When a hitter is leaning out over the plate and getting good rips at the ball, the pitcher needs to throw a pitch inside to back the hitter off the plate. The pitch is meant to send a message to the hitter.
Steve Abbott, whose interim athletic director title was expanded into a two-year contract on Monday, sent a message to all of his coaches on Tuesday when he fired Cindy Blodgett as women’s basketball coach: Either produce or your time is limited, regardless of your contract status.
Blodgett went 24-94 in four years and was coming off a 4-25 season which was the worst in the program’s history.
Former athletic director Blake James had given her a two-year contract extension last fall because he had confidence in her ability to get the program turned around.
It didn’t happen and Abbott felt something had to be done even if it meant swallowing $109,772, which is her yearly salary and her buyout money.
Blodgett was beloved as a player at Maine.
The Clinton native was, arguably, the most influential player to ever wear a Black Bear uniform in any sport. She was a four-time All-American who graduated in 1998 as the nation’s fifth-leading women’s scorer of all-time with 3,005 points.
She led the Black Bears to the NCAA Tournament all four years. She put people in the seats. That translated to revenue for the university. Blodgett was worth the price of admission with her shooting prowess, remarkable instincts and ballhandling wizardry.
She expanded her status.
She had already become a household name in Maine during her tremendous high school career as she won four consecutive state Class A championships at Lawrence High School of Fairfield. She scored a state-record 2,596 points.
But great players don’t always make great coaches.
When your average losing margin in league games is 16.5 points, it is more a question of recruiting than coaching.
It means you simply don’t have players capable of competing with league opponents on a regular basis.
She simply couldn’t attract players of her caliber.
You can be the best coach of all time, but you aren’t going very far if you don’t have talent comparable to your league opponents.
When she was hired, it appeared to be a good move, particularly from a public relations standpoint.
Ann McInerney couldn’t duplicate her success at Division II Merrimack College and her off-court issue, involving using a fake name when questioned by police, helped seal her fate.
Blodgett had instant credibility but wound up inheriting a poor team, and she simply couldn’t make the necessary inroads to take the program back to the upper echelon of America East.
It wasn’t a lack of effort. It wasn’t a lack of desire.
She loves the game and cared deeply about her players and the program she helped build.
According to her players, who collectively gathered to express their support for her on Tuesday, she was a tireless worker who constantly tried to make them better players and better people.
Maybe she just needed more seasoning. Maybe she is one of those coaches who is better suited as an assistant coach.
The fact her remaining players banded together to support her shows she positively impacted their lives while dealing with the adversity of losing.
You are always remembered by your last performance and, hopefully, Maine fans will remember Cindy, the player, not Cindy, the coach.