Q&A: Mike Kemp
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Mike Kemp stepped down as coach at Nebraska-Omaha last week, and will become the associate athletic director under new AD Trev Alberts, the former football All-American at the University of Nebraska. Kemp, who insists the decision was entirely his own, is the only coach the program has ever had.
Kemp discussed the move and what it means.
Kemp: I'm absolutely thrilled. It's always a very bittersweet decision to think about changing careers, but quite honestly — and I guess particularly in light of the fact that I've been doing this since I've been 23 years old — that's a lot of water under the dam. What you love most is dealing wth the various players you deal with. But like everything else, there's other opportunities, and this is one to me that's absolutely thrilling.
I started this program. To this point in time, everything that's been decided, I've had a part in the decision. So certainly the opportunity to see this job through to completion is the best thing that could've possibly happened. There are exciting things on the horizon for our athletic department and hockey program, and to have a huge impact on that, for me was the right situation.
CHN: Was there any pressure to make this move?
Kemp: Absolutely none. Trev told me — he said, "You're my coach and you will coach this program as long as you'll like to." But the circumstances are that he had this opening, and he wanted it to be someone who could have direct supervision of hockey, because he didn't have any background in it. One of the things I've been doing previously was taking a total assessment of the program. He looked at that and said, "You've essentially had the job of an assistant AD the whole time — so you can coach, and I can fill the position and you'll be training that person. But if in two years from now, three years, tou want to take the job, someone else will have it." So it's one of those things where timing is everything, and reality says, maybe this is the time to do it. And Trev Alberts coming here has been a breath of fresh air.
CHN: How hard is it to step away from coaching?
Kemp: It is very hard. There will be times I'll be itching at the trigger to get my hands in there. But it would be much harder walking away and having nothing to do with it. I'll still be here to give my input. This was probably the best of all possible worlds.
CHN: What's it like having Trev Alberts there, who really has no experience in administration.
Kemp: He's come in with some very fresh and different ideas. He has great ideas and tremendous people skills. And he's already made some very intelligent moves. ... He reached back into the history of UNO athletics and brought in Don Leahy to come out of retirement and be around as a sounding board and part-time administrator.
CHN: You started this program from scratch, and pretty quickly, it took off. You had great local support, big crowds, and you made the NCAAs a couple of times. What's the proudest moment in your tenure?
Kemp: There's a lot to be proud of. I'm most proud of the individuals and people who came through the program. They've done amazing things. ... There's Jeff Hoggan, Dan Ellis, David Brisson, Scottie Parse .. To be able to do the kinds of things we've done in a short period of time has been obviously rewarding. Being in the NCAA tournament as an at-large bid, I'm very, very proud of that. We came into a very competitive situation in the CCHA and were able to show ourselves very well.
CHN: I'm sure you were getting heat when the team went through some rough stretches the last couple years. (UNO had a school-record 14-game losing streak this past season.) What does the next coach need to do, or be like, in order to get things back?
Kemp: We've had a couple of rough finishes the last couple years. I do think the next guy coming in, we're looking for a man of character — a man that can come in here and continue the progress. There's a lot of things we'll be doing to try to elevate the program.
CHN: There's so few openings every year and so many qualified assistants. Will you be looking for someone with head coaching experience, or can it be an assistant?
Kemp: That's open to debate. If it comes from the pro ranks, whoever comes through and shows they're capable of being the right fit for our institution and community (will get the job). This is a unique situation in the sense that we have a tremendous amount of community involvement. The vast majority of our support, people who attend games, are families. We've had a lot of interaction with those particular individuals. So we're looking for someone who can move well in those circles.
CHN: The elephant in the room here is the possibility of switching to the WCHA. With a new AD, the rumors are starting with that again. And the WCHA has been open about going aggressively after certain programs. Is that something you guys will be looking into?
Kemp: As Trev Alberts said ... we are looking at absolutely every part of our program. You have a transition in senior athletic administration, the first transition of power on the coaching side in our program's history — so we are going to be looking at absolutely every part of our program. So we will be examining our league affiliation as well.
CHN: During the middle of last season, you said pretty clearly that you were not interested in switching leagues. Is this something you're more open to now?
Kemp: I'm not more open to anything. I've felt that the CCHA has been a great home to our program. I appreciate all the members in the CCHA. I have pretty good friends in the coaching profession there, and we've made our home there. I have incredible respect for (CCHA commissioner) Tom Anastos and the way he operates. ... So I have great loyalty to the league. But, that being said, I'm also a pragmatist. We have to look at what will be the best fit for our program going forward. It's one of the many things that we'll be studying.
CHN: Is finances the main factor?
Kemp: Not necessarily. We'll look at the entire thing. You can't make a decision that will have long-term ramifications purely on one element. It can't just be about dollars, or just about personalities. You have to look at the situation as a whole and decide what will be best for our program.
CHN: For the WCHA to help Bemidji, it will have to hurt the CCHA. It's a shame there isn't a solution out there where everyone wins.
Kemp: Certainly it's an interesting scenario. We've built a home in the CCHA for 10 years now. We have a great relationship. I have 14 years prior relationship with the WCHA, and have built an equal amount of friendships with the people in administrative positions in the WCHA. There's no way we'll be making any knee-jerk decisions.
It's just the way things have worked out, and it's unfortunate. ... That's why there are web sites for people to talk about all the various alliances, and alignments, and how you can form five leagues out of everyone and get more automatic qualifiers, and a lot of talk.
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