UAA did right thing by tweaking coach search

Doyle Woody

Think of this momentary lull in the search for a new UAA hockey coach as the off-ice equivalent of a much-needed rest between shifts.

Everyone concerned can suck in some deep breaths, take a couple gulps of water, towel off some sweat, forget their fatigue and then get ready to get back in the game. Hey, it's playoff season in the rest of the hockey world, after all.

And while this search is starting to take on the feel of an overtime game that just won't end -- wearying, yet also riveting -- UAA chancellor Tom Case's recent decision to momentarily halt the process, appoint a supplemental search committee and reopen the job to applicants was the right move.

By appointing a second committee that includes program founder Brush Christiansen and three hockey alumni, UAA signaled it is finally listening to a disgruntled hockey community that includes some alumni who had been left feeling like healthy scratches. By tweaking the job criteria ever so slightly, UAA opened the field to more candidates. And by deciding to have the second committee review all applicants initially scored by the original committee of four school employees, and also have it review any new applicants, UAA covered its bases.

Tapping the brakes on the process also gave all involved a chance to exhale and decompress.

Still, it's not time for everyone to bring it in for one big hockey hug -- too many hard feelings still exist and too much is yet to be determined.

Plenty of critics had one wish fulfilled when coach Dave Shyiak was given the gate after eight seasons, but many of those same folks clearly won't be satisfied unless they drive out longtime athletic director Steve Cobb.

What all this means in the long run, and how it relates to choosing Shyiak's replacement, is anyone's guess.

Basically, we're not anywhere near having a final score -- 44 days have passed since Shyiak's tenure ended and we're probably still another month away from finding out who will assume the mantle of bench boss for the Seawolves' flagship sport.

We can reasonably assume all of this drama soured some potential candidate(s) from applying for the position during this most recent opening for applicants, which closes Friday. Still, UAA's job is one of just 59 such Division I posts in the country -- the only other opening is at Maine -- and that alone lends it some level of cachet.

Whether an actual big hitter -- someone with, say, NHL experience, or extensive pro minor-league experience -- will actually apply for the job is a matter of intrigue. UAA at least opened itself up to that possibility by altering the job criteria. Initially, a candidate was required to have five years NCAA experience, which cut out of the equation anyone from the pro side. The new criteria allows the equivalent of five years NCAA experience -- say, five years of pro coaching -- to suffice.

Here at the typing factory, this keyboard jockey believes that while the start-stop-start nature of UAA's search enhances the chances of an applicant pool with more depth, it could easily also cost UAA more money in the long run. And that's on top of the added cost of flying in any new finalists for interviews and public forums, or again flying in any of the initial finalists for a second shift.

It is not a stretch to think there are serious candidates who will look at this delay and still covet the job, but if offered the position would want an extra helping of security and commitment from UAA.

The guess here is that almost anyone offered the job is going to ask for a five-year contract. For what it's worth, Shyiak's original deal was for four years and the coach he succeeded, John Hill, got three years on his original contract. Before that, Dean Talafous received a five-year deal, but that was from Cobb's predecessor.

Shyiak made a base salary of $128,500 in his eighth and final season, according to Cobb, and that made Shyiak the athletic department's highest paid employee. Provided a moderately big hitter applies for the job and is pinpointed as UAA's pick to become the fifth head coach in its history, $128,500 isn't going to cut it.

A seriously big hitter -- let's talk pipe dream and call it someone currently in the NHL -- would probably greet an offer of $128,500 with a belly laugh. And all of this comes before we even talk about what kind of buyout clause the next coach might demand.

Bill Spindle, UAA's vice chancellor for administrative services, recently said he wasn't prepared to talk money yet, but that UAA will negotiate with whoever it targets as the next coach.

Nor is it a stretch to think the next coach will want some commitment to resources to put the program on equal footing in the revamped Western Collegiate Hockey Association -- think salary bumps for assistant coaches, an expanded recruiting budget, a full-time strength and conditioning coach for the athletic department.

Consider also that at least half the teams in the retooled WCHA have a director of hockey operations, or similarly titled employee, who deals with travel, logistics, video, campus visits by recruits, and relations with boosters and alumni, among other tasks. UAA's hockey program does not include such a job.

Case was correct when he said it is more important to make the right hire than the quick hire. That's especially true for a program that is floundering on the ice and struggling mightily at the box office.

The next guy to lead UAA will face challenges on every front, and he'll have to labor like the grittiest of grinders to play catch-up and begin rebuilding, and repairing, the program.

There won't be any easy shifts for him, and precious little rest between them.


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