For fans of University of Maine teams, it’s been another winter of discontent. Wait, wasn’t that last winter? And the winter before that. And the . . .

The snow melts but there is no sunshine. March Madness? Try March mad. The men’s and women’s basketball teams failed to reach the NCAA tournament. Again. The men’s basketball team never has. The men’s hockey team is out. Again.

Listen to the cries for coaches’ heads to roll from critics who hide behind fake names or pleas of anonymity. See the knives pressed into my hand and the hands of colleagues, wanting us to bleed Ted Woodward, Cindy Blodgett and Tim Whitehead until they’re gone.

Sorry. The problems of losing or not meeting expectations are many and varied. Firing a coach might feel good today, but it’s not the solution for tomorrow.

Start at the top. University presidents are hired to lead but not to micromanage. Athletic directors do that. Maine has not had leadership at either position for too many years.

Going back to Mike Plozek, who was the AD when Maine won its first national hockey title in 1993, the position turned into head fundraiser and chief firefighter for sports. Find the money, put out the fires when student-athletes or coaches break rules.

Don’t sweat finding a vision of where Maine sports should be or how to get there. How can you see anything if you’re splashing so hard to keep your head above water?

So? So without shared vision, Maine’s head coaches became kings of their own islands, fighting each other for budget dollars, guarding their own turf. Without a sense of shared purpose, without signs of life, recruits cross Maine off their lists. I talk to Maine high school athletes all the time and hear a serious disconnect with Maine and not entirely because of the coaches.

Blake James left no vision behind. That might have been a good thing if Steve Abbott was named the new athletic director last spring. Instead he got the interim title until a new university president was named. Abbott is a leader and a manager, but the interim title keeps getting in his way. He has told friends he will serve as the new athletic director with a long-term contract if asked.

Good. Abbott has the toolbox to begin the cleanup of the mess that has been nearly two decades in the making.

Can he or anyone do a quick fix? No.

Lose the coaches? If the new AD believes that’s part of the solution.

In this economy, it would be very difficult to buy out contracts unilaterally. Tim Whitehead is not a bad hockey coach. Just as Bill Belichick was not a bad football coach in Cleveland or Terry Francona a bad manager in Philadelphia. Not saying that Whitehead has Belichick’s coaching acumen or Francona’s people/communication skills. I am saying to be successful, a coach has to be the right fit at the right time and at the right place.

What Maine accomplished at the end of last season, when teammates rallied around a senior seldom-used third-string goalie to reach the Hockey East finals, gave people hope for this season. That it didn’t happen and a team of much the same players played games without that same motivation deepened the anger in the seats.

At times the players played like they were no longer stakeholders in their own team. Did they not believe in their coach?

Blodgett was a good hire, but Maine didn’t or couldn’t give her the support a first-time head coach needed, such as Hartford gave Jennifer Rizzotti when it hired an experienced Division III head coach to mentor her. Sink or swim, Cindy. Start paddling. The life preserver is way over there. Abbott has worked with and encouraged her but if he’s replaced, it starts all over.

The men’s basketball team teased with its hustle and heart and sat on top of the America East standings. Then it lost eight of its last nine games. A possible breakout year became a colossal breakdown. Because opponents suddenly improved?

Woodward was a 14-7 coach through January and 1-8 thereafter with no obvious injuries. People wanted to jump on the bandwagon. Then the wheels fell off. What, loose lugnuts?

A new university president is in place. The naming of a new athletic director with vision and insight can’t happen soon enough.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

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