There are some empty chairs these days in the football offices at the University of Maine.
Three assistant coaches — Frank Giufre, Kevin Cahill and Steve Vashel — have left the program recently to further their careers elsewhere.
So if Black Bears head coach Jack Cosgrove appears more pensive than usual, it’s no wonder. He has three staff positions to fill with the spring season fast approaching.
UMaine has developed an unfortunate distinction as being a great stepping stone to other higher-profile, higher-paying jobs.
For the aspiring coach, UMaine offers a competitive Division I program from the nation’s top Football Championship Subdivision conference, the Colonial Athletic Association. It is located in a nice, rural setting in which to work with a committed group of fellow coaches and student-athletes.
Some coaches start in lesser roles, then move their way into coordinator positions. Others simply use the stint to gain valuable experience and boost their resumes in the hope of enhancing their chance to work at a bigger program.
The dynamic isn’t likely to change. While UMaine provides opportunities for advancement within its staff, it can’t afford to pay anywhere near what coaches might expect to earn at comparable FCS programs.
That means it’s only a matter of time before the turnover occurs.
Cosgrove must then reach out to his extensive network of football contacts to find capable replacements who would be a good fit at UMaine.
While UMaine has had success finding qualified and enthusiastic coaches to fill openings, the offer that is “too good to refuse” eventually comes along.
Further, the same tight-knit relationships coaches build while at UMaine can lead to multiple simultaneous departures when other jobs open up.
Last season, former UMaine wide receiver Dwayne Wilmot left UMaine to take a position at Harvard.
When former Harvard assistant Tony Reno took the head job at archrival Yale last month, he took Wilmot with him. Before you know it, two of Wilmot’s former UMaine colleagues — Cahill and Vashel — are also working in New Haven, Conn.
While they will hold similar positions, their compensation will increase dramatically and they become part of the athletic tradition at one of the nation’s most respected universities.
There was a similar exodus after former Bears quarterback and longtime assistant Bobby Wilder accepted the head coaching job at Old Dominion in 2007. He took with him former UMaine players and assistants Brian Scott, Michael Zyskowski and Ron Whitcomb.
Giufre’s recent departure for a job with the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts was another no-brainer for him and his family.
Cosgrove has learned through experience that hiring recently graduated UMaine players is beneficial because of their familiarity with and loyalty to the program. However, because of their inexperience they often start at the bottom of the hierarchy.
For that reason, outside openings are tempting because of the added prestige and bigger paychecks.
Coaching turnover at UMaine is unavoidable. The challenge for Cosgrove and Co. is maintaining a sense of continuity amidst the departures.
If there are no more staff changes this offseason, the Bears will have their offensive and defensive coordinators intact and five other assistants returning. UMaine should be able to bounce back fine.
But the influx of new people means a lengthy transition period during which they learn on the job. They also have to discover how the system works, ascertain the personalities of the other coaches and discover what Cosgrove and the coordinators expect of them.
It’s nothing new for UMaine football, unwitting stepping stone to bigger and better jobs for aspiring coaches.