Nick Charlton of the University of Maine talks on the headset during a 2018 game in his role as the team's offensive coordinator. The 30-year-old became the youngest Division I head coach in the country when he was hired to replace Joe Harasymiak. Credit: Ronald Gillis | UMaine Athletics

Turnover is a reality in college sports, as it is in many professions.

A successful coach is coveted not only by his or her current employer, but by other school administrators who have taken note of their body of work.

University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban spent 17 seasons as an assistant at several colleges before landing a head coaching job at Toledo in 1990. He eventually moved on to become the head coach at Michigan State and Louisiana State University before landing in Tuscaloosa, where his teams have won five national championships.

So University of Maine Athletic Director Ken Ralph was not surprised when head football coach Joe Harasymiak left to become the defensive backs coach at the University of Minnesota, and assistants Corey Hetherman and Matt Birkett packed up to join the staff at Colonial Athletic Association rival James Madison University.

That is how the coaching carousel works.

“That is going to be the norm if we keep winning,” Ralph said.

“There is going to be turnover in any given year. I’m not sure any football staff keeps its 11 coaches every year. Even programs like Alabama lose coaches. To have as little turnover as we have had is pretty remarkable,” said Ralph, who is in his first year at UMaine.

Hetherman and Birkett will have similar roles as those they filled at UMaine but are expected to earn substantially more money at JMU.

UMaine’s football program accounts for $3.9 million of the athletic program’s $18.8 million budget, or 20.7 percent, according to Ralph.

Ralph said $2.15 million is spent on scholarships (63 equivalencies), $874,000 is dedicated to coaches salaries plus benefits (medical, dental coverage), and $885,000 is allocated for travel, equipment and recruiting.

However, Harasymiak was the lowest paid coach in the CAA this season as he was to earn $153,000. The average guaranteed annual income for a head coach in the 11-team league is $360,000, which places the UMaine position $207,000 below the average.

University of Rhode Island fifth-year head coach Jim Fleming is the next lowest-paid coach at $191,000, but he is eligible for up to $55,000 in bonuses. UMaine is one of only two schools in the conference that does not offer bonuses to its coaches.

Many other CAA schools supplement their athletic program by charging all students an athletics fee, but UMaine does not have one, and Ralph does not anticipate one will be implemented as part of the athletics department blueprint.

He admits football coaches at UMaine probably will always be at the lower end of the pay scale within the conference. Ralph pointed out that UMaine and his department are “resource-strapped” and there are few options within the “budgetary framework” to increase the salaries.

Pay increases would have to be raised from private donors, and he questions whether UMaine could sustain the extra money year after year.

The primary reason UMaine is among few Football Championship Subdivision schools that routinely schedule two games each season against higher-level Football Bowl Subdivision institutions is to bring in the guarantee money earned from those arrangements.

Last season, UMaine’s trips to FBS schools Western Kentucky and Central Michigan earned the athletic department a little under $700,000, according to Ralph.

The football program also benefits from the annual Alfond Foundation Challenge, which matches donors’ contributions up to $250,000. That puts $500,000 into the coffers.

Ralph is quick to point out that his staff does an exceptional job doing more with less, as evidenced by the 2018 football team.

UMaine is coming off its best football season ever. The Black Bears went 10-4, captured the CAA championship after being picked eighth in the preseason poll, and advanced to the Football Championship Subdivision national semifinals for the first time in program history.

Ralph said he wanted to keep Harasymiak but understood the coach’s desire to coach at a Power Five school (Minnesota competes in the Big Ten) and supported the move. Ralph said money was not Harasymiak’s motivation for moving on. He will earn more than $210,000 at Minnesota.

UMaine responded to the coaching departures by promoting Nick Charlton from offensive coordinator to head coach. Assistants Andrew Dressner and Mike Ryan were elevated to offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator, respectively.

The other assistants will remain, some with new titles and duties.

“Some turnover is good. As in any organization, it’s nice to have some stability, but I think an influx of new ideas is healthy. Sometimes, we get too ingrained in the way we’ve always done things. Bringing in new people can supply a lot of freshness,” he said.

Ralph said interest shown in UMaine head coaches from other programs is a positive reflection of the successful job they are doing in Orono. He believes there is much to attract new football coaches to UMaine and hire bright, young, energetic coaches.

“The big carrot is being in the CAA, and we offer the full 63 scholarships [allowed under NCAA guidelines in the FCS],” said Ralph, who regards the CAA as the best conference in the FCS.

This season, the CAA placed six teams in the 24-team playoff field which set a record for most teams.

Division I head coaching jobs are coveted, so if a coach can win at UMaine, even with its geographic and budget challenges, he will likely be even more attractive to more prestigious programs.

The fact new James Madison head coach Curt Cignetti plucked Hetherman and Birkett from UMaine seems to validate that contention.

UMaine was long a proving ground for football coaches more than 25 years ago. From 1980 through 1993, there were six head coaching changes in the program.

Jack Bicknell Sr. (1976-80) became the head coach at Boston College, and Buddy Teevens (1985-86) moved on to Dartmouth, then Tulane, Stanford and back to Dartmouth. Then came Tim Murphy (1987-88), who left to coach at Cincinnati and now Harvard, followed by Tom Lichtenberg (1989) heading to Ohio University and Kirk Ferentz (1990-92), who is the head coach at the University of Iowa.

The coaching carousel stopped for 23 seasons after former Black Bears quarterback and assistant Jack Cosgrove took over the position. He and wife Marilyn raised their four children here, but Cosgrove stepped down at the end of the 2015 season to move into administration. He is now the head coach at Division III Colby College in Waterville.

“Remember, there are only 200-plus Division I football programs in the country,” Ralph said.

Former UMaine assistant coaches also have landed prestigious jobs elsewhere, including the NFL. They include former offensive coordinator Liam Coen, who is with the Los Angeles Rams, and offensive line coach/run game coordinator Brian Picucci (Detroit Lions).

Robb Smith (Tampa Bay), Steve Spagnuolo (five NFL teams) and Paul Ferraro (Carolina, Minnesota, St. Louis) are among the other former UMaine assistants who went on to the NFL.

“Maine has been a springboard for them,” Ralph said.

Thus, while the recent shuffling of UMaine football coaches might seem cause for concern, the program has been through a similar situation in the past and has remained consistently competitive.

“This is a special part of the world. There is a [high] quality of life,” Ralph said. “For young coaches, it’s an attractive place to raise a family.

“And the University of Maine is the only Division I program in the state. There are a lot of positives.”