The question was asked Monday by a colleague in the newsroom.
Why would the University of Maine extend the contract of a coach whose three-year tenure had produced a 20-69 record?
He was referring to former Black Bear All-American and current head women’s basketball coach Cindy Blodgett.
Why? Because it was the right thing to do.
Blodgett received a two-year extension which will mean she will be at the helm through the 2012-2013 season.
Does this mean I believe Blodgett is going to transform the women’s basketball program into a perennial America East power like it was when she played?
It doesn’t matter what I think.
Blodgett deserves a chance to turn the program around. The university owes it to her.
The two-time America East Player of the Year took the program to new heights during her remarkable four-year career from 1994-98.
The Black Bears made the NCAA Tournament all four years and they packed the Alfond Arena seats during those years.
The Alfond became a huge home-court advantage. Opposing teams were intimidated.
Maine went 32-2 at home in North Atlantic Conference/America East regular-season play.
The revenue boost provided by Blodgett and her mates had to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. At the very least.
In addition to the boost in attendance, I’m sure souvenir sales and sponsorships also benefited.
And then you have the lift they provided to the local economy as fans would come from across the state, stay in hotels, shop and dine out.
The media exposure was valuable and that exposure plus the large, enthusiastic crowds helped recruiting immeasurably.
Maine is at a distinct geographic disadvantage recruiting-wise but having the support of an entire state and playing in front of large, energetic crowds helps overcome that disadvantage.
The crowds at the Alfond Arena have played a huge role in the men’s hockey team’s success both on the ice and in recruiting.
Jamie Cassidy came to Maine two years after Blodgett and went on to become an All-American while leading the Black Bears to two more NCAA tourney appearances after Blodgett graduated.
Former coach Ann McInerney, the coach before Blodgett, left the program in a mess.
She simply wasn’t able to duplicate her success at Division II Merrimack College at the Division I level. She had no previous Division I recruiting experience and it showed.
Blodgett will enter this season with just one holdover player from the McInerney era: Newburgh’s Tanna Ross.
The rest are her own recruits.
The ball is in her court now.
It’s time for her to get the program turned around.
She is an honest, hardworking woman.
This is her first head coaching job at the college level and I’m sure she has made mistakes along the way as she adapts to the cutthroat world of Division I athletics.
But the more a program loses, the more difficult it is to recruit, especially with Maine’s location. And when the fans stop showing up, that makes recruiting even more challenging.
To extend her contract for two years and not longer is a smart move.
This gives her two seasons to get the program headed in the right direction before she enters the final year of her contract, at which time the new president and new athletic director can assess her performance.
In golf terms, she has received a mulligan for her first three seasons.
You can chalk them up to the transition and her inexperience as a head coach.
They must start by being more competitive in America East.
They have gone 11-37 in her three years in America East. And America East certainly isn’t among the better leagues in the country.
The good news is that a top-notch recruiting class can elevate a team quickly up the America East standings.
We’ll see how it all plays out. She needs to find two or three Cindy Blodgetts.