Hockey: What will happen at St. Thomas?

I've been sitting on this piece a bit, somewhat peeved in believing that the St. Thomas University administration should have at least waited until the end of the hockey season before turning Athletic Director and hockey head coach Mike Eagles into a "dead man walking", or perhaps more accurately "walking wounded".

Here's what we know. The Daily Gleaner's Bill Hunt had been trying to get Eagles' view of the "controversy" of the small but vocal group of Tommies supporters who have been calling for his head online as the hockey program's competitiveness has declined in the AUS. A lot of this swirls around Eagles carrying out the dual role of AD and hockey coach since Jennifer Myers left for York in the summer of 2008. Perhaps not coincidentally the Tommies have not made the playoffs since then.

There's some history here too. What was initially grumbling about previous STU head coach Derryl Smith eventually fixated on his ability to carry out the dual roles of AD and hockey coach. Then the long knives came out and Smith was gone, to be replaced by ... Mike Eagles, the popular, local (although he's from Sussex), former NHLer. But Mike was just supposed to be coach and Myers was eventually hired (and I can't remember the exact time line) as AD. Anyways, back to the present, and Hunt is trying to get Mike to talk about it and that progresses to a sit down with the university president, Dennis Cochrane.

So Hunt's story comes out in last Tuesday's Daily Gleaner. The lede:
St. Thomas University interim president Dennis Cochrane says Mike Eagles "will have a major role to play" in a new structure for athletics at the university designed to make the men's hockey program more competitive in the Atlantic University Sport Men's Hockey Conference.

A key element of Cochrane's plan is to split the jobs of athletic director and hockey coach, dual roles Eagles has performed since inheriting the athletic director's post when Jennifer Myers left to become director of campus sport and recreation at York University in June, 2008.

Eagles won't be given a choice in the matter, said Cochrane.

"I'll get his input, but I'll decide," he said. "That's my nature."

Nice. Still three games left in the season by the way when this came out, including a game the next night against UNB. The former leader of the Tory party in New Brunswick couldn't find a smooth way to stall the Daily Gleaner for a few more days and not have this hanging over the team as they close out the season? Sure, Cochrane says, "Regardless of what we do, Mike will have a major role to play at St. Thomas", but couldn't you let the guy just focus on those last three games?

Gleaner sports editor Dave Ritchie weighs in the next day in his weekly column, and then Hunt in his Friday column. Lots of support for Mike the person, not so much for Eagles the coach and recruiter.

The numbers don't lie. Eagles' first season behind the bench the Tommies went from worst to first and he was named the AUS coach of the year. But it has been all downhill from there - the team missed the playoffs four times including the last three seasons, and his career coaching record for nine years behind the bench is an underwhelming 93-143-27.

Recruiting is a huge issue. STU is not getting the top line players their competitors are luring. And it is not all about the money, as the Tommies are right up with the leaders in the value of AFAs they award each year. STU is the only hockey school in the AUS that doesn't offer a Commerce or Business degree. Most popular degree program next door with the UNB players? Business. Saint Mary's? Commerce. StFX? Business. Dalhousie? Commerce or Management. Kinesiology/Recreational Studies is the second most popular choice by hockey players at schools that offer the program. And no, they don't offer that at STU either.

Then there are the facilities. The Tommies play out of the Lady Beaverbrook Rink, an old building (but recently refurbished) at the foot of campus that UNB and STU used to share until the then-Red Devils moved up the hill to the Aitken University Centre in the late 1970s. STU's still there, and their new home, the city owned Grant*Harvey complex is behind schedule and won't be ready until the 2012-13 season.

And finally there are resources. For three years Mike Eagles has been wearing two hats. Take a short walk from Eagles' office over to the AUC, and the Varsity Reds have a full-time AD, a full-time hockey head coach, a full-time hockey associate coach, and they have just added a part-time director of hockey personnel who will be responsible for recruiting. That's a 4-to-1 advantage in body counts. It is not just UNB. Over half the AUS teams have a full-time assistant or associate coach, and their head coach is not the AD.

So the big question, which Cochrane says he will answer in a month, is whether Mike Eagles will continue to be the hockey coach, or the athletic director, or be in some other role at St. Thomas. I admit it, I feel bad for Mike because he is a nice guy, a shy man, who is passionate about his team and his players. But the AUS is becoming more like a pro league in the way it is run, and Eagles has not delivered.

Dual role for Eagles won't continue (Bill Hunt, The Daily Gleaner)
Recognition of need for change big step for STU hockey (Dave Ritchie, The Daily Gleaner)
Tommies notwithstanding, Eagles a winner in the game of life (Bill Hunt, The Daily Gleaner)
Next PostNewer Post Previous PostOlder Post Home


  1. No credit to the administration for confronting a situation they had admittedly ignored for too long?
    They answered the questions people were asking. Yes, they could have waited a week, but it would only have led to another week of asking the questions. They confronted it, presented a realistic timeline, and are dealing with it now. I commend them for that. Love the outrage given the fact that the idea that the Tommies have to make a change was pretty much a unanimous one along press row.
    I'd sooner they deal with it than stonewall. I did my job by asking the questions, they did their job by answering them.

  2. I prefer to hand out compliments when something actually happens, as opposed to promises and projections ... like the overdue rink that the Tommies are waiting to move in to.

    And I stand by my assertion that it is not good form to turn anyone's job into a lame duck, or perceived lame duck, position. Most sports organizations either replace the coach midseason, or wait until the season is over. They don't usually announce a change is coming, maybe (because we don't know which of his current positions Eagles will retain), and that we'll find out after the season is over. Unless you are the Ottawa Senators.

  3. Or, speculation runs rampant in the media until they get around to doing something, a la the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ron Wilson; or the trade of Francois Beauchemin, etc.
    They put the process in motion. They talked about it one week early and they made it clear they were giving the constituency what they wanted...change was coming.

  4. I don't disagree with you Bill. Just personally, for the sake of an employee who has worked hard for the university, I would have preferred they waited until the season was over.

    But maybe Eagles is cool with how it went down, and saw/sees it as a vote of confidence from the president and the administration. I haven't asked him, and if that is indeed the case, then I'm worrying about nothing.