UMD chancellor: Coach’s termination ‘unfairly’ portrayed

Whatever trouble the University of Minnesota-Duluth has gotten into with the public over its announcement that it’ll terminate women’s hockey coach Shannon Miller is mostly of its own making.

The university has steadfastly refused to talk about the decision other than to announce “it’s strictly financial,” and now is complaining that it has been “unfairly portrayed” even after a university spokesman admitted in January that there’s more to it than money, and then refused to say what else is involved.

UMD Chancellor Lendley Black has finally opened up — a little bit — about the firing, responding to a letter from DFL legislators questioning the firing.

He said the UMD women’s hockey team’s performance “has declined significantly in recent years,” he said in the letter, reported by the Duluth News Tribune.

Miller had won five national championships but the team has struggled in recent years compared to powerhouse hockey schools. Her supporters say UMD is unable to recruit better players because of a stingy budget.

Miller, who has suggested her termination is related to her gender, told the News Tribune the information in Black’s letter is news to her.

“The excuses provided by Chancellor Black ring hollow,” Miller told the News Tribune on Tuesday night after reading Black’s letter. “In the two and a half months after my termination, this is the first I’ve heard of some of the things that were in his letter.”

Miller said it infuriates her when Black compares UMD to Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota because six years ago, Miller said, she began pushing the administration for a full-time director of hockey operations as well as scholarships to pay for players to attend summer classes and a fifth year of college. All are things the Badgers, Gophers and North Dakota have, Miller said.

“What I was repeatedly told for the last six years was, ‘We are not Wisconsin, we are not Minnesota, we are not North Dakota and we’re not Ohio State. Stop comparing us to those schools. We are Mankato, we are St. Cloud,’ ” Miller said. “I’ve heard that from every administrator we’ve had.”

“We’ve won five national championships, what more would you like me to do?” Miller told MPR News. “We’ve done our part, you guys have now got to step up.”

In an interview published this week by Curve Magazine, Miller called her termination “blatant discrimination.”

I have been lied to, manipulated and treated with a great deal of disrespect. This program could have continued as a dynasty if the university would have put the necessary resources into the program that it requires.

There is a serious double standard in how men are allowed to coach and how they are treated compared to women. Men would not have been given a termination notice in the middle of a successful season without just cause, and given a reason of “strictly financial.” The discrimination is painful and alarming.

To be sure, Black’s letter still raises questions about the initial statements from UMD athletic director Josh Berlo who originally said the decision not to renew Miller’s contract was a “financially driven decision.” He did so while praising her record.

Gov. Mark Dayton yesterday added his name to the letter to University of Minnesota president Eric Kaler, which was forwarded to Black. UMD has a $6 million budget shortfall.

Where does Black’s letter leave the story? Back where it started, the Reinstate Coach Miller & the UMD Women’s Hockey Staff Facebook page says:

If you are going to compare UMD to UW, UND, and UM, then you better support them the same way those programs are supported. 5th year Scholarships, summer school, recruiting budgets, marketing efforts, and pride in the team. Bottom line.

You cannot have it both ways. FURTHERMORE, if the AD is going to tell the coach that UMD is more comparable to SCSU, MSU, and BSU, then can not expect to compete and should be high-fiving them when the program is still nationally ranked year after year after year

“I hope a lot of people will take enough notice that it will open up eyes, minds and hearts and really create change and make a difference,” Miller told Curve. “And I hope people behaving in this discriminatory manner will be held accountable. If people in leadership positions are held accountable, and justice is served, change will occur. It’s inevitable.”

Black said he remains committed to improving women’s hockey at UMD. That’ll be a tall order. Few quality female coaches are going to want to inherit the mess UMD has created in Duluth, let alone try to win on the cheap.