ORONO — Deposed University of Maine men’s hockey coach Tim Whitehead was relaxed and at-ease Wednesday morning as he addressed the media at the Alfond Arena one day after it was announced that he had been fired after 12 years at the school.
He had been under intense scrutiny ever since the program began a downward spiral six years ago.
Whitehead, who had the final year of his contract bought out for $195,000, said his immediate plans are to be a “father” to his daughter Natalie and son Zach, and a husband to his wife, Dena, and he wants to remain in coaching in some capacity.
“Dena and I will evaluate, as a family, what we want to do next,” Whitehead said. “I would love to coach again. I will coach again. That’s what I do. But, right now, I want to be a full-time dad. I look forward to it.”
Whitehead finished his time as head coach with a 250-171-54 record, but went 96-102-28 over the past six seasons and his Black Bears earned just one NCAA Tournament berth after reaching the tourney in each of his first six seasons, including four Frozen Four and two NCAA Championship game appearances.
Whitehead was diplomatic when asked about the reasons behind the program’s demise.
“That’s kind of a loaded question. It’s like shoveling sand against the tide. There were a lot of [reasons]. There isn’t a short answer at this time,” said Whitehead.
He said following legendary head coach Shawn Walsh after Walsh died in 2001 “was a tough challenge.
“But I embraced the challenge. I made a commitment to [Walsh] that we’d shepherd this program forward and I’m proud of how we did. But it has obviously been difficult to sustain it the past several years. There have been issues that have contributed to that but, in the end, I’m the one responsible for that. Those issues fall with me. Now someone else is going to shepherd the program and I’m confident they can do it. There are good things on the horizon. Next year’s team is going to do some special things,” added Whitehead who considers himself to be his own worst critic.
He said he wasn’t surprised that he was fired and said the support he has received since the announcement has been made has been “overwhelming.
“I have no regrets. We put our hearts into this program. We went to seven NCAA tournaments, four Frozen Fours and two NCAA championship games,” said Whitehead. “I feel very fortunate to have developed the relationships we’ve had here at the university.”
He added that the relationships he formed with his players and the respect he has received from them is a “great feeling.”
Whitehead also praised the fans, assistants Bob Corkum, Dan Kerluke and Dave Alexander as well as other UMaine personnel and the coaches of the other sports.
“I have tremendous respect for the coaches at the University of Maine and what they have to fight through to do their jobs. It’s impressive,” said Whitehead referring to the economic constraints and the challenge of recruiting at a school which is off the beaten path and doesn’t have any in-state rivals.
“I feel really fortunate to have had the relationships we built at the university and at the All Souls Congregational Church [in Bangor],” said Whitehead.
He said it was nice to be able to spend three years with student assistant manager Tyler Walsh, Shawn’s son. Walsh had a variety of jobs including in-game video.
“That has been really special. That gives me peace… to be able to give something back to their family in some way,” he said. “We’re going to miss this place a lot.”
He spoke about the cherished memories, including the Frozen Fours, the overtime win over New Hampshire in their Frozen Fenway game in 2011-12 and the NCAA championship game appearances. He was proud of his fund-raising that produced the $3.5 million Shawn Walsh Hockey Center and the $4.85 million Alfond Arena Renovation Project.
He has had previous opportunities to leave to take jobs at Division I and Division III schools, he said, “but this is where we wanted to raise our family.
“Right now, I want to be a dad and husband. But I’ll eventually want to coach again at a competitive level and I actually look forward to it. When one door closes, another one opens. I wish it was here but it’s not going to be. I loved being in that locker room and coming out it and going on the ice all together as one. I couldn’t wait for that feeling. I love these guys more than anything. They’re going to do real well,” said Whitehead.