The Curious Case of UAA’s Coaching Position

Posted by: Mike McMahon

Mark Divver reported on Saturday that Providence assistant coach Kris Mayotte turned down the UAA head coaching job. That’s strike three for the Seawolves.

Just before the Frozen Four, our own Chris Boulay reported that UAA had three finalists — Mayotte, UMass Lowell assistant Cam Ellsworth and Denver assistant David Carle. Then this week, CHN learned that both Carle and Ellsworth had declined the job. Mayotte was the third.

Where did UAA go wrong? Well, part of it could be their target list. There were reportedly 43 applicants, and UAA chose to target some of the brightest — and youngest — up-and-coming assistants in college hockey. That’s usually not a mistake, but in Anchorage’s case it probably was.

There are serious question marks surrounding the long-term viability of the UAA program. Right now, there’s no permanent athletic director. Candidates have to wonder who they will be working for? That’s a big question, and it looms even larger when you’re talking about moving your family to Alaska. On top of that, there is the possibility of one of the Alaska programs folding into the other one, as the state tries to come to grips with budget problems. There’s the perception out there, among coaches and certainly among recruits, that those programs are in trouble.

For Ellsworth (37), Mayotte (35) and Carle (28), their futures are bright. UAA could be a place their careers go to die, and the money isn’t going to be enough to make up for it.

In 2015, UAF ran an Athletics Financial Assessment. You can view the report by clicking here. In it, the coaching salaries for UAA hockey was listed at around $485,000. But, that number likely includes both assistant coaches as well as any other benefits (insurance, phone, car, etc.) and bonuses. The $485,000 was not Matt Thomas’ salary alone.

So if the money isn’t there — let’s say it’s $200,000 per year — then why would a top assistant (who is probably making slightly north of $100,000), give up their career prospects for a few more bucks from UAA? It’s a tough sell. Especially if you have a family. If things go sour at UAA again, you end up out of a job and you’ve made a few hundred grand extra over 4-5 years. That’s not enough to retire on … especially if you’re only in your early-40’s.

The Seawolves have had one winning season since 1993 and they’ve gone through five head coaches. At some point, it’s not the people in charge of the team, it’s other institutional factors. Some of those factors can’t be changed, like the university’s location.

Coaches want to be head coaches. No one aspires to be an assistant. But when you have three guys like Ellsworth, Carle and Mayotte, they have to be selective about that first job. They need to go to a program that, while maybe it has struggled, has sent coaches to bigger and better programs. Brett Larson going to St. Cloud State is a good example. Take Nate Leaman, who went to Union after Kevin Sneddon left to go to Vermont. At UAA, coaches have coached for a few years and then people grow restless and coaches get fired. That’s not going to boost up anyone’s resume.

Situations like St. Cloud State don’t come up often. Teams that make coaching changes usually need to be torn apart and rebuilt. But coaches need the assurance that the tools will be there for them to succeed. UAA has too many questions surrounding it.

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