Q&A: Trev Alberts
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
CHN spoke to Nebraska-Omaha athletic director Trev Alberts about a variety of topics, particularly the two big ones — its head coach opening, and the WCHA's courtship of the Mavericks' program.
Alberts was an All-American football player at the University of Nebraska, in Lincoln, and had a brief pro career that was setback by injuries. He later was a college football analyst for ESPN, and then decided to get into college administration.
Former UNO coach Mike Kemp, who started the program 13 years ago, stepped down to become Alberts' assistant AD.
CHN: I realize it's early in the process, but do you have a timeline in mind (for naming a new head coach)?
Alberts: That's the dilemma you face when you're in these processes. We need to have time to vet these folks. At the same time, we're being sensitive to the fact we want to get something done some time soon, with recruiting and the general direction of the program. I've often found that if you make a hard date, and ... if the process gets slowed down for whatever reason, you lose credibility, like you don't have control over your search.
But if it's the middle of July and we don't have a coach, then obviously we're doing something wrong. So we want to expedite as much as possible while giving candidates an opportunity to show why they're the right person to lead our program.
CHN: Are you already winnowing the candidates down?
Alberts: What we're doing, as you might imagine ... we're going to get an awful lot of interest. We've already had some (conference calls), but we'll start next week getting together on a formal basis. It's very important to me, if you decide to have a committee that's representative of a lot of different folks, that they actually have a voice and participate in a meaningful way. But at the same time, we're not going to allow the committee to bog us down.
There will probably be four or five people that will be strong candidates, and you give them the opportunity to show you why they're the right fit.
CHN: Have you be comfortable handling this? This is your first coaching search as an administrator.
Alberts: It's my first big search, that would be true. But I've been around athletics a long time. It's not like I'm unaware of the processes. But in terms of identifying great hockey candidates, that's true. If you're true to yourself and have some humility, you realize this isn't about me. It's about what's best for UNO. I have a guy on staff (Mike Kemp) that's well respected in the hockey community who is certainly a great resource. At the same time, the job sells itself. It's not like we have to go out and convince folks to be the head coach at UNO.
We have a great base here. ... We've probably underserved those fans, and we will do a better job of — with Mike in this new position — of marketing and the like. We're going to reinvest in hockey. It's important to me we understand how important hockey really is.
We're not having to go out and say, "Is he a good coach?" The top coaches are interested in our job.
CHN: There are so many quality candidates out there.
Alberts: With all due respect, I think you could be close to inept and still hire a pretty darn good coach. (laughs)
There's some obvious candidates, maybe some not so obvious candidates. Our job is to find the best fit. I've given the committee five criteria that are very important to me — some of which aren't hockey related — that I want to keep in mind as we go through the process.
It's their responsibility to tell us how they're going to take us to where we want to get, and it's our job to give them that opportunity.
We have a culture at UNO that we're pretty proud of ... certain things seem to fit better. As we go forward with this committee, we'll continue to define those characteristics. But Omaha is real great .... it's no different than the football team in Lincoln...
CHN: The big question out there is whether Nebraska-Omaha will move to the WCHA. It's no secret that the WCHA intends to go after you guys. How much has (WCHA commissioner) Bruce McLeod said to you so far?
Alberts: I don't think it has to remain a secret. ... When I took this job, I promised myself and promised the rest of our administration that we need to step back and take a complete big picture view of our hockey program. And part of that process is having Mike Kemp in a role more important than actual coach. Now, you can argue that, but Mike started the program, so he understands in an intimate way what we need. We wanted to allow ourselves to investigate every possible thing we do. For instance, the first game this year, we're re-evaluating our arena presentation. As part of that, we're looking at our conference affiliation.
CHN: The tricky thing, of course, is, someone is going to lose out here.
Alberts: I respect and admire (CCHA commissioner) Tom Anastos. We are grateful for our relationship with the CCHA. They have been terrific to us. We have no issues with the CCHA. But does it make sense for us to say, where do we fit long term? Yeah, that's something we're exploring. It doesn't mean the CCHA isn't that place.
CHN: Do you know what factors will determine what you do?
Alberts: I don't think we're that far enough along. I've been here a month, and I'm still learning the names of the folks in the administration. So to be able to put qualifiers out there in terms of what we're looking for ... I just looked at it on the periphery, but you can make really strong judgments either way. So without making rash judgments, it's way too early.
CHN: How aggressive has the WCHA been in coming to you?
Alberts: I don't know how you define the aggressiveness. I'll just say I had a conversation with Bruce and a conversation with Tom. Both were productive. Bruce and Tom have a great relationship. Hockey, what I've learned, is so different than other sports. It's a tight fraternity, and I love that. There's mutual admiration. People want what's best for college hockey. We all want that, and I want that — not just what's best for UNO. But ... some of those conversations, a lot of that is very preliminary.
CHN: There is no perfect scenario where all the pieces line up and everyone's happy.
Alberts: Understand the position I'm in. There's no perfect scenario. If they can't figure it out, how am I going to figure it out in a month? But I think, to be quite honest, our focus first and foremost is to make UNO hockey as strong as we possibly can. It isn't like we're dominating something and we're looking for (bigger). We have our own issues to deal with. So I feel uncomfortable .... we have to create value in our own hockey program first, no matter what conference we're in.
CHN: Is there a timetable on when a decision would be made?
Alberts: That I don't know. I certainly have not told staff we need to have a decision. To be quite honest, I don't know that having a date ... we are members of the CCHA and we're happy to be in the CCHA. It isn't like there's a decision to be made at the moment. I think part of the process, we need to take this slower. We need to find a coach. Would it make sense to allow the coach to have some input? I think that makes some sense. ... Now if coach wants to go independent, maybe we have a problem. (laughs)
CHN: Have you gotten a chance to figure out the lay of the land in college hockey?
Alberts: A number of our alumni are passionate. It's what I love about hockey. There are transferables from hockey to football — the passion, I love it. The regional rivalries, I love it. So there are parallels, but I know there are differences. I will not pretend in any way I have hockey figured out — I don't. So I'm thrilled to have Mike around, Don Leahy, Tom Anastos — there have been a number of ADs that have reached out to me, from both leagues. I love the camaraderie. College hockey is stronger than most people realize.
CHN: Maybe you can convince your pals in Lincoln to start a hockey program.
Alberts: No, no. We don't want them to start hockey. We have the only hockey in Nebraska and we intend to keep it that way.
CHN: Well, you said you liked regional rivalries.
Alberts: Well, that's true I suppose. (laughs)
CHN: It's the age-old debate in college hockey circles. We've been writing about it for 15 years. It would be really cool to have the Big 12 or Big Ten playing hockey, but on the other hand, a lot of people want to keep it that tight-knit group.
Alberts: I can see both sides of the argument. But to me, at least initially here, I kind of like the smallness. I like the uniqueness, the niche if you will. At the same time, the biggest challenge is, how do you find a way to continue to grow but keep what makes hockey special?
It's the same questions I've got, but you've been doing this for 20 years. (laughs)
CHN: I've said recently that it may be time for it to happen. The Big Ten conference doesn't have to be scary to hockey. It might solve other problems.
Alberts: It's a good debate, but I'll ask you this — do you think, if that happens, you think other institutions in Minnesota suddenly won't care about hockey?
CHN: No, and that's just it. It's scary, but really those big programs are already strong, how much more can they get from being in a Big Ten conference?
Alberts: We have a passionate base in Omaha that's only going to grow, and all I can say is, there are a lot of hockey fans not in Big Ten country. I think people don't want them to do that, but if they do, you adjust and move on.