Matt Rossignol and Andy Nickerson were among girls basketball coaches throughout the state who were stunned Tuesday upon hearing the news that Cindy Blodgett had been dismissed as women’s basketball coach at the University of Maine.
“Anytime somebody loses their job you’ve got to feel bad,” said Rossignol, a 1989 UMaine graduate who amassed 1,297 total points for the Black Bears.
“When you talk about basketball in Maine, not just male or female, she is one of the biggest names in all of Maine basketball,” added Rossignol, now the girls varsity coach at Van Buren.
“I look at Cindy as one of the most influential (basketball people) in the state,” said Karen (Sirois) Magnusson, girls basketball coach at Cony High School in Augusta.
“It’s a sad situation,” Magnusson added.
Nickerson, the girls varsity coach at Brewer who played football at UMaine, said he had an outstanding business relationship with Blodgett over the years.
“I like Cindy a lot, I enjoyed working with her,” said Nickerson, who also owns Wight’s Sporting Goods in Hampden. “I think she’s tried extremely hard to turn that program around, but I think it’s been a challenge for her, to say the least.”
Blodgett was fired Tuesday after four seasons as UMaine’s head coach, in which she compiled a 24-94 record.
Kori Dionne, who has coached the Nokomis girls basketball team to back-to-back Eastern Maine Class B championships after a solid playing career at Bangor High School, looked up to Blodgett a great deal as a player.
“It was a lot of fun to go up there and watch them play at that time,” said Dionne.
Rossignol was shocked that Blodgett was let go, especially given the fact she had two years remaining on a contract extension she had signed last fall.
“Now you’ve got to pay two coaches. That makes it difficult,” he said. “My main reaction is I feel bad. I was one of those who was rooting for her to be successful.”
Rossignol can certainly sympathize with Blodgett, as Jim Boylen, a friend and former UMaine teammate, was recently let go by the University of Utah after a four-year tenure.
“After his second year I believe they re-negotiated his contract,” Rossignol said.
Nickerson, who graduated from UMaine in 1988, said Blodgett was the consummate professional.
“We did have a quality relationship between Wight’s and women’s basketball at UMaine,” he said.
Blodgett did work extremely hard to turn the program around, but Dionne noted it was tough for Blodgett to work with former coach Ann McInerny’s recruits her first two seasons.
“Working with the previous coach’s recruits, you’ve got to get some kids to buy into what you’re doing,” Dionne said.
Magnusson felt the same as Dionne on that point.
“It’s hard when you take over someone else’s team. It seems you spend the first couple of years getting to know the players,” said Magnusson, who played at Cony and the University of Maine-Farmington.
“I think most people thought she had a couple more years,” added Magnusson, ”and I think she did, too.”
As a player, Blodgett led the Black Bears to four straight conference titles and NCAA Tournament appearances, but success as a player doesn’t automatically lead to success as a coach.
“I think that probably would’ve been the toughest part of the job, for people to see her as that player,” said Dionne. “I think she was a rare athlete.”
Blodgett’s teams also had tough luck with injuries, with players such as Tanna Ross and Rachele Burns missing time, while some of the state’s top schoolgirl players, such as Kayla Burchill and Nicole Taylor, decided to take their talents out of state.
“Kids (have) got to go where they’re the most comfortable,” Nickerson explained. “We’ve had a few quality recruits come up (UMaine). We’ve had some injury problems over the last few years. We’ve had some kids that got here that I guess didn’t embrace it here.”
Basketball is certainly in the blood of the Rossignol family, as Parise Rossignol, Matt’s daughter and a freshman at Van Buren, led the state by averaging nearly 29 points per game.
“My daughter has always said she aspires to play there,” Rossignol said.
Magnusson felt Blodgett had one primary thought in her work with the Black Bears.
“She always wanted what was best for the program,” said Magnusson.
While Nickerson can sympathize with Blodgett, he knows that at the Division I level, winning is a huge part of the job.
“Unfortunately for Cindy, success hasn’t measured up to the level of efforts she’s put into it,” he said.