As UAA athletics hunts for hockey coach and AD, fallout continues

Beth Bragg

More than a week after the University of Alaska Board of Regents complained about turmoil in UAA athletics playing out in public, controversy over the firing of athletic director Steve Cobb continues:

• A half-page newspaper advertisement supporting Cobb was published Sunday;

• A UAA professor emeritus publicly blasted university president Patrick Gamble in a newspaper opinion column on Friday for seemingly taking orders from the governor, who is not Gamble's boss.

• Former longtime athletics administrator Lee Piccard cited "deplorable" behavior by university administrators as the reason he and his wife Idamarie stopped their sponsorship of an athletic scholarship they have funded since Piccard's 1994 retirement.

Meanwhile, Saturday marks the 78th day UAA has been without a hockey coach and 17 days it has been without an athletic director. Cobb was fired May 29 after 13 years as the head of UAA's 13-sport program, a dismissal that followed Cobb's firing of hockey coach Dave Shyiak and his creation of a search committee that drew criticism for its lack of anyone associated with the sport of hockey.

A new hockey coach is expected to be named early next week, but the job for athletic director has yet to be advertised on the university's website.

Also expected soon are results of an investigation by UAF police into a 2011 incident in which an angry Shyiak struck a player with a hockey stick during practice. The investigation is complete, said UAA spokeswoman Megan Olson, but the results are being reviewed by legal counsel before their release.

When the Daily News in May reported Shyiak's 2011 assault on Nick Haddad, UAA officials said the school would not comment on the incident because of the UAF police department investigation. Cobb eventually broke the school's silence, saying he conducted an investigation in 2011 in the days following the incident and concluded Shyiak's actions did not merit punishment.

No written report or other documents exist from Cobb's 2011 investigation, according to a UAA spokeswoman. Similarly, no documents exist from Cobb's investigation of a 2006 incident in which associate basketball coach Shane Rinner slapped a player during a game. The 2006 investigation resulted in an eight-day suspension without pay for Rinner.

A search of athletic department records yielded no reports, emails, paper memoranda or other documents regarding either event, spokeswoman Kristin DeSmith said.

The search was done at the request of the Daily News, which asked for reports and documentations of both investigations.

"Our belief is that a written investigative report never existed" for the 2006 incident or the 2011 incident, DeSmith said in an email.

While Cobb's detractors were vocal before his firing -- lobbyist Ashley Reed said he urged Gov. Sean Parnell to get involved, after which Parnell wrote Gamble and told him to "take a stand'' -- his supporters have rallied around him and others have criticized the university for yielding to political pressure.

In a Friday opinion piece in the Daily News, UAA professor emeritus of history Steve Haycox decried the political influence involved in Cobb's firing. Haycox noted that the Alaska Constitution established autonomy for the University of Alaska, which is why Gamble reports to the Board of Regents, not the governor.

In a half-page advertisement in Sunday's Daily News, supporters thanked Cobb "for 13 years of passion and leadership.''

And a handful of longtime boosters have put some distance between themselves and UAA. Bobbi Olson said in an email that she is ending her support of the UAA athletics: "(I)t is with a heavy heart that I am hereby withdrawing my future personal, individual, financial and time contributions, including, but not limited to, the Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout, the Seawolf Legacy and the Alaska Airlines Arena.

Piccard, an inaugural member of the Seawolf Hall of Fame and a member of the athletic department for nearly two decades, is so unhappy with Cobb's firing that he and his wife have suspended an athletic scholarship they have funded for years.

"It's because of administrative behavior, and it wasn't any single incident," Piccard said. "Deplorable behavior."


Reach Beth Bragg at or 257-4335.