ORONO, Maine — In 2007, Joe Harasymiak was the captain of the football team at Division III Springfield College in Western Massachusetts.
Next fall, he will be patrolling the sideline as the head coach in Division I, at the University of Maine.
UMaine Director of Athletics Karlton Creech on Tuesday announced that the 29-year-old Harasymiak has been named the Black Bears’ head coach, effective on Jan. 1.
“I’m extremely honored, humbled [and] excited to be given the opportunity,” said the native of Ridgewood, New Jersey. “I’m blessed to be able to be in this position.”
Harasymiak, who recently has been serving as the interim head coach, was selected from among four finalists — each of whom either played or coached at UMaine — to succeed Jack Cosgrove, who stepped down on Nov. 24 after 23 seasons leading the program.
“One thing with Joe, when you’re around him, you can feel it,” Creech said. “We all talk about ‘it,’ and it’s hard to put your finger on, but he’s got it. He’s got great presence and energy.”
Harasymiak, who has been UMaine’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach the last two seasons, certainly has youth on his side. His appointment makes him the youngest Division I head coach in the country, overtaking Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck, who turned 34 in November.
“Throughout my time at Maine, I’ve been promoted several times, and I’m grateful for that,” Harasymiak said of his rise through the ranks. “I’m ready and at the same time I’m confident.”
Harasymiak had received public support from Cosgrove, who served on the search committee along with Creech and other UMaine athletics administrators. Creech said the committee, which conducted a national search that included 25-30 applicants, was unanimous in choosing Harasymiak.
“He presented a clear vision for what he felt like Maine football could continue to be and then grow under his leadership,” Creech said. “He had the advantage of knowing the program inside and out.”
Creech said Harasymiak’s youth is a benefit rather than a potential negative, especially in engaging student-athletes, fans, alumni and potential donors.
“I think it shows that he’s done a great job in a short amount of time preparing himself for the next step of his career,” said Creech, who also pointed to the coach’s accomplishments as an assistant.
“[He coached] one of the top defenses in our conference, and he showed an ability to get the players motivated and to play with a great deal of energy and passion,” he added.
Harasymiak received a four-year contract that will pay him $150,000 per year. That is $37,000 less than the $187,000 previously earned by Cosgrove.
Creech said the disparity stems from the significant difference in the men’s levels of experience. Harasymiak is nonetheless ecstatic.
“If I was doing it for the money, I’m probably in it for the wrong reason,” he said. “Obviously, that’s outstanding for me and my wife, [Brittany].”
Harasymiak didn’t have much of a chance to celebrate getting his first head coaching job after learning of his appointment on Monday night. He was at Bangor International Airport early Tuesday bound for Washington, D.C., as part of a recruiting trip.
“I was probably the most excited guy in the airport at 4:45 this morning. I was ready to go,” he said.
Harasymiak becomes the 35th head coach in 124 seasons of UMaine football. He is ready to embrace the challenges that accompany the job after a five-year stint during which he helped the Black Bears earn NCAA playoff spots in 2011 and 2013 and struggle through a 3-8 record in 2015.
UMaine’s defense ranked in the top three of the Colonial Athletic Association and top 20 nationally in total defense last season.
“I understand the unique challenges that are associated with coaching at Maine. I think I can use that to my advantage in helping us grow in the future,” said Harasymiak.
Harasymiak pointed to Cosgrove and longtime Springfield head coach Mike DeLong as key influences in his development and enthusiasm for coaching.
“Their philosophy [at Springfield] is educating students in spirit, mind and body, and that’s really stuck with me,” Harasymiak said. “It’s not just about developing football talent but the whole student-athlete.”
Harasymiak credits Cosgrove with fostering his love for coaching and helping him learn the ropes in directing a program.
“It’s not only me who gets influenced by him, it’s all the alumni, the players, the people at the university, kids in the state,” Harasymiak said. “He is Maine football; he will continue to be that. He’s built this program, and I’m excited to take the next step toward improving every year.”
Decisions about the assistant coaches will be made after Harasymiak and Cosgrove, who will serve in an advisory role to football as part of his new duties, have a chance to discuss how to proceed.
Creech said maintaining continuity among staff members, all of whom remain under contract, and in recruiting through the February signing period, will be important considerations.
Harasymiak was hired at UMaine in Feb. 2011 as a defensive assistant working with the defensive backs. The Black Bears boasted the top-ranked pass defense in the Colonial Athletic Association.
In 2012, Harasymiak was promoted to head defensive backs coach and mentored NFL-bound cornerback Kendall James on the CAA’s top-ranked pass defense in 2013.
The coach said his approach was derived from a philosophy espoused by DeLong.
“He told me when I got into coaching, just do a great job at the job you have and everything else will take care of itself,” Harasymiak said.
Harasymiak, who earned a degree in physical education from Springfield in 2008, began his coaching career as a graduate assistant there. In 2008, he was an assistant coach at Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, where Springfield product McKenney is the head coach.
He returned to Springfield as a grad assistant (2009-10) before coming to UMaine.