On his second day on the job as athletic director at the University of Maine, Steve Abbott seemed to bring accountability to the department and school. This is overdue at the Orono campus — and the university system in general.
On Tuesday, Mr. Abbott announced that he had fired women’s basketball coach Cindy Blodgett. Ms. Blodgett was a phenomenal high school and college basketball player, but she was unable to translate her on-court talent into coaching success. Since 2007, she has compiled a 24-94 record.
“Cindy worked incredibly hard as a coach, was a very determined individual, but unfortunately the results on the court are not what we need with the program,” Mr. Abbott said Tuesday.
Ms. Blodgett certainly isn’t the only star player to struggle as a coach. Ted Williams’ career as a manager with the Washington Senators and Texas Rangers was short-lived as he compiled just a .429 winning percentage. Ditto for Wayne Gretzky as a coach of hockey’s Phoenix Coyotes. Likewise some of the best coaches were mediocre players. Shawn Walsh, for example, was a third-string goalie for Bowling Green State University.
Sports, as any coach, player and fan knows, is all about numbers. Coaches may be right to complain about the difficulties of recruiting students to an out-of-the-way school with sub-par facilities or the difficulty of raising money to support their program. But the bottom line is that, at the end of every game, the team with the most points wins. Those with the most wins at the end of the season can be crowned champions and, frankly, fans and donors want to be associated with winning programs. Attendance at women’s basketball games has declined sharply since 2007.
Under the terms of Ms. Blodgett’s contract, the university could terminate her at any time, without a reason, as long as it pays her salary for a year. The university has agreed to pay her annual salary of $109,772 for another year.
At the time Ms. Blodgett was hired in 2007, there were better qualified candidates. Because of her record-filled playing career, she was the sentimental favorite and given a chance. It didn’t work out. It is time for both her and the university to move on.
The firing of a coach, even though many people called for it, comes as a surprise because it is unusual within the University of Maine System. Typically, coaches, athletic directors, presidents and even chancellors who don’t meet performance expectations are shipped off to distant offices (sometimes even other countries) without a cut in pay.
If this move signals a new era of accountability, that would be a welcome change.