March 30, 2011

Steve Solloway:
Blind eye to Blodgett's vision

In the end, Cindy Blodgett’s greatest strengths became the flaws that pushed her out the University of Maine’s front door. The fabled work ethic that consumed her devoured her players.

Cindy Blodgett
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Cindy Blodgett was the best women’s basketball player that the University of Maine has had. But that success didn’t carry over to her four-year stint as the coach of the program.

AP

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BLODGETT AT MAINE

AS PLAYER (1994-98)
Led Maine to NCAA tournament four times
• Led nation in scoring two straight years
• Scored 3,005 points and set 20 school records

AS COACH (2007-11)
• 25-94 record in four years, 4-25 last season
 

The joy of basketball that was visible on Blodgett’s face and in her fist pumps when she played has been missing from the women she coached. Surely there’s no fun to a 4-25 season coming on the heels of three other losing seasons. That’s even more reason to celebrate the little victories on the court because it gives hope.

Athletic Director Steve Abbott didn’t see that hope or spark or any other sign from the players that next season would be different.

Blodgett was even more determined to work harder and in this particular scenario, that became the problem.

That mental toughness that enabled her to succeed as a player probably turned into a stubborness to follow her own instincts rather than listen to others. I say probably because Blodgett didn’t return a message left on her cellphone.

Not that I’d blame her for not calling back. How does anyone who was willing to sacrifice their personal life to attain success be told they were no longer wanted?

No one mentored her after she was hired.

She was unproven, but Maine saw her more for marketing purposes without providing the support that would enable her to win. College or pro, most rookie coaches have the experienced veteran sitting beside them on the bench.

She was a good hire at the time. The lack of university leadership set her up to fail.  Jack Cosgrove hasn’t forgotten the debt he owes John Winkin and Shawn Walsh, who counseled him in his first year as head football coach.

People say star athletes can’t become successful coaches.

That’s not some law of the universe. That’s forgetting Duke’s Joanne McCallie was a high school Parade All-American or Baylor Coach Kim Mulkey was a Louisiana Tech starting guard on two NCAA championship teams, and an Olympian.

Or Jen Rizzotti, the darling of UConn women’s fans who arrived at the University of Hartford with zero experience. Hartford was unbeaten in America East in 2010.

Blodgett didn’t understand why women only 15 or 17 years younger didn’t share her commitment.

She was on the job seven days a week, 24 hours a day, she once said. When they’re not involved with classwork, why can’t they spend more of their own time on the court?

She didn’t understand why they didn’t use Larry Bird as a role model as she did, spending hours shooting baskets alone.

Her team became less we and more they when she spoke about them.

That disconnect isn’t easy to rebuild. College players will do virtually anything for a coach if they believe the coach has their interests at heart. The success of any college program is built on coach-player relationships.

During his seven months as Maine’s interim athletic director, Abbott enjoyed being around Blodgett.

The humor, intelligence and tenacity she showed away from basketball made her part of the university family that Abbott joined.

Of course, Tuesday was a difficult day. The interim had been removed from Abbott’s title only the day before.

He had to separate personal feelings from his job as an administrator, taking responsibility for what he thinks is best for the university.

“Cindy had a plan for moving the team forward,” Abbott said Tuesday. “She was committed to that plan.”

Blodgett believed she had to destroy the culture that existed when she was hired four years ago. Blow it up. Start fresh. She would have moved heaven and earth to make that plan work.

She needed the help of her players. If they saw her vision when they were recruited, they turned away when it was put into practice. Not all, but enough.

Abbott did speak with Katelyn Vanderhoff and Jayme Druding, who left the team last week.  Whatever they told Abbott had less to do with his decision than the bottom line of 4-25.

Abbott believes Blodgett will be a winning coach.

I agree. It will happen somewhere else.
 
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: ssolloway@pressherald.com
 

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