UMaine fires hockey coach after 12 years
ORONO, Maine (AP) -- The University of Maine on Tuesday announced the firing of hockey coach Tim Whitehead after 12 seasons, saying the university needs to look in a new direction for a program known for producing National Hockey League standouts like Paul Kariya, Dustin Penner and Ben Bishop.
The university will use up to $195,000 in privately raised money from the president's discretionary fund to buy out the final year of a four-year contract extension negotiated in 2010.
Athletic Director Steve Abbott said he and President Paul Ferguson are committed "to ensuring that our men's hockey program is financially sustainable, continues to focus on developing the student-athlete, and is known nationally for excellence."
"This is about the future of our marquee program," Abbott said. "Since 2008, Maine has experienced declining Hockey East success, season ticket sales and overall ticket revenues, and waning student engagement in men's ice hockey."
Whitehead, who had a record of 250-171-54 at Maine, took the team to the national championship game, losing in overtime, in an emotional first season as interim coach after coach Shawn Walsh died from cancer. He later coached another championship game, and his teams made four Frozen Four appearances.
But his teams had losing records for the past six seasons, finishing 11-19-8 before failing to advance in the Hockey East playoffs this year.
In a statement, Whitehead said it was an honor to serve at Maine, and he told fans that they'll have a lot to look forward to in the coming season.
"I love our returning core of players and our incoming recruits. I'm confident this team will build on our strong second half this season, and that they will compete among the top programs in the nation next year," he said.
Ferguson, who said a national search for a new coach will begin immediately, heaped praise on his outgoing coach.
"Tim's positive character and demonstrated commitment to developing our hockey players as student-athletes have been outstanding," he said. "We as a university are grateful for that commitment to student success."
Maine was just 7-12-8 in Hockey East this season, a disappointing finish in a year where the league seemed up for grabs. Massachusetts Lowell won the conference regular-season and tournament titles, and will play in the Frozen Four this week in Pittsburgh, along with St. Cloud State, Quinnipiac and Yale.