ORONO, Maine — Jack Cosgrove has been the face of University of Maine football for nearly a quarter century.
During that time, he developed a reputation of placing as much of an emphasis on a student-athlete’s commitment to academics, family and teammates as on his football pursuits.
On Tuesday, Cosgrove announced that he has stepped down after 23 seasons to assume the position of senior associate director of athletics. He hopes to use his experience as a coach, leader, fundraiser and motivator for the benefit of the entire UMaine athletic program.
“Football has been the most important thing in my life outside of my faith and my family,” Cosgrove said.
“This position [UMaine athletics director] Karlton [Creech] offered was flattering because it’s an opportunity to work with the coaches and student-athletes on campus and to work in a leadership capacity. I’m excited about it.”
Cosgrove, 60, will take a significant pay cut. He’ll earn approximately $100,000 per year, compared with his $184,000 salary as the football coach.
“I think it’s proof that Jack feels this is the best way he can make the highest contribution right now to the university and the athletic department,” said Creech, who explained the position will be financed initially through the UMaine president’s discretionary fund.
That money is derived from private donations and can be spent as UMaine President Susan Hunter sees fit.
Cosgrove, who will begin his new duties immediately, has relinquished control of the football team to defensive coordinator Joe Harasymiak, who has been appointed the interim head coach during the transition period.
Creech said a national search for a head football coach will begin immediately and that the vacancy has already been posted.
Enfield native Matt Mulligan, who was a tight end at UMaine from 2006 to 2007 and now plays for the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, said Cosgrove is irreplaceable.
“I think this is a tremendous loss for the UMaine football program,” Mulligan said. “I know Cos is still going to be in the UMaine family and he’ll still be around in some capacity, but to lose a man of that stature, for what he’s done for the UMaine program, is a loss.”
It was with Cosgrove in mind that Creech during the last two weeks began to formulate a plan for the new job, even as they discussed a contract extension. They met Thursday, then again Sunday, and Cosgrove decided on Monday to accept the offer.
“The more I thought about it, the more it fit me at this time in my life, the energy I have and what I envision being able to contribute to this athletic department,” Cosgrove said.
The position encompasses a variety of duties, all of which will draw on Cosgrove’s extensive experience interacting with administrators, coaches, student-athletes, donors, alumni and community members, including an emphasis on building relationships with Maine high schools.
Creech believes with Cosgrove serving as the point man for UMaine athletics, his passion for the school and the department will be visible and, he hopes, contagious.
“I haven’t met anybody that cares more about this place than Jack,” Creech said. “He cares deeply. He wants it to be successful.
“I think we’re going to be astonished at what he’s going to be able to do in this new role, with all of his connections and relationships and energy and passion, helping every team and coach, not just the football program,” he added.
Creech also announced that Cosgrove will be at the forefront in developing a department leadership program for student-athletes and coaches.
Cosgrove’s career change at his alma mater comes on the heels of a disappointing 3-8 season that included a 3-5 Colonial Athletic Association record. It was UMaine’s first losing season since 2010 and only its third under Cosgrove since 2005.
In the last 14 seasons, the Black Bears posted a combined 94-76 record. In 2013, UMaine won the CAA title and earned the program’s first home NCAA playoff berth.
Cosgrove steps away as UMaine’s all-time winningest football coach with a record of 129-135 (.489 winning percentage). He guided the Black Bears to three conference championships, including the outright CAA title in 2013, and five NCAA postseason berths, including national quarterfinal appearances in 2001 and 2002.
That success is a byproduct of the high standards of effort and accountability that Cosgrove established for in all aspects of the program.
“To have a guy that you know is portraying what a man should be like, and being able to show the younger generation how to act going forward in life because there’s more to life than football, I think is priceless and coach Cos always did that,” Mulligan said.
UMaine produced 20 All-Americans during Cosgrove’s tenure and posted victories over two Football Bowl Subdivision teams, Mississippi State (2004) and Massachusetts (2013). He was a three-time conference coach of the year and three times (2001, 2008, 2013) was a finalist for the Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year award.
“I have known Jack Cosgrove for more than two decades and have tremendous respect for what he has been able to accomplish as our head football coach,” Hunter said in a news release. “I appreciate his longevity and loyalty in the service of his alma mater, and his tireless devotion to the success of student-athletes.”
Cosgrove, a native of Sharon, Massachusetts, first arrived at UMaine as a student-athlete. He was a two-time second-team All-Yankee Conference quarterback and an ECAC All-Star for the Black Bears and still ranks as the No. 10 career passer in program football history with 2,836 yards.
He graduated from UMaine in 1978 and spent two seasons as a graduate assistant with the program. He then worked for two seasons at Boston College under former Black Bears head coach Jack Bicknell.
Cosgrove moved to the high school ranks and taught American history while coaching football at Stoughton (Massachusetts) High School from 1981 to 1984.
He returned to UMaine in 1987 as the quarterbacks and receivers coach on a squad that made the program’s first NCAA postseason appearance. He was promoted to pass game coordinator in 1988 and offensive coordinator in 1989.
Cosgrove, who became the head coach on Feb. 22, 1993, has either played or coached at UMaine 34 years in his three stints.
His high standards for academic performance helped UMaine achieve NCAA Academic Progress Rates of about 950 in the last 10 years, including a 980 mark in 2008-09. The Black Bears have produced numerous CAA All-Academic honors, CAA Student-Athlete of the Year selections in 2013 and 2008 and “M” Club Dean Smith honorees in 2013, 2008 and 2001.
Cosgrove, who in 2013 was inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame, lives in Bangor with his wife, Marilyn. They are the parents of twins, Matthew and Carly, and daughters Sydni and Jeri.
Matthew, a wide receiver, is a member of the UMaine football team.