Lack of hockey voice on search committee a major misstep for UAA

Doyle Woody

Evidently, 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 judging from many emails that have been forwarded this way, the authors -- alumni and UAA hockey supporters among them -- are not sending 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, and very critical of athletic director Steve Cobb..

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 severely alienated from UAA hockey.

The whole process at UAA is driven by human resources, which according to Cobb requires members of the search committee 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 alumni and fans is a stunning misstep, the equivalent of shooting into your own net.

UAA hockey is in a dark enough place as it is. The Seawolves are a distant second to the professional Alaska Aces in every regard -- winning, attendance, profile.

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.''

Cobb is coming under fire in the hockey community too -- the Alaska State Hockey Association on Saturday issued a resolution of no confidence in Cobb and forwarded the resolution to Case, among others.

The committee to find UAA's new hockey coach 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.''

While the committee members are surely working diligently, it'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 alumni and community supporters are with the hockey program, or on the 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 -- former UAA assistants Chris Brown (head coach, Division III Augsburg College) and Damon Whitten (current assistant, Division I Michigan Tech), Division I Air Force associate coach Mike Corbett and Division III Utica head coach Gary Heenan -- when they begin visiting town, starting Monday.

That is an underwhelming list of finalists to many in the hockey community, but it is no mystery why UAA didn't attract a bevy of big hitters for the job. Sure, there are only 59 Division I jobs as bench boss, but UAA's is not a gem in terms of pay or quality of program, and face it, the WCHA will be a watered-down league next season.

That's not to say the new coach won't succeed in lifting UAA's hockey program -- we won't know until the guy gets a chance to put his imprint on it, and that usually takes several recruiting cycles.

In any event, the field of candidates a job opening attracts usually isn't solely about hockey. Almost any applicant will have a family, and yanking kids out of school and moving the whole family all the way to Alaska, far from friends and family, is a huge move. By its location alone UAA is a non-starter for many coaches who have the qualifications to be the school's new bench boss.

Still, the UAA job is a good one for a first-time Division I head coach. Should the next coach turn around the Seawolves' faltering program, he would be considered a savior, and his success here would serve as a career springboard.

One thing is clear: Whoever lands the job won't just have to rebuild the hockey program.

He'll also, through no fault of his own, have fence-mending to do with both alumni and the hockey community.


This column is the opinion of Daily News reporter Doyle Woody. Find his blog at or call him at 257-4335.



Meet the finalists

When the four candidates for the UAA hockey coaching job come to town for interviews, the public will get a chance to meet with them.

Candidates will meet exclusively with UAA hockey alumni from 6:30-7 p.m. Those meetings will be followed by forums for the general public from 7-7:30 p.m. 

All meetings will be at the Lucy Cuddy Dining Room at UAA.


The schedule of interviews:

Monday — Mike Corbett

Wednesday — Damon Whitten

Monday, April 29 — Chris Brown

Wednesday, May 1 — Gary Heenan