruiting base (she has been an assistant coach at Boston University and Brown).

Of course, the burning question is whether any of them would ditch their current comfort zone and put their fingerprints on this disaster.

If not, don’t be surprised when Maine introduces a graduate assistant from Louisiana-Lafayette as its new boss. But maybe that’s a step up from Merrimack.


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