Ousted gay coach suggests UMD discrimination

Soon-to-be-ousted University of Minnesota Duluth women’s hockey coach Shannon Miller is doubling down on her suggestion that her contract isn’t being renewed partly because she’s gay.

In an interview with the Toronto Globe and Mail, Miller says she’s hired two lawyers and it’s clear a Title IX lawsuit against the university is probably coming.

“As a strong, successful woman who is also gay, I feel they had other reasons – I can’t speculate on them, but I just know how I’ve been treated,” the native of Melfort, Sask., said. “There have been a lack of resources for the program and I felt they didn’t value the women. When you have a strong, winning female coach who is a good role model and known in the sport globally, you would think she would be treated with respect, but I’ve been totally disrespected.”

Asked if she faced examples of discrimination based on her sexual orientation or gender, Miller said she has a “long list” but can’t discuss it since she has enlisted two lawyers who are exploring her options for building a case against the school.

“When you make good money, some people are jealous and mean,” she said. “There are some people attached to the men’s hockey program – and I’m not saying the coaches – that hate me and they see it as a men versus women thing, and if the women’s program is doing well it somehow hurts the men.”

Miller’s last national championship in Duluth, however, was 2010. Miller says she was asked to explain the “dip” in success to her bosses at a meeting in July. The notification that her contract wouldn’t be renewed came in December.

She said the meeting ended with the two sides saying they would work out a salary that would be “win-win.” She was shocked to receive a termination notice at their next meeting in December instead of a proposed salary cut.

“I don’t think this was a financial decision; I don’t buy that reason,” said long-time Canadian Olympian Caroline Ouellette, who played for Miller at UMD from 2002 to 2005 and worked as her assistant for three seasons. “Players go to UMD from all over the world because they want to play for Shannon. She’s intimidating when you see her from the outside, but she’s very kind, and an incredibly strong, opinionated woman who fights for equality more than anyone I know.

“Over the years, I know she’s made a few enemies because she always expects more, and she fights for it. She’s the best motivator I’ve ever been around.”

The university declined an interview with the Globe and Mail, which appeared to question whether money is the full issue.

To compare, Duluth’s men’s hockey coach, Scott Sandelin, who has won one national title, made $255,000 in 2013.

The University of Minnesota men’s hockey coach, Don Lucia, made $320,000 in 2013, while the school’s women’s coach, Brad Frost, made $150,000.

Miller is the last female hockey coach in the WCHA.

Her firing isn’t going unnoticed nationally or internationally.

Boston Globe writer Shira Springer says the math isn’t adding up.

Miller earns a base salary of $207,000, making her the highest-paid Division 1 women’s hockey coach. Given the going rate for coaches of other top women’s college hockey programs, it’s likely her less-experienced, less-credentialed, less-successful replacement will be paid around $160,000. Not much savings. And at what cost to a perennially successful program?

Meanwhile, UMD’s men’s hockey coach Scott Sandelin reportedly makes $265,000 per year. Sandelin has one national title to his name, and his job for the foreseeable future. His contract runs through 2017. Also, figures from the US Department of Education’s Equity in Athletics Data Analysis database show that the operating costs for UMD men’s hockey are almost $275,000 greater than those for the women’s team.

The numbers make UMD’s decision appear less about “financial considerations” and more about a low valuation of women’s sports. By letting Miller go, the university sends a message about how little a female athlete’s college experience matters. If it mattered more, then UMD would have handled the situation differently, discussed a pay cut, and worked out the “win-win” that Miller thought possible.

The real bottom line? With UMD facing a $6 million budget deficit, the athletic department decided the best way to cut costs was to drop one of the most accomplished coaches in women’s hockey and, in the process, disrespect a team currently ranked No. 7 in the country. Now, players drawn to UMD by Miller’s coaching résumé, which also includes helping develop 26 Olympians, will pay a price that’s harder to calculate.

The Bulldogs are currently 12-6-2, in third place in the WCHA, 17-6-3 overall. They are ranked sixth nationally.