Fans sit in the bleachers at the season opener football game in September 2021. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Hey Jude (Killy), things used to be bad

But a $90 million gift has made things better.

Remember, it’s up to you to make sure the money plays its part

So you can continue to make that athletic program better.

Hey Jude, don’t be concerned,

Your coaches are underpaid but you have a bunch of go-getters,

Take care of them with resources and create a work environment that is pleasant,

Then you will make things in Orono a whole lot better.

You have to assume new University of Maine Director of Athletics Jude Killy did his homework and knew when he applied for the job that Orono is not Oz.

He is coming to an institution with an apathetic administration when it comes to athletics, because very few of the administrators and powers-that-be have athletic backgrounds.

Jude Killy Credit: Courtesy of UMaine Athletics

But things in Orono aren’t as bad as they had once been.

When the Harold Alfond Foundation dropped a mind-boggling $90 million gift for the renovation of its athletic facilities in its lap, the administration had to sit up and take notice.

As Killy steps into his new role on Jan. 30, 2023, he will be faced with several challenges that have stymied the growth of UMaine Athletics. Those challenges include having some of the lowest-paid coaches in their respective leagues, several teams that must continue to improve, and athletic facilities desperately in need of upgrades.

When you hear long-time UMaine supporters complain about the lack of stability at the school, the athletic director carousel is proof.

The last athletic director, Ken Ralph, left to take a job at a Division III school in Texas for less money. He was at UMaine for four years.

His predecessor, Karlton Creech, was at UMaine for four years, and Steve Abbott had spent a little over three years as the interim AD and then the full-time AD before Creech.

Before Abbott, Blake James was the athletic director.

For how long? You guessed it, four years.

But that is the way it is at a school whose athletic program is underfunded. You just hope each athletic director improves the program before departing.

But let’s not worry about that now.

One of the biggest challenges awaiting Killy at UMaine is that the school’s coaches are the lowest, or among the lowest, paid coaches in their respective leagues.That makes keeping good coaches difficult because once they prove themselves, they are offered more lucrative jobs and leave.

Jordan Stevens, who just completed his first season as the head football coach at UMaine, is the team’s third coach in five years. Joe Harasymiak bolted for the University of Minnesota after the 2018 season and Nick Charlton left for UConn a year ago.

Those schools play in the Football Bowl Subdivision, which is a notch above the Football Championship Subdivision in which UMaine plays.

Another challenge is that there are two programs that must continue to make progress: men’s hockey and men’s basketball.

Second-year hockey coach Ben Barr’s Black Bears have won four in a row and, with a 6-8-1 record, they are just one win away from last year’s win total (7-22-4) with 20 games left to play. And 12 of those are home games.

The combined record of the teams that have beaten UMaine is 63-34-9. Three are currently ranked in the top 10 programs in the country.

Meanwhile, first-year UMaine men’s basketball coach Chris Markwood has already equaled last year’s win total and has exceeded the number of wins against Division I opponents.

The Black Bears are 6-4 with four wins against Division I opponents, compared with last year’s 6-23 record with three Division I wins.

And both of those teams desperately need new facilities.

The 46-year-old hockey arena, Alfond Arena, hasn’t undergone any major renovations since 2011 and is supposed to get a major upgrade as part of the Alfond Foundation gift.

That needs to be started as soon as possible.

Men’s hockey has won two national championships, been to 11 Frozen Fours and 18 NCAA Tournaments. But it hasn’t been to the Hockey East semifinals since 2011-12.

The men’s and women’s ice hockey programs are the two programs that can legitimately compete for a national title because there are only 60 Division I men’s programs and 42 women’s programs.

Upgrading Alfond Arena would help recruiting, as hockey players want a facility with great amenities, including workout rooms, lounges and more.

But at least the men’s team already has the benefit of playing in front of one of the liveliest crowds in college hockey.

Basketball desperately needs a new on-campus facility, which is also in the plans.

The women’s basketball team is playing in the 87-year-old Memorial Gym, which is appropriately nicknamed The Pit and not user-friendly in any way. The men play at the nice Cross Insurance Center in Bangor but there’s importance to having an on-campus facility.

And despite residing in a rabid basketball state, UMaine men’s basketball is one of only 35 schools among 352 Division I programs that has never been to the NCAA Tournament.

Women’s basketball coach Amy Vachon has more than kept up her end of the bargain with four America East regular season titles in five years and two tournament championships.

There is an impressive new softball field that is expected to be unveiled in the spring and a soccer field for the women’s team is scheduled to be ready for next fall, along with a major upgrade to the field hockey facility.

The field hockey team has won back-to-back America East regular season titles and earned its first tourney title and NCAA berth in 2021.

When Killy arrives in Orono, it is of the utmost importance that the administration allow him to do his job and support him.

Having highly successful athletic programs and quality facilities generate positive exposure for the university, and for the state. And better teams attract larger crowds to the games, which means more revenue.

Enrollment at UMaine is down and continues in a downward spiral, and this year’s incoming class was one of the smallest in years. Good athletic teams will make more kids want to attend UMaine.

And it makes it much easier on UMaine’s fundraisers if the donors are anxious to give money because of the positive exposure created by strong athletic teams.