UAA chancellor Tom Case on Thursday said he supports athletic director Steve Cobb, who has come under criticism from the hockey community and former Seawolves players as the school conducts its search for a new head coach to lead its flagship program.
Case said UAA is driven to improve its floundering Division I hockey program, which is coming off consecutive last-place finishes in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, and get it on par with its other sports, which have largely flourished at the Division II level.
"I have confidence in Steve Cobb,'' Case said. "What doesn't resonate as well with some hockey people is we're a Division II school and our Division II sports are in the top four percent in the nation.
"That's something I don't take lightly. That says a lot. I was talking to (Great Northwest Athletic Conference commissioner) Dave Haglund recently, and he told me it was OK to share this: In his experience, Steve is probably the best athletic director in the conference.
"That's not compelling to our hockey fans, maybe, but it is to me.''
Still, Case said, he understands hockey, despite faltering attendance, carries a much higher profile than the school's Division II sports.
"I do recognize hockey has a special role,'' he said. "It's part of the culture in Alaska.''
Both the Alaska State Hockey Association and the UAA Hockey Alumni Association in the last week have issued votes of no confidence in Cobb. Members of both groups have said they feel alienated from the hockey program and the athletic department. They have also found UAA's search committee lacking because it does not include alumni or anyone from the hockey community.
Case said he is confident the search committee -- men's basketball coach Rusty Osborne, running coach Michael Friess, volleyball coach Chris Green and faculty athletic representative Dr. Stephen Strom -- will find a strong coach to replace Dave Shyiak, who last month was fired after eight seasons.
The committee trimmed the field of applicants to four finalists, two of whom visited town and took part in public forums this week, and two who will do the same next week.
"This is the same way we've hired our other coaches,'' Case said. "We've used robust public forums like we are now, and we've reached out to alumni and the community.''
Case said he has received numerous emails and phone calls critical of Cobb and the process for hiring a new coach, and that he has answered many. He said he has scheduled meetings next week with some former Seawolves hockey players.
"We are trying, and we are listening, and we'll see how things develop,'' Case said. "We've got a lot of positive support for Steve too, and some negative, the majority from the hockey community. We're reaching out, we're hoping people with concerns will continue to attend the forums.''
Case said he believes UAA's administration and its hockey community share a common goal of elevating a moribund hockey program.
"I think we (all) want a vibrant Seawolf hockey program,'' Case said. "We want to be successful, we want a winning team, we want to pack Sullivan Arena.
"How do we get there? The first way is to hire a great coach.''
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
By DOYLE WOODY