Tom Bird announced his resignation from the role of University of Maine at Fort Kent's men's basketball head coach and assistant athletic director on Wednesday. Credit: Courtesy of North Dakota State University

The University of Maine at Fort Kent men’s basketball coach and assistant athletic director resigned from the school on Wednesday, announcing his decision in a fiery email sent to members of UMFK’s faculty, including its president.

“Typically when you draft up an email of the sorts it would begin with something like: ‘it’s with great sadness’ or ‘I’ve made the difficult decision to resign’, but as I sit here and write this email, it is with great relief, that I have resigned my position as Men’s Basketball Coach and Assistant Athletic Director,” Bird, who became the university’s men’s basketball coach in 2014, wrote in the email sent at 12:08 p.m. Wednesday.

“For the past eight years, I have tried my best to represent UMFK in the best manner I know how, by recruiting first and foremost, good human beings to our basketball program,” Bird said. “While we had some amazing years the first 5-6, the last couple, combined with COVID have been tougher than ever.”

The UMFK men’s basketball team finished with a record of 2-23 in the 2021-22 season. But the Bengals had an extensive travel schedule which, in addition to their games in New England, found them playing five games in New York, two in Colorado, two in North Dakota and one in Utah.

Bird cited myriad reasons for leaving the post, including loss of funding and difficulties dealing with administrative challenges.

The University of Maine system has been dealing with a handful of challenges over the summer, including the fallout of a decision to hire a new president at the University of Maine at Augusta who had received votes of no confidence at his former school, which has sparked tensions between faculty and system trustees.

Bird stated that he had had difficulty over the past season getting support from administration to raise the money needed to support necessary travel and gear purchases for student athletes. He also noted that the lack of funding meant that the school could not afford to compete in the USCAA playoffs, and that student-athletes were not informed of that decision.

“My goal was always to help young men, grow as humans and players and become men during their time here. To give them the best experience possible, not only with the academics and athletic careers, but by bringing them to places all around the country while maintaining their academic and athletic integrity. I didn’t feel like I could do the job I needed to be doing any longer.” 

Bird also said he filed a grievance with the Universities of Maine Professional Staff Association branch of the Maine Education Association union last spring because the school asked him to cancel the final game of the season because he had not received a COVID-19 booster shot, and would not be allowed to travel with the team. Bird said that he was led to believe he would be able to test for the coronavirus before leaving for the trip. He also claimed that UMFK president Deb Hedeen declined to grant an alternate chaperone for the trip.

Bird also claimed that he had been “indirectly accused” of stealing money from a summer basketball tournament used to help raise funds for the UMFK basketball program.

“This place has become a place where you dread getting up to come to the office every morning rather [than] when I started and couldn’t wait to get here and start my day,” Bird wrote. “It’s become more of a hassle than a pleasure to get anything done for the better.”

Bird ended his letter on a hopeful note, thanking staff that had made a positive impact on his time there and signed off with a final comment; “All the best, to most of you.”

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Leela Stockley

Leela Stockley is an alumna of the University of Maine. She was raised in northern Maine, and loves her cat Wesley, her puppy Percy and staying active in the Maine outdoors.