Anyone who’s ever been fired from a job they love knows how Cindy Blodgett feels.
There’s disappointment, frustration, some bitterness, and increasingly that sudden hollow feeling that comes with not having an outlet for all the energy previously expended on not just an occupation, but a passion.
Such an emotional gamut was in the air Thursday as Blodgett answered questions from the media for the first time since being fired as the University of Maine women’s basketball coach by newly permanent athletic director Steve Abbott two days earlier.
She spoke of a lack of financial commitment by the university to a program considered one of the marquee components of its athletic department, and of her need for more than four years to continue rebuilding a team that went just 24-94 during her tenure, including 4-25 this winter.
“When I chose to come here, I really believed that if anyone was going to stand by you as you build a program, it would certainly be the place where you wore the uniform,” said Blodgett, a Clinton native who earned iconic status as one of the leading scorers in NCAA history while leading UMaine to prominence during the mid- and late-1990s. “That wasn’t the case.”
She also spoke of why she was dismissed, specifically that the subject of wins and losses never came up in any of her conversations with Abbott during his seven months as interim AD, save for when she brought it up during a meeting she initiated after the season.
“I was clear with him with how disappointed I was with the four wins,” Blodgett said, “and I told him point-blank that if he and I were having this same conversation a year from now, you wouldn’t have to push me out, I’d gladly walk away.”
Blodgett said Abbott asked her to resign during a brief meeting last Friday, citing not wins and losses but division within the locker room. Only when the firing became public Tuesday after Blodgett refused to resign did the reason become a matter of wins and losses, she said.
“If that had been the discussion on that Friday morning I certainly would have been able to discuss that with him,” Blodgett said. “But that wasn’t the case.”
Unfortunately for Blodgett, whether or not there was internal dissention on the team — something she denies based on support she has received from the remaining players on the roster — Division I athletics are a result-oriented business. Wins and losses do matter.
Such lack of success affects morale well beyond the walls of Alfond Arena, and it also affects the bottom line — both gate receipts and fund-raising efforts.
And while Blodgett was optimistic that a healthy returning roster along with another recruiting class would lead to “brighter days,” that wasn’t something she could guarantee based on four previous seasons of diminishing returns.
Clearly she is not one to give in to a challenge, it’s such determination that elevated Blodgett the player into the phenom that ultimately made the program she returned to coach. But just as her playing career was defined by results so, too, was her first shot as a head coach.
One senses, however, that someday, somewhere, she’ll seek a second chance.
“You don’t give up, you don’t stop fighting, and I was not going to send my players and the state and the University of Maine the message that I was walking away,” she said. “The university made that decision.”