The University of Maine’s search for a head baseball coach culminated on Friday with the announcement that Nick Derba would continue to lead the program.
Derba, who since December had served as the interim head coach, reportedly was selected from among a large pool of more than 100 applicants that included some veteran Division I coaches, some with significant head coaching experience.
The search committee, headed up by former longtime head football coach and current UMaine associate athletics director Jack Cosgrove, appears to have reached a conclusion in line with recent coaching hires on the Orono campus.
The gist is, coaches with experience at UMaine and a built-in knowledge of the special challenges faced by the Black Bears, while trying to compete in the Division I realm from their remote corner of the Northeast, are best suited to help UMaine athletic programs thrive.
Derba has all the hallmarks of a successful Black Bears head coach. First and foremost, he knows and loves the game and is passionate about working with student-athletes to help them develop their skills as players and mature as young men.
He recognizes the value of developing camaraderie among the student-athletes through which they can build on successes and minimize periods of struggle.
Derba is friendly, approachable and energetic, three qualities that will be necessary for him to recruit successfully and interact effectively with his coaching peers, professors and staff members on campus, boosters and community business leaders.
There is a genuineness in Derba’s personality that should make it obvious to all that he will represent UMaine with integrity.
Some UMaine baseball observers were convinced the search committee would cut ties with Derba in great part because he had been closely associated with the previous head coach, Steve Trimper.
Trimper departed in December to become the head coach at Stetson University in Florida. Despite his energy and enthusiasm, he appears to have worn out his welcome over the course of 11 1/2 years.
Derba, in starting his fifth season at UMaine — this time as the head coach — has the benefit of already having established many relationships on campus, in Greater Bangor and among his coaching counterparts.
Now, he will have the opportunity to put his own imprint on the program.
That’s not to say Derba will have an easy job in trying to re-establish UMaine as one of America East’s top programs.
UMaine features some of the nicest baseball facilities in the entire Northeast. Mahaney Diamond, Mahaney Clubhouse, the Mitchell Batting Pavilion and the Mahaney Dome combine to provide student-athletes with the means to improve and excel on the field.
What Derba can’t change is UMaine’s location and the cold weather in which the Black Bears play — both at home and on the road — during the first half of their conference season.
Thus, Derba’s most significant challenge will be identifying high-caliber baseball players (and students) who have the right stuff to succeed in Orono.
One of his primary objectives should be to get the state’s top players to attend UMaine. Derba has helped bring in some outstanding Maine talent with a solid corps of Black Bear pitchers that includes Justin Courtney of Bangor, Cody Laweryson of Bingham, Trevor DeLaite of Bangor and Brewer’s Matt Pushard.
Derba should be able to tap into some connections in the Greater New York area, from which he comes, along with a network of contacts in Florida, where Trimper expended a lot of effort in recent years.
The most daunting part of Derba’s job comes in working with a limited budget. Trimper for years lamented that for whatever funding UMaine baseball received as part of its budget, it was necessary to go out and raise an equivalent amount for the Black Bears to be able to compete.
That means Derba’s role as a fundraiser, whether through sponsoring golf tournaments and other events or establishing corporate partnerships, will have a big impact on UMaine’s ability to travel for nonconference games — including the southern trip — and maybe even to entice a few Division I opponents to come to Orono.
UMaine baseball is in good hands with Nick Derba, whose 2017 team demonstrated resilience and heart in reaching the championship round of the America East tournament. And having lost only three seniors this year, the Black Bears should be poised for a better season in 2018 and beyond.