Monday, March 29, 2010

20 Years of Coach Umile

For 20 years Dick Umile has been the men’s hockey coach here at UNH. After another embarrassing playoff exit, this time in the Hockey East quarterfinals and the second round of the NCAAs, the question comes up if Umile has overstayed his visit. Perhaps the biggest question in regards to Umile is his motivational ability. The game against RIT was the perfect example of a talented UNH offense coming out flat in a big game. RIT won every loose puck, they clogged up the middle of the ice and UNH played sloppy. Where was the team that scored 6 goals on Cornell, the nations best defense, the night before?

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.


  1. Some good thoughts, but something to consider is that college athletics is about more than winning championships. Umile understands that you also have a duty to turn these players into productive members of society. Something that Florida and Urban Meyer don't seem to place the same emphasis on.

  2. If you think he should step down then name one guy who would come to UNH and do a better job.

  3. My sports studies professor said this the other day in class... Umile makes what he does because a few years ago, Umass came at him with a hefty offer. UNH had to respond to keep him.

    My opinion - keep em. He is the reason why UNH sells hockey tickets, and it probably takes 3 games to make money to cover his salary.

    Sure, you could get a coach and pay him $150,000. Then you get a crappy team. UNH hockey just needs to get their shit together. They have the braveheart it takes to win in battle, they just need to learn to finish.

  4. A coach can only do so much, it takes great players to achieve a championship; I am a huge UNH hockey fan and yes I admit that I get frustrated however UNH is known for questionable money decisions, this a University that once made their students pay a technology fee so professors could get new computers every 2 years whether they needed it or not! There are professors on campus that dont even know what email is or how to use it however every 2 or 3 years they could get a new computer just because they were faculty; if you dont believe me ask what happened to the faculty desktop replacement program to any of the Dean's office; yes Coach Umile makes a good amount of money, way more than I could imagine making at UNH however he does produce some great players that get recognized and many that dont; I have had many years experience dealing with Coach's players that may not be so famous however I have had the pleasure to deal with the "stars" of the team through their academics and I can tell you that I have never met a rude, disrespectful hockey player in my 11 years at UNH and every year I have at least one player that I deal with; Coach Umile is a class act and expects the same from his players; he expects his players to respect rules and their education requirements along with performing to their potential every day they are a UNH student; this is an incredible expectation; being a student athlete is extremely difficult, UNH is not a southern school that may forgive athletes for failing grades just because they play sports, most departments on campus hold athletes to the same if not greater expectations as regular athletes; Coach Umile is fully involved in his athletes education as he is their hockey career; Coach Umile has less to work with than other national championship schools and I for one thinks he and his staff do an outstanding job! Yes I would love to make his salary however I dont bring the attention of the attendance that he does to UNH.

  5. The respect Umile gets in this area is unbelievable, and he knows how to treat his players with respect and get it in return. He should stay, but something needs to change. I say UNH needs to stop recruiting hometown guys, although most of them are good, and start looking outside of the New England area. The Wildcats have a really good hockey reputation, and I don't feel like they're using that fully to their advantage. Although it's a bit stereotypical, look out of the States, such as Canada or Russia. There are tons of worthwhile players out there that would love to play for the Wildcats and bring hardware to the Whit.

  6. I agree with some of what Rusty said, however UNH will always be a notch or two below BC and BU in terms of recruitment ability. It is amazing the level of talent Umile is able to bring into UNH despite these obstacles. He knows where to find the talent that other schools are overlooking, something a new coach might not be able to do. That is why he should stay.

  7. UNH also plays on the olympic sheet of ice, I think that hurts them come tourny time, their game probably does have to adjust to it.

    Rusty, good point with the recruitment, see how looking to sweden has helped maine in the past few years, bringing in a guy like Gustav Nyquist and two others following suit because they would have their own little support system.

    UNH needs to do something to adapt to a winning way... for now I will just stay in the "MAINE FANS FOR THE CONTINUED EMPLOYMENT OF DICK UMILE AT UNH" because i believe you will always fail with him.
    We've got two, how bout you?

  8. Lose- opposite of win
    Loose- opposite of tight

  9. Coach Umile still brings in the most money of any other sport at UNH.
    Simply put!! He should stay!!!