ORONO – On the surface, it’s hard to figure.
A coach who just led his University of Maine baseball team to an NCAA Tournament berth, knowing he has a solid nucleus returning, resigns to take a job at a school in a comparable league that hasn’t had a winning season in five years and was 12-33-1 last spring.
Black Bear coach Paul Kostacopoulos said he and his wife (Joan), spent a week agonizing over the decision before he accepted the position at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
Kostacopoulos received a lucrative, guaranteed six-year contract at Navy. He wouldn’t discuss the financial terms of his contract but, reportedly, he will double the $78,100 salary he would have received at Maine next year.
“A six-year, guaranteed contract is pretty good in today’s world,” said Kostacopoulos.
Kostacopoulos would have been in the third year of a four-year contract at Maine. Contracts at Maine aren’t guaranteed.
Naval Academy Director of Athletics Chet Gladchuk, who was formerly at Boston College, contacted Kostacopoulos about the job before the America East Tournament last month.
Kostacopoulos had also been contacted about the vacant Duke University baseball position.
Kostacopoulos said it was difficult to decide between Annapolis and Maine.
“Both are great places. Maine is the greatest place in the world to raise kids. In my nine years here, I never applied for another job. We’re trading one great place for another,” said the 40-year-old Kostacopoulos.
“It boils down to some things in your life that are very important. It’s your family and what you think is best for your family. Not only for next year, for your entire life. Joanie [and children] Matthew and Annie really had an influence in what I was doing. I just think it’s the right move for my family at this point in my life,” said Kostacopoulos who will take four-year pitching coach Scott Friedholm with him to Annapolis.
“I became aware, when I was playing 12 to 13 home games out of 42-43 games, that I was spending an awful lot of time away from my children. That has been difficult for me,” said Kostacopoulos who compiled a 284-195 record in his nine years at Maine including a 35-19 record this past season and the school’s first NCAA Tournament baseball win since 1991.
Maine won the America East Tournament for the second time in four years, thus earning the automatic berth to the NCAA Regionals.
Navy plays in the Patriot League and Kostacopoulos indicated that the travel wouldn’t be as extensive as it is at Maine even though he will be recruiting nationally at Navy. At Maine, his recruiting was based predominantly in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Canada.
“It will be a plane ticket [instead of a long drive],” said Kostacopoulos.
He said they have a “tremendous facility” and Annapolis is “one of the most beautiful spots in the world to live in.”
He also won’t have to worry about fund-raising, academic and disciplinary issues because the U.S. Naval Academy takes care of those areas.
He said the U.S. Naval Academy will help him and his family with their housing and that it will be nice to play home games in March. Maine usually doesn’t play its first home game until the middle of April.
Kostacopoulos came to Maine after compiling a 220-137 record in seven years at Providence College, his alma mater.
In becoming the 12th head coach at Navy, he will replace Steve Whitmyer, who was fired after compiling a 91-143-2 record over five seasons. Navy never had a winning season under Whitmyer which was its longest stretch since it had seven losing seasons from 1931-37.
But Kostacopoulos pointed out that Maine had been in the midst of a losing stretch when he took over from John Winkin in Orono. Maine had three consecutive losing seasons and four in a five-year span.
“When I left Providence to take the Maine job, people asked me why I was doing that. It was because it was a great opportunity and a great chance to do something special. And I feel that exists at the Naval Academy. I truly believe that or I wouldn’t have taken the job,” said Kostacopoulos.
He knows it will be a challenge, particularly recruiting. But so was recruiting players at Maine due to the geographic disadvantages.
“I’ll be recruiting our country’s best and brightest. It will be a different kind of athlete. But you still have to run 90 feet to the base, throw the ball 60 feet, six inches [from the mound] and catch it. I love coaching. It’s still the same game,” said Kostacopoulos.
He will take plenty of fond memories with him and he thanked the administration, the support staff, the media, the community, his coaching staff and his players for making his stay so enjoyable.
“I’ll obviously miss the people. The people stand out to me so much. It’s a unique place, a special place as far as support goes. And I can’t say enough about the players and the level of success they achieved,” said Kostacopoulos, a two-time America East and New England coach of the year.
University of Maine Athletic Director Patrick Nero said in a press release Kostacopoulos did a “tremendous job” and the search for a replacement will begin immediately.