Player departures signalled internal problems with Woodward’s UMaine men’s basketball teams

By Pete Warner, BDN Staff
Posted April 15, 2014, at 6:26 p.m.

Ted Woodward’s tenure as the men’s basketball coach at the University of Maine was fairly typical compared to his two predecessors.

His stint lasted longer than those of John Giannini and the late Rudy Keeling, but on Monday, Woodward became the first among them to be fired from the position.

Consistent success has been elusive for the program, which only once in the last 35 years has enjoyed back-to-back winning seasons. That came from 1998 to 2001, when Giannini’s teams went 19-9, 24-7 and 18-11, respectively.

Keeling guided UMaine to a 106-122 record (.465) in eight seasons (1989-96), including one appearance in the America East championship game. His teams had a postseason record of 4-6.

Giannini (1996-2004) led the Black Bears to a 125-111 mark (.530) in eight seasons, including title-game berths in 2002 and 2004. His teams were 8-8 in the playoffs.

In 10 seasons under Woodward, UMaine won fewer than 40 percent of its games (117-178). The Bears won only one postseason game, that coming in 2005 with a team he inherited from Giannini.

Woodward’s teams lost nine consecutive playoff games dating back to a quarterfinal victory in 2005 and were 1-9 overall.

“It’s quite obvious that he got fired because of the lack in success,” offered one former player, who asked not to be identified.

The recent exodus of players — seven in the last 13 months, six of them key contributors — appears to indicate there were internal issues with recent UMaine teams that led to poor performance.

Keeling and Giannini lost some players to transfer or attrition, but that dynamic helped lead to Woodward’s ouster. UMaine on Monday announced that it had bought out the remaining two years on Woodward’s contract and will pay him $113,800.

Almost every head coach at UMaine says it is a significant challenge attracting student-athletes to Orono. That helps explain why Woodward and his staff, spearheaded by associate head coach Doug Leichner, have spent considerable time in recent years recruiting in Canada and overseas.

The staff also scoured New England and the northeast, finding players both straight out of high school and from the prep school ranks. The recruiting efforts did not go unrewarded.

UMaine produced 14 all-conference honors during Woodward’s tenure, including nine during the last five seasons.

Shooting guard Gerald McLemore was a three-time honoree (2010, 2011, 2012) and forward Alasdair Fraser was a two-time pick (2012, 2013), while point guard Xavier Pollard (2014), guard Justin Edwards (2013), forward Troy Barnies of Auburn (2011) and post player Sean McNally of Gardiner (2010) garnered all-league accolades.

Swingman Murphy Burnatowski (2010), who transferred in 2011, Edwards (2012), McLemore (2009) and Philippe Tchekane Bofia (2006) were All-Rookie selections, while forward Mike Allison (2012, 2013), guard Junior Bernal (2010) and post man Ollie Ahvenniemi (2006) were All-Defensive Team choices.

A handful of those players were on the team during the 2009-10 season when UMaine went 19-11, the program’s best record in 10 years, and was seeded third in the America East tournament — only to lose in the quarterfinals.

Last season proved the final straw for Woodward.

First, the Black Bears posted a 6-23 record that was the second-worst in terms of winning percentage (.207) in program history and was the fewest victories since the 1956-57 squad went 6-14.

Those struggles came on the heels of an 11-19 season during 2012-13 that opened the doors for what would become a stream of premature player departures during the last 13 months.

While Division I transfer rates have skyrocketed nationwide during the last few years, UMaine’s defections exceeded the statistical trend.

After the 2012-13 season, Fraser, Edwards and guard Jon Mesghna all left the program. Edwards transferred to a higher-level Division I program at Kansas State, Fraser signed a professional contract in Germany and Mesghna transferred to Division II Montana-Billings.

That left UMaine with no seniors and only two junior contributors on last winter’s ballclub, which continued the transfer trend. Sophomore guards Dimitry Akanda-Coronel and Shaun Lawton, then Pollard, all have requested transfers since March 27.

In addition to the on-court struggles, there were signs of tensions. Pollard was hit with a one-game suspension in December, and Akanda-Coronel incurred a three-game sanction for undisclosed violations of team and/or university policy.

Pollard also sat out a game the previous season for violating team policy.

All six scholarship players who have left the program have either declined to discuss their situation or did not respond to the BDN’s requests for an interview.

The only outward signs of any potential issues involving Woodward might have appeared in his sideline demeanor during games. He appeared nervous, frequently gyrating his lower jaw rapidly as though he was grinding his teeth.

Woodward also was the most vocal America East coach during games and appeared to be a micromanager on the sidelines. He incessantly shouted out the plays he wanted run or the defensive alignments he wished to employ — over and over again.

That characteristic seemed unusual in its volume and repetitiveness and was something that extended throughout each game. Opposing coaches and players often could be seen responding to Woodward’s commands and calling out the plays themselves as though they knew what was coming and were prepared for it.

The UMaine men’s basketball team enjoyed times of excellence during Woodward’s 10 seasons, but none was able to seriously challenge for an America East championship. Even in good years, the team’s performance seemed to trail off as the season progressed.

During the last two seasons, unknown factors seemed to alienate some players, who opted to transfer rather than finishing their careers under Woodward at UMaine.

 

http://bangordailynews.com/2014/04/15/sports/player-departures-signalled-internal-problems-with-woodwards-umaine-mens-basketball-teams/ printed on November 25, 2014