In 2008 Umile signed a long term contracts. A few years ago, after a terrible loss to Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament, UNH gave Umile a huge pay raise (in 2008 he made $382,299.85. That is about $80,000 more than President Huddleston and $200,000 more than football coach Sean McDonnell. Full list of University system of NH salaries here.) Umile is the highest paid state employee. This means that Umile isn’t going to be fired anytime soon, but maybe it is time for him to be the bigger man and step down. UNH is hurting for a National Title and after 20 years it has become apparent that Umile isn’t the man for the job.
Since Umile was hired UNH has only had one loosing season (1995-96) and they have won the Hockey East regular season title eight times. That is pretty unbelievable, but when push comes to shove, Umile’s teams have drastically underperformed in the playoffs, both in Hockey East and on the National stage.
In those 20 years UNH has only won two Hockey East Tournaments, despite being the number one seed eight times. In those 20 years UNH has made it to the National Championship game twice. In the 1998-99 championship they lost to Maine in overtime, a team they beat three times that season. That UNH team had several All-Americans, including Hobey Baker winner Jason Krog as well as Darren Haydar and goalie Ty Conklin. In 2002-03 they lost 5-1 to Minnesota in another dismal performance. Since then the team has failed to make the frozen four despite making the tournament all seven years. The past two seasons they have won in the first round despite being the underdog.
Perhaps Umile’s best accomplishment has been leading his team to the NCAA tournament 16 of his 20 years at UNH. Whether you hate him or love him that is an amazing statistic. But in those 16 years they have only made it to the frozen four, four times. That means 12 times the team lost their first or second round game.
Let’s face it UNH has had some pretty great and highly talented teams, but truly great teams don’t choke in the playoffs. A family friend, who has been a huge Maine supporter for around 40 years, just told me that UNH and Umile regularly have the more talent, but he can’t do anything with it. Hockey East is arguable the toughest conference in Division I hockey. The past two National Titles have gone to BC and BU, with BC recently playing in the championship three years in a row. Maine has twice won the National Championship while UNH, considered to be apart of the Hockey East “big four” has never won a national title. Under Umile UNH has regularly peaked mid season before suffering a late year collapse.
I know what Umile supporters would be arguing right now: He has brought UNH to glory, made them a national powerhouse and brought “Pride, Tradition and Excellence” to Durham. What pride? Sure they lead hockey east in regular season attendance, but in the first round of the Hockey East this year the highest attended game was only about 4,000 almost 2,000 less than the season average. What tradition? Peaking in mid-season and loosing in the playoffs? What excellence? Regular season titles mean nothing compared to the playoffs. Also, I don’t think a team can truly be considered a national powerhouse without ever winning a national title.
Other great college sports teams have been faced with similar problems. Just a few years ago Michigan Football pressured their coach into retirement and the past two seasons have been rebuilding years for the Wolverines. If UNH were to seek out a new coach, we may have to go through with an ugly season or two, but sometimes change is needed. And if that leads to a national title in a few years it would definitely be worth it. Other teams, such as Florida football in 2005 and the Red Sox in 2004 have won championships with a first year head coach.
Just a few years ago UNH football was a complete joke. After hiring coach Sean McDonnell they have turned it around and become more of a national contender than the hockey team. That took about 5 years, not 20. This year the men’s basketball team (who was 7th in their conference) came closer to the a conference championship then the hockey team.
I don’t want to give off the wrong impression. I love UNH hockey. Growing up in seacoast New Hampshire I have attended well over 40 games in my life. As a child I dreamed of the day I could stand in the student section and be proud to call myself a Wildcat. During my time at UNH I have only missed a handful of home games and when I do it is because I am off campus.
I am tired of answering “1985 Women’s Lacrosse” to the “University of No Hardware” crowd. Umile has done great things at UNH, and I believe it is time for the university to really think about their athletic goals. If those goals are to sell-out games and field a competitive hockey team every year than Umile is a great choice. But if those goals are to win a National Championship it may be time to move in another direction.
Stay Classy, not UMassy.