By David Driver
For the Press Herald and Maine Today
Used with permission
BALTIMORE — Joe Harasymiak has a reliable sounding board as he makes the transition from defensive coordinator to head coach at the University of Maine.
That would be Jack Cosgrove, who stepped down last November after 23 years as the Black Bears’ head football coach. Cosgrove now works as the senior associate director of athletics at Maine.
“A lot of it has been everything (else),” Harasymiak said. “That has been the biggest change for me. As an assistant you watch film. Now it is 95 guys (to be in charge of). Everyone is on me. When I reach out to Coach Cos it has not been (about) football stuff.”
The first-year coach has plenty of work to do after Maine finished 3-8 last season. On Tuesday, the Black Bears were picked to finish ninth of 12 teams at the Colonial Athletic Association’s football media day at M&T Bank Stadium. The poll was compiled from votes by league coaches and sports information directors.
“We can’t get too caught up on where people pick us,” said Harasymiak, who at 30 is the nation’s youngest Division I head coach.
Maine’s Pat Ricard, an all-CAA preseason pick on the defensive line, noted that the Black Bears were picked to finish eighth in 2013 but won the CAA title. Last season Maine was 3-5 in the league.
“It is nothing new to us. We are always picked near the end,” said Ricard, a 6-foot-2, 285-pound senior from Spencer, Massachusetts. “It just shows we need more respect.”
So far Harasymiak is getting high marks from his players.
“He is a player’s coach,” Ricard said. “He cares about us. (The staff) has a lot of energy and passion for the game.”
Maine will begin training camp Aug. 5 and opens the season Sept. 1 at UConn.
One of Harasymiak’s biggest decisions in camp will be to choose a starting quarterback. Contending are senior Dan Collins and junior Drew Belcher, both of whom saw extensive action in 2015.
“We look to make a decision after our first scrimmage in camp,” Harasymiak said. “We want one guy to take the job and run with it.
“I think we will be more of a pro-style offense (with) different forms, different sets. We are just going to play more complementary football. Maine has always been known as defense first.”
The Black Bears will have to replace Trevor Bates, an all-CAA defensive lineman who had 14.5 tackles for losses and 7.5 sacks last season. Bates was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in the seventh round.
“Trevor is an absolutely amazing player,” Ricard said. “He is hard to replace but I feel we are confident in the players we have.”
Another key loss is Bruce Johnson, who signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as a free agent. Johnson was honored after last season as the top center in FCS.
Maine will begin CAA play at home on Sept. 24 against James Madison, picked to finish third behind Richmond and William & Mary. The Black Bears end the regular season at home against New Hampshire on Nov. 19.
“This league that we play in is special,” said UNH Coach Sean McDonnell. “We had four teams in the (national) playoffs last year, should have been five. We are the most competitive league in the country at the FCS level.”
Five CAA teams were ranked in the Athlon Sports Preseason FCS Top 25 poll: Richmond (4), William & Mary (13), James Madison (14), Towson (18) and Villanova (20).
JMU, William & Mary and Richmond shared the league title last year with 6-2 records. All three made the FCS playoffs, along with New Hampshire.
Harasymiak was on Cosgrove’s staff for five seasons, the past two as defensive coordinator.
“He is the reason Maine is what it is to be completely honest with you,” Harasymiak said of Cosgrove. “He is Maine football. He kept it sustained for a long period of time. I can’t replace him. That is not possible.”