Judging by the many forwarded emails The Blog has received, it seems the Anchorage hockey community is blowing up the in-box of UAA Chancellor Tom Case in regards to the school's search for a new hockey coach.
And the authors of those emails, alumni and UAA hockey supporters among them, are not sending sunshine, rainbows and attaboys.
Instead, a number of them are very critical of the four-man committee UAA assembled to winnow candidates to four finalists announced this week. Seawolves athletic director Steve Cobb is also the subject of criticism in many emails. (The Blog’s email suggests Cobb and his immediate boss, Bill Spindle, are getting some emails too).
The problem people appear to have with the committee is that it does not include a member of the hockey program’s alumni or the hockey community, two groups that are severely alienated from UAA hockey.
The whole process at UAA is driven by human resources, which according to Cobb, requires committee members to be university employees.
Yet at a time when UAA hockey is in severe decline – consecutive last-place finishes in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and attendance plummeting so badly it’s just sad to see so few fans inside Sullivan Arena – further alienating the alumni and hockey communities is a stunning misstep, the equivalent of shooting into your own net.
Nor does it help the situation that a number of folks who emailed Case received this reply from his staff: “Thank you for your interest in Seawolf Athletics.’’
Look, we’re sure Case gets a ridiculous amount of email and he and his staff likely can’t answer every one in detail, but seriously, that’s the reply? Might as well respond, “Beat it.’’
The committee consists of men’s basketball coach Rusty Osborne, running coach Michael Friess, volleyball coach Chris Green and faculty representative Dr. Stephen Strom.
As hockey supporter Ashley Reed wrote to Case, “Dr. Cobb’s selection committee to select the next hockey coach makes as much sense as allowing 4 hockey players to select the Chancellor.’’
The Blog doesn’t have any reason to think committee members aren't working diligently, but that’s hardly a committee with its fingers on the pulse of the hockey community. The coaches on the committee would seem to have a great handle on the challenges and obstacles of coaching and recruiting in Anchorage, which is good, but it is doubtful they have a strong grip on just how disappointed the alumni and community supporters are in the hockey program, or in challenges specific to the hockey program.
UAA could learn something from Maine, which is also looking for a new coach. Maine’s committee includes a former Black Bears player (former Alaska Aces defenseman Peter Metcalf), boosters and supporters, a faculty rep with a hockey background and a Maine professor with a hockey background. That represents a wide range of hockey knowledge.
For what it's worth, UAA hockey alumni will get a half-hour with each of four finalists when they begin visiting town, starting next week.
The general sense The Blog gets from folks we’ve talked to is they are underwhelmed by the finalists – former UAA assistants Chris Brown (head coach, Division III Augsburg College) and Damon Whitten (current assistant, Michigan Tech), Air Force associate coach Mike Corbett and Division III Utica coach Gary Heenan.
While we’re on the subject of coaching candidates, The Blog is aware that some people, for reasons confounding to us, think the four candidates the ADN revealed recently – before finalists were chosen – were leaked to the ADN by someone inside UAA. That is rubbish.
Former UAA coach John Hill told the ADN directly, on the telephone, that he applied – and, was noted in the ADN when he became hockey coach at his alma mater, we grew up together, remain friends and speak semi-regularly. Corbett likewise confirmed his candidacy in a phone call. Dimond High hockey coach Dennis Sorenson confirmed his application in an email, as did UAA associate head coach Campbell Blair. A handful of guys who seemed like possible candidates emailed back to say they did not apply for the job.
We would have loved to have made more phone calls and written more emails to prospective candidates and been able to reveal more candidates – UAA does not release the full list – but have been busy covering the Alaska Aces’ playoff run. In fact, the puck drops here at Sullivan Arena here in about an hour, so we need to get to the finish line on this posting.
Lastly, some folks in the community seem surprised UAA apparently did not attract a bunch of big hitters for its job opening. Why anyone would be surprised is a mystery. Sure, there are only 59 Division I jobs as bench boss, but UAA’s is not a gem in terms of pay or quality – face it, the WCHA will be a watered-down league next season. Plus, it’s not always about the coach – almost any applicant will have a family, and yanking kids out of school and moving the whole family all the way to Alaska, far away from friends and family, is a huge move.
What UAA is, though, is a good first Division I head coaching job for a guy. And whoever lands it, through no fault of his own, will have some fence-mending to do with both alumni and the hockey community.