BANGOR — University of Maine men’s hockey coach Tim Whitehead has been ousted from his position after 12 years on the job, according to the university president and athletic director.

Whitehead had one year remaining on his contract. UM President Paul Ferguson announced Tuesday afternoon that the university would “buy out” the last year of the contract. Whitehead earns $190,000 a year.

In a news release, the university said Ferguson will use only privately raised funds from the President’s Discretionary Account to buy out Whitehead and no funds will be reallocated from the current university budget committed to academic programs, faculty, student or operational needs. Athletic Director Steve Abbott has indicated that the Athletics Department is committed to reimbursing the president’s investment through anticipated revenues generated by renewing fan interest and increased ticket sales, the release said.

“This is about the future of our marquee program,” Abbott said in the release. “Since 2008, UMaine has experienced declining Hockey East success, season ticket sales and overall ticket revenues, and waning student engagement in men’s ice hockey.”

“The president and I are committed to ensuring that our men’s hockey program is financially sustainable, continues to focus on developing the student-athlete and is known nationally for excellence,” Abbott added.

The announcement of Whitehead’s departure “follows several weeks of intense discussions with constituents of the University of Maine men’s ice hockey program that included current and former players, coaches, fans, donors, faculty, university administrators and Coach Whitehead,” the university news release said.

A national search for a new coach will soon be launched.

Whitehead met with players at the Alfond Arena Tuesday afternoon.

“I have been fortunate to be surrounded with great players, coaches and staff during my time at Maine,” Whitehead said in a statement. “We have fought through a lot of adversity together, but we have always embraced those challenges head on. … The Maine hockey fans are the best in the county, and they have a lot to look forward to for next season.”

Whitehead took over the University of Maine’s hockey program in trying times after the death of highly successful and charismatic head coach Shawn Walsh in 2001, and he kept the Black Bears among the elite in Division I college hockey for six years.

But after going 154-69-26 in his first six seasons, he went 96-102-28 over the past six.

This past season was a particularly trying one for Whitehead and the Black Bears, who went a dismal 2-9-6 at Alfond Arena after averaging 12.2 home wins per season in his previous 11 years.

The Black Bears, with anywhere from five to eight freshmen in the lineup every night, did show noteworthy improvement in the second half as they overcame a 2-11-2 start (1-7-2 in Hockey East).

Maine went 9-8-6 over its final 23 games, including a sweep at Boston College and a win and a tie at New Hampshire. Maine hadn’t won at either rink since 2005.

Maine climbed out of the Hockey East cellar and earned the eighth and final playoff spot in the 10-team league. But the Black Bears were swept by eventual Hockey East champion and Frozen Four participant UMass Lowell, 4-3 and 2-1 in overtime, in the Hockey East quarterfinals.

Maine, which was also beset by injuries, wound up 11-19-8 and 7-12-8 in Hockey East. Just five players appeared in all 38 games.

It was the third losing season over the past six, and Maine missed the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in those six years after having made nine straight NCAA appearances.

Season ticket sales have taken a dramatic downturn, and this past season’s average home attendance of 4,175 was the lowest since the Black Bears averaged 4,024 in 1991-92.

The Black Bear program was hurt by the departure of longtime assistant Grant Standbrook after the 2007-2008 season. Standbrook recruited players who guided Maine to 10 Frozen Fours and NCAA titles in 1992-93 and 1998-99.

Standbrook spent his last two seasons (2007-2008, 2006-2007) as the volunteer assistant after being the recruiting coordinator/top assistant coach under the late Shawn Walsh and Whitehead from 1988-2006.

Whitehead was a graduate assistant at Maine in 1990-91 and returned to Orono as the interim head coach in 2001.

Walsh’s cancer had been diagnosed in June of 2000, and he hired Whitehead to take over the team when he wasn’t able to coach them due to the effects of the disease.

Walsh died on Sept. 24, 2001 and, despite the tragedy, Whitehead wound up leading the 2001-2002 team to a 26-11-7 record and a berth in the NCAA championship game where the Black Bears suffered a heartbreaking 4-3 overtime loss to Minnesota.

Whitehead earned the Spencer Penrose Trophy as the national Division I Coach of the Year.

That was the first of six straight NCAA Tournament appearances for the Whitehead-coached Black Bears and there were four Frozen Four berths among the six.

Maine played in another NCAA championship game in 2003-2004, but the Black Bears lost to Denver, 1-0.

He had the first of his losing seasons in 2007-2008 when the Black Bears went 13-18-3 and missed the Hockey East Tournament by finishing ninth.

Maine finished fifth or lower in four of the last six seasons and eighth or lower in three of them.

The Black Bears did snap their string of four straight seasons without an NCAA Tournament appearance a year ago, going 23-14-3. They lost to Minnesota-Duluth 5-2 in their first-round game, squandering a 2-0 lead.

Whitehead had previously been the head coach at UMass Lowell, going 76-95-11 in five seasons after serving as an assistant at the school for five seasons under Bruce Crowder.

Whitehead played his college hockey at Division III Hamilton College in New York and earned his bachelor’s degree in government in 1985.

He was an assistant captain and captured the Sellers Award for team leadership and inspiration as voted by his teammates.

Whitehead had a two-year professional career in Europe before hanging up his skates and spending two seasons as an assistant coach at Middlebury College in Vermont under Bill Beaney.

Middlebury went 21-5-1 in 1989-90, marking Middlebury’s first winning season in 10 years.

Whitehead received the William Wallace Award, given to the person who has the most positive impact on the hockey program by a non-player as voted by the players.

Tim Whitehead’s Statement:

It has been an honor to serve as the Head Coach of the Men’s Hockey Team at the University of Maine for the past 12 years. My family and I feel blessed to have been apart of the Maine Hockey family, and we will always cherish the relationships we have built, both at the University and in the Bangor Community.

I have been fortunate to be surrounded with great players, coaches and staff during my time at Maine. We have fought through a lot of adversity together, but we have always embraced those challenges head on. The mutual respect of our players, coaches, and staff is what matters most to me, and I am proud of what we have accomplished together, both on and off the ice.

Competing in 7 NCAA Tournaments, 4 Frozen Fours, and 2 National Championship games were certainly highlights for us, along with our 2004 Hockey East Championship and our 2012 Frozen Fenway victory.

Off the ice, we worked hard to establish a culture of academic excellence and social responsibility that we can all be proud of. In addition, we completed the fundraising and construction of the $3.75 million Shawn Walsh Hockey Center in 2005 and the $4.85 million Alfond Arena Renovation Project in 2012.

The Maine hockey fans are the best in the country, and they have a lot to look forward to for next season and beyond. I love our returning core of players and our incoming recruits. I’m confident this team will build on our strong 2nd half this season, and that they will compete among the top programs in the the nation next year.

Tim Whitehead

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