Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Good luck to Tim Whitehead, Congratulations to Steve Abbott


Tim Whitehead is a good guy; let’s just get that out of the way right now. If being a nice guy won hockey championships, Tim Whitehead would have been the best hockey coach Maine ever had. Unfortunately, in college sports (much like in life), nice guys finish last. Today, UMaine athletic director Steve Abbott pulled the trigger on his second firing since taking over the helm from Blake James, sending Whitehead packing after getting enough money from the “Friends of Maine Hockey” to pay his buyout for his final year.

This wasn’t about being a nice guy. Tim Whitehead did not get fired because he was an a-hole (which he wasn’t). He was fired because a once dominant hockey program had begun to deteriorate on his watch. He was far from Ray Handley (who replaced Bill Parcells as coach of the New York Giants), but he was definitely along the same lines as Frank Solich (who replaced Tom Osborne as head coach for Nebraska football) and Pete Carroll (who replaced Bills Parcells as head coach of the Patriots). The farther you got from the end of the golden era, the worse things got.

Recent seasons of lackluster regular season play and a dreadful home record (something completely ridiculous with a home ice advantage at the Alfond) finally wore on a fan base and alumni base who considered losing in the tournament a bad year before 2008. It wasn’t just the record on the ice that sounded the gong for Whitehead. There were the off-ice antics of Scott Darling and the on-ice antics of Joey Diamond. There was the failure to successfully recruit Brian Dumoulin or Jon Gillies, both Mainers, both standout college hockey players, both of whom chose to leave their home state and found success at BC and Providence, respectively. Could you imagine if a Maine kid the quality of Gillies had picked Providence over Maine during the Walsh Era? In the Whitehead Era, it became the status quo.

Tim was always great with the media. Was always great with me and everyone I ever worked with. Wish him well, but don’t feel bad. He gets one year of severance pay and will take over another program somewhere. Tim Whitehead is going to be just fine. The question is: will UMaine be fine?

As much as it’s easy to applaud the change, this is a school that chose homegrown product Cindy Blodgett over Lindsey Gottlieb to be women’s basketball coach. Blodgett went 20-69 in four years. Gottlieb got California to the Women’s Final Four this year. Ostensibly Blodgett had the inside track due to her alumni status. Is having a tie to UMaine a good thing or a bad thing? Is Scott Pellerin or Jim Montgomery a better option than someone who didn’t play here simply because they are a tie to the Walsh era? The Black Bear-shaded glasses can make the magic eight-ball hard to read.

Congratulations to Steve Abbott. He has held the coaches to a higher standard than those before him. Cindy Blodgett and Tim Whitehead both found that out (Ted Woodward should be on deck, but that is a story for another day). He now has to find the right man to right the UMaine ship. When Nebraska fired Frank Solich for Bill Callahan, they downgraded, which is something Maine hockey cannot afford to do. The flagship must not sink.

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