Thursday, May 14, 2009

The End of the Mike Kemp Era

UNO's announcement that Mike Kemp is stepping down as hockey coach to become associate athletic director leaves me with mixed feelings. Sad because I like Kemp, and wished him the best throughout his career. Happy, because if he had to step aside as hockey coach, this might be the best way to handle it. (Steve Pederson could learn a thing or two from Trev Alberts about how to delicately handle personnel changes...and Alberts has been on the job for just over two weeks!)

Right or wrong, whether Trev sang a song today or told the truth, it's not known. And frankly, it doesn't matter at this point. We've known that Kemp was on shaky ground for the last year or two, and so the idea of Mike Kemp sticking around UNO is a happier ending than what was otherwise possible. The "Fire Kemp" crowd gets their wish: a new coach, and the Kemp backers know that Kemp is still contributing to the program.

But is it a promotion? That's a spin job; it's probably a lower stress job, but coaches earn more than administrators for a reason. Nevertheless, it's probably the best for UNO.

Both Kemp and Alberts sounded very positive about taking UNO hockey to the next level. There are important decisions to be made in the days and weeks ahead: who'll be the next coach and what conference will UNO play in?

The leading candidate to replace Kemp in my opinion is David Quinn, the former UNO assistant and current associate head coach at Boston University, who won the national championship last month. Also getting mention is former Lancer head coach Mike Hastings and former North Dakota head coach Dean Blais. Blais is another intriguing candidate, who won two national titles for the Sioux before trying his luck in the NHL. Hastings gets a lot of mention locally because of his Lancer ties, but his resume pales next to Quinn and Blais.

Towards the end of the press conference, Alberts mentioned "big things" in the future of UNO hockey. It's unclear what that means. First up is answering the WCHA/CCHA question, and Alberts mentioned that Don Leahy is already looking into that. What else could it be? There are numerous facility questions that UNO needs to answer: practice ice and potentially a campus arena to finally put the Civic-vs-Qwest Center debate to rest for good. I get the feeling Alberts is enlisting Kemp to assist with that effort.

If that's the case, UNO hockey may be ready to begin a renaissance. Today was a bittersweet day for UNO hockey, but hopefully we'll look at today as a watershed moment for UNO. For tonight, let's issue an "Ole!" to Mike Kemp for his service to UNO.

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