Under Coach Richard Barron, the University of Maine men’s basketball team has struggled to a 5-20 record this season. In four seasons with the men’s program, he compiled a 21-75 record. Rich Abrahamson photo/Morning Sentinel

The University of Maine and men’s basketball coach Richard Barron have mutually agreed to part ways.

That announcement came from the school on Thursday afternoon, one day after a 75-65 loss to Hartford that dropped the Black Bears to 5-20 overall, 2-12 in the America East Conference.

In a news release, Athletic Director Ken Ralph said he had several conversations with Barron and both agreed “that a new voice is needed to lead the team.” Their final conversation came at 1 p.m Thursday.

“Although a change in leadership is always a difficult situation, we agree that this decision is in the best interest of our student-athletes,” Ralph said. “Richard has approached every day with passion and energy during his time in Orono. We thank Coach Barron for all of his hard work over his 11 years at the University of Maine and wish him and his family all of the best in the next phase of their lives.”

Assistant coach Jai Steadman, who joined the program in September, has been named interim head coach for the remainder of the season. Steadman actually coached the game against Hartford on Wednesday. In a Zoom call with media members Thursday evening, Ralph said that Barron missed the game with a “minor medical issue.”

Barron expressed both gratitude and regret in a statement provided by the school.


“The gratitude is for the wonderful relationships with players, coaches, and so many members of the University community,” he said. “The regret is that I was not successful in turning around the men’s program. I agree with Ken that a new voice is needed and I will always cheer for my successor and all the young men in the program with great loyalty. There are many reasons for optimism around men’s basketball, the department, and the University, and now is the right time for a new leader for the program. Thank you Black Bear Nation for some wonderful memories and for all you have done for me and my family.”

Contacted later Thursday, Barron deferred to his statement.

In his Zoom conference call, Ralph said he debated waiting to the end of the season to make the move but decided it was best to do it now.

“Do we wait to the end? Or do something a litter earlier and be able to evaluate things differently?” said Ralph. “Does a different voice change how the program works? Does a different approach to practice or game management impact an outcome because that might impact some decision making as the year ends.”

He added that doing it now allowed Maine to get ahead of other coaching openings that are sure to occur in the coming weeks “in case there are some interested candidates who might want to have an early conversations.”

Barron took over the men’s program in 2018 after seven seasons as the UMaine women’s head coach. In four seasons with the men’s team, he compiled a 21-75 overall record, 12-41 in America East. His record with the women’s team was 85-89 and in 2015 he was named America East Coach of the Year.


He missed most of the 2016-17 season with a medical condition that eventually led to him stepping down, with Amy Vachon taking over the women’s program.

Ralph said the Black Bears needed to start moving in a positive direction, especially with the future construction of an on-campus multipurpose center that will be home to the basketball programs.

The team, which has never qualified for the NCAA tournament, hasn’t had a winning season since 2010-11, when it went 16-15. The Black Bears currently rank 354th out of 358 NCAA Division I men’s basketball programs in the NCAA’s NET rankings.

“We want people saying positive things about Maine basketball,” said Ralph. “We’ve got to the point where we’ve become a little irrelevant, where we ‘re not top of mind for folks and I’d like to get back, especially with a new facility on the horizon, to where we’re top of mind for people, especially in a state that loves its basketball.”

In searching for a new head coach, Ralph said officials at UMaine will try to figure out what is holding the program back.

“What’s that next step we need to get over the hump?” said Ralph. “It’s been a while since we’ve had success in men’s basketball here. And one thing we’re going to have to determine at the end of the year, we’ve gone through a few coaches who haven’t been able to get us there.


“Is it coaching issue? Is is a resource issue? Is it a positioning issue? What exactly is it from letting basketball make that leap?”

He added that the team had not been meeting the expectations set by Barron at the start of the season.

“It’s difficult to decide what time is right, but we just haven’t gotten any traction,” Ralph of the coaching change. “Eventually you’ve got to try something else.”

Ralph said they would give Steadman “every opportunity” to compete for the job. Steadman is a highly regarded assistant coach and recruiter who served as interim head coach at his last job, at Texas-Rio Grande Valley.

“One thing I do want is I want someone who wants to be at Maine,” he said. “I think Richard embodied that, he really wanted to do the job at Maine. I want somebody who is committed to being in Orono.”

Barron has one year remaining on a five-year contract that paid him an annual salary of $165,000. Ralph said his contract will be paid in full.

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