ORONO, Maine — Ken Ralph, who was named the University of Maine’s director of athletics Monday, was in his first year as AD at Colorado College when he met with men’s basketball coach Andy Partee to review Partee’s performance during his team’s 0-24 season in 2007-08.
“I was a little nervous,” admitted Partee. “But (Ralph) said he liked working with me and said he wasn’t evaluating me on my wins and losses.
“He said I didn’t have what I needed to win and it was up to him to get me what I needed,” said Partee. “That caught me off-guard. I expected hear that my Xs and Os were wrong and I wasn’t getting the right players. But he made a commitment to me and helped me by bringing in the tools for me to be successful.”
Ralph delivered on his promise and Partee’s Tigers, after going 5-20 the next year, won at least 10 games in each of the following nine seasons and went 123-109 overall during that stretch.
Partee and long-time men’s and women’s cross country and track and field coach Ted Castaneda said the University of Maine has landed a gem in Ralph, a native of Salem, New Hampshire.
“He has been fantastic,” said Castaneda. “He has achieved a lot of monumental things while he has been here. He wants to help you improve your program.”
Among Ralph’s projects are the newly announced $39 million Robson Arena project, a new on-campus hockey arena, and the $27 million refurbishment and expansion of the El Pomar Sports Center at Colorado College.
“The sports center needed a big boost because there hadn’t been a major upgrade since way back in 1962, I think,” said Castaneda. “It’s so exciting.”
During Ralph’s 11-year tenure at Colorado College, the school has received a dozen gifts of at least $1 million each in support of athletics, with a top gift of $9 million for the Robson Arena project. Beyond capital projects, Colorado College has seen sponsorship dollars rise to record levels. The college also has secured deals with Nike and Bauer to outfit its teams.
Ralph agreed to a four-year contract that will pay him in excess of $200,000 annually, according to Dr. Robert Dana, the UM vice president for student life and dean of students who chaired the 12-member search committee. Ralph will start his new job Sept. 1.
“I wouldn’t be interested in a job unless it was challenging. The big thing is the University of Maine’s athletic brand is still very, very strong,” said the 49-year-old Ralph, who was athletic director at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York from 2002-07 before taking over at Colorado College.
“It has always been a strong brand. I remember it growing up, and to be able to capitalize on that is going to be great. It’s the kind of place where a lot of good things are happening but there is still room to grow. To be in that kind of situation and to be able to utilize my experiences to help Maine continue on the right path was too good to pass up.”
Ralph said he looks forward to working with the people at UMaine.
“The people I met throughout the process were very genuine, honest, down-to-earth people who were passionate about the university and about the state,” he said.
At Colorado College, he oversees a department of 51 professionals and a $10 million budget. Colorado College’s Division I programs compete in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (hockey) and Mountain West Conference (women’s soccer), while several of the school’s Division III teams play in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference.
The team sports at CC (basketball, lacrosse, hockey, soccer, volleyball) posted an overall record of 115-70-14 during the 2017–18 season. Success followed in the classroom as varsity athletes posted a cumulative grade-point average in excess of 3.3 for the academic year.
During his time at RPI, Ralph led a department with 23 sports, more than 600 varsity athletes and Division I hockey teams in the ECAC Hockey Conference. He also was involved with the initial design, planning and fundraising for the $92 million East Campus Athletic Village at RPI.
Before moving into administration full-time, Ralph coached college swimming for 12 seasons.
“The most important thing is he understood that an athletic department doesn’t stand alone,” said Dana. “It is part (and) parcel of the whole university and it belongs to the people in the state. The players, coaches and staff must be attended to very carefully but you also have to look outward and give the program the exposure and the heft it needs so everybody can be part of it. He is community focused.”
Ralph said he wants students to love being at the University of Maine.
“I want all of our students to feel engaged to the program and for there to be a great sense of school spirit,” he said.
The University of Maine’s athletic teams play in three great conferences (America East, Hockey East and the Colonial Athletic Association), Ralph said, and he has strong relationships with coaches and administrators in all three leagues.
“The ultimate goal will be to have all of the teams compete for championships across the board,” he said.
Dana said it was “very important” that Ralph had previous experience as an athletic director rather than just as an associate AD. Several of UMaine’s recent hires for the job had not been full athletic directors before coming to the Orono campus.
He said Ralph’s previous experience as an AD gives UMaine someone knowledgeable about the position so “it’s a lot easier for him to come in and take off running.”
Ralph said associate athletic directors at big schools are so specialized that it is hard for them to see the full picture.
“As the athletic director, you can’t stand on an island. You have to be involved, you have to be engaged with everyone,” he said. “A lot of people generate their opinions of a university based on their athletic departments because they are so visible and get so much coverage. You have to be very conscious about how you present yourself.”
Dana also liked Ralph’s New England ties because it means there is a better chance Ralph will make a long-term commitment to the university.
“We didn’t want a flash in the pan,” said Dana.
Ralph earned his undergraduate degree in political science at the University of Alaska-Anchorage, where he was recognized as an All-American in swimming in 1989 and 1990. He earned a master’s degree in sports management studies from California University of Pennsylvania.
Capt. Jim Settele has served as UMaine’s interim AD since March 12. When Ralph takes over as director of athletics, Settele will return to his previous position as executive director of UMaine’s School of Policy and International Affairs.
Settele took over for Karlton Creech, who was named the University of Denver’s vice chancellor for athletics in February after serving as UMaine’s athletic director for four years.
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