Maine head coach Richard Barron looks on during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. Tuesday, Nov. 9 2021. Credit: Matt Gentry / The Roanoke Times via AP

The University of Maine and men’s basketball head coach Richard Barron mutually agreed to part ways on Thursday afternoon.

The decision came after a 1 p.m. meeting between athletic director Ken Ralph and Barron, who was winding down his fourth year as the Black Bears’ men’s coach after an earlier stint as head coach of the university’s women’s basketball team.

Barron had compiled a 21-75 overall record and 12-41 record in America East conference play since replacing Bob Walsh as UMaine’s men’s basketball coach on March 5, 2018.

Barron signed a five-year contract to be head coach of the men’s basketball team, with his annual salary beginning at $160,000 with a $5,000 increase at the start of the second year. Ralph said Barron would be paid for the remainder of his contract.

“The University of Maine has been at the center of my life for the past 11 years and I leave the university with a tremendous sense of gratitude and regret,” Barron said in a statement released by the university.

“The gratitude is for the wonderful relationships with players, coaches, and so many members of the university community. 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.”

Jai Stedman, an assistant coach with this year’s team, has been named interim head coach for the remainder of the 2021-22 season. The Black Bears have four regular-season games remaining, beginning Sunday at The Pit on the Orono campus against the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

This year’s team was 5-20 overall, 2-12 in conference play after Wednesday night’s 76-65 loss at Hartford. Barron did not make the trip to that game due to a medical issue, according to Ralph.

Of UMaine’s five victories this season, just two came against NCAA Division I competition with the other three against in-state small-college opposition.

UMaine currently is ranked 354th out of 358 Division I teams nationally in the NCAA NET rankings. NET stands for NCAA Evaluation Tool, which is used to measure a team’s quality and helps evaluate team resumes for selection and seeding in the NCAA tournament.

The Black Bears have never won a Division I conference title, and haven’t won a single America East postseason game since 2005.

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

A new on-campus basketball arena is among the highlights of a $110 million athletics facilities master plan for UMaine announced in February 2021 thanks to a $90 million gift made by the Harold Alfond Foundation and $20 million in additional donations that are being sought by the athletics department.

Before taking over the men’s basketball program, Barron posted a record of 85-89 as head coach of the UMaine women’s program and was named America East Coach of the Year in 2015.

Barron took a medical leave of absence from that post in January 2017 and was replaced by current women’s basketball coach Amy Vachon. When Barron regained his health after skull surgery, he was named a special assistant to former UMaine athletic director Karlton Creech and maintained that job until accepting the men’s basketball post.

The men’s basketball team, which went 24-100 under Walsh, continued to struggle under Barron, who this year brought in nine new players — five freshmen and four transfers — and an entirely new coaching staff.

But the Black Bears went winless against Division I opponents during their nonconference schedule and currently rank last in the America East standings.

“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 is that we’ve gone through a few coaches who haven’t been able to get us there, is it a coaching issue? Is it a resource issue? Is it a positioning issue? What exactly is it that’s preventing basketball from making that leap?” Ralph said.

Ralph did not discuss specifics about what he’ll be looking for in Barron’s replacement, but suggested he’d like to find someone similar to such recent hires as Vachon, first-year men’s ice hockey coach Ben Barr and new football coach Jordan Stevens.

“You don’t go into a year thinking you’re going to make a coaching change,” Ralph said. “If you go into a year thinking you’re going to make a coaching change, you probably should have already made a change, so it’s not something we’ve spent a ton of time thinking about, who’s the next coach is going to be.”

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...