Sunday, March 15, 2009

Mavs Shut Out by Irish to End Season

UNO hockey ended it's season quietly this weekend, getting shut out by #2 Notre Dame this weekend in a two game sweep. Irish goaltender Jordan Pearce also shut out the Mavs on Saturday night in February, so that's 180+ minutes of shutout hockey against the Mavs. The Friday night game was over quickly, as UNO mistakes were repeatedly capitalized on by the Irish in building a 4-0 lead in the first period. Saturday night, a UNO miscommunication lead to Notre Dame's early goal, and that's all they needed in a 1-0 victory. UNO had several opportunities to score late, but couldn't get the puck past Pearce, even hitting the post once.

So that ends the UNO season...a season that looked very promising two months ago. Now, the drama begins: was that Mike Kemp's last game as UNO's head coach? We all know the Chancellor's directive from last fall: place in the top four, or else. Well, the Mavs skidded out of fourth place all the way to eighth.

The interesting variable in this is that athletic director David Miller is actively pursuing a similar position at Upper Iowa, and made several comments that indicate dissatisfaction at UNO to the World-Herald last week:
"It's a smaller school in a smaller community. And it's fully committed to Division II athletics.
"UNO has a number of challenges related to competing in Division I. That includes the requirements placed on us to generate finances externally."
Maybe Miller feels over his head at UNO. Maybe he doesn't feel the mess he inherited from the Belck/Buck era can be solved, especially in this economy. Or maybe he's now realizing that he wasn't the right fit for UNO. Which is it? I have no idea, but Miller's comments do indicate he's on his way out of town.

So does a potential lame-duck AD make the final call on Kemp? Does the Chancellor make the call? And if the decision is to make a change, who hires the replacement?

Let me say this: I like Mike Kemp. I think he deserves thanks from every UNO fan for getting UNO hockey where it is today. I don't think he's done a bad job at all. But by the same token, it's hard to dismiss the lethargy that seems to surround the program as of late. There didn't seem to be much interest in the Notre Dame series; it was almost a resignation that UNO would lose and the season would be over.

To be sure, change doesn't mean things will improve. (We know from the Steve Pederson error is that change can make things much worse.) But it's difficult to argue against people calling for a change anymore. UNO can, and should, strive for better performance on the ice.

But the Miller situation throws a curve ball into the situation, and perhaps an opening that addresses the desires of both camps: those who want a change, and those grateful to Kemp for all he's done for hockey in this community. Kemp was a serious candidate to be athletic director two years ago, but bowed out when he realized he probably would need to choose between being athletic director or head coach. I'd be very afraid of allowing a disinterested athletic director to make a decision as to who should be head coach, and I'm not sure the Chancellor is the appropriate man to evaluate candidates for head hockey coach. Could UNO elevate Kemp into the athletic director's office, and allow him to appoint his successor?

Is that a win/win solution that allows UNO fans to move forward? That's a question, I don't know the answer to.

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