DUBUQUE, Iowa — Jim Montgomery was in an airport on Thursday. He wasn’t with his Dubuque Fighting Saints.
The former University of Maine All-American and captain of the 1992-93 NCAA championship team, who is the coach and general manager of the United States Hockey League team, was headed for a job interview.
And it wasn’t with his alma mater.
Montgomery wouldn’t divulge his destination but said it was for one of three positions: Division I head coach, American Hockey League head coach or National Hockey League assistant coach.
The other three Division I jobs that are open are Denver, Alaska-Anchorage and the University of Connecticut.
As he said earlier this week, Montgomery is interested in returning to his alma mater and leading the program back to a position of national prominence.
Maine has made just one NCAA tournament appearance in the past six seasons after appearing nine consecutive times prior to that period. That was a factor leading to Tuesday’s firing of coach Tim Whitehead.
Montgomery said “there is no doubt in my mind” that he can return them to elite status and he was “shocked and stunned” that he hadn’t heard from Maine athletic director Steve Abbott or anyone else from the university pertaining to the job.
Abbott said Thursday that he hasn’t contacted any prospective candidates about the job.
“We haven’t started the search yet,” said Abbott. “We expect to name the search committee next week.”
Abbott said they do not have a timetable to name Whitehead’s replacement.
“We aren’t going to rush. We have a very good situation right now because we have Bob Corkum running the team (as the interim head coach). He’s a great coach,” Abbott said. “That gives us the luxury to make sure we find the right person who is the right fit. If we didn’t have a strong interim coach, I’d be feeling more pressure to act quickly.”
Corkum and fellow associate head coach Dan Kerluke are under contract with the university until June 30.
Corkum, who isn’t getting any extra pay for being the interim head coach according to Abbott, has expressed interest in becoming the permanent head coach.
Abbott expects to get an impressive candidate pool and said former Black Bear players such as Montgomery and Bridgeport Sound Tigers (AHL) head coach and Hobey Baker Award winner Scott Pellerin have “special places in Maine hockey history and very impressive credentials.”
Montgomery said regardless of whether he lands the job, he is a proud alum who wants Maine to choose a coach who can get the program back where it belongs among the nation’s elite programs.
Montgomery has compiled a 116-45-21 record in three seasons at Dubuque and his current team finished 43-11-8, the best record in the league.
Northeastern University right wing Vinny Saponari, who played for Montgomery in Dubuque, said Montgomery was demanding and was an excellent coach who would do well as a college head coach.
Montgomery does have a blemish on his record and he previously let Abbott know about it.
He received a DWI [Driving While Intoxicated] seven years ago.
“I made a stupid decision. I regret it. I was embarrassed by it,” said Montgomery, who said he hasn’t had any since that time and learned from it.
Abbott said although they don’t have a timetable, “I am no way suggesting we’re going to drag our feet.
“But we want to be careful and as thorough as possible,” said Abbott.
Abbott said he has heard from several people, including alums, who are giving him advice on the hiring.
He has a good idea of the traits he is looking for.
“We want someone who has a plan for how to get us back in the national picture,” Abbott said. “We want someone who can continue Tim’s legacy in terms of the type of student and community-involved athlete we attract. We want someone who can lead the program and be present, not just on campus, but in the community. He has to have first-rate hockey [coaching] skills and be able to attract fan and donor support.
“Being a good recruiter is critically important. He won’t just be recruiting against other college teams, but against other [Major Junior] leagues as well,” Abbott said.