Q&A with ... Tim Whitehead
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Tim Whitehead was released from his contract this week, after 12 years as Maine's head coach. He originally took over on an interim basis while Shawn Walsh was undergoing cancer treatment. But Walsh passed away later that year. After, Whitehead took Maine to four Frozen Fours in six years, but in recent years, that kind of success was elusive.
CHN: What is the immediate plan?
Whitehead: I'm just going to focus on being a full-time dad right now. But I definitely want to coach again. I'll focus on that challenge down the road.
CHN: You still feel like you love to coach, and this experience hasn't diminished that?
Whitehead: I love the coaching, I love to teach. We feel very fortunate to have been here at Maine for 12 years and had this opportunity. I'm fortunate to have been surrounded by great people, and a lot of friends in the area. I love this team and love these players. We have a great recruiting class coming in. I'm confident this team will build on our second half and do some special things next year. It's unfortunate we won't have that opportunity (to coach them), but I'm excited for the team. I've encouraged them all to stay, the recruits to still come. It's a great place with a storied program. Yes, it's a shame that we won't have that chance, but I'm excited for them.
CHN: Nobody wants to be fired, and it's not fun. Did you think you were treated fairly?
Whitehead: It's not for me to say. That's not a discussion that I would have today. We're focusing on the positives. There's a lot of great memories, a lof of relationships we have that we'll continue to build. I'll definitely be staying in touch. That's what matters and what I value the most, hearing from (former player) Mike Lundin that he just had twins; Jimmy Howard, just had a child; Brian Flynn, "I'm gonna play my first NHL game tonight, coach." Those are the things that matter most to me. So we will continue those things for a long time. I've been in the trenches with these guys for 12 years, these are not things that go away lightly.
CHN: I'm sure most people in the community were good to you, but you dealt with a lot of people who gave you a lot of grief, for whatever reason. Was it hard to deal with that at times?
Whitehead: Talking about those things is like shoveling sand agianst the tide. It's pointless to do right now. I've seen a lot in my 12 years. We've had five athletic directors and three presidents, three chancellors. The university has some serious financial issues that they're addressing. But that's not for me to say and it's not time to talk about it. Maine hockey fans are the best in the country, but in the end what matters most is the respect of the players and coaches and staff that are in the locker room and on the ice. That support was overwhelming and tremendous. The battery on my phone went out today because I had so many texts and emails. It's a good feeling. I'd rather be coaching this team next year, but it's obviously a good feeling to know there's that support.
CHN: You came into a situation, taking over for Shawn Walsh, who was ill, and we've talked about it dozens of times beyond what you're probably sick of by now. But can you reflect back on that time, and the transition, and the lasting impression you had.
Whitehead: That was as great a challenge as I've had, but I've never been one to shy away from challenges. We're proud of what we were able to accomplish here at Maine. Most importantly, I made a commitment to coach, to sheppard this program forward, and we've done that. We had a great run. We built the Shawn Walsh Hockey Center — I raised the money myself and oversaw the construction, and we finished in 2005. We raised the money to renovate Alfond (Arena) in 2011-12, so that was great. And most recently, we hired Walsh's oldest son, Tyler, who has been here three years now as a student assistant and video coordinator. It's really a great feeling to walk into the Shawn Walsh Center every day, and (Tyler) has been fighting health issues himself this year, and shown incredible courage to fight through that. There's tremendous things on the horizon for Tyler. So that opportunity to give something back, it's an honor to sheppard this program forward. I would love to be there next year, because I know good things are coming.
CHN: Things have gotten more and more cutthroat. It's a cold world in coaching, and wins and losses counts and not much else.
Whitehead: It's a tough business. I got a nice call from (former Michigan State coach) Ron Mason today, and he said, "It's a lousy business sometimes." I said, "Yeah, it sure is." He's right, but that's the way life is too. But obviously, how you step up from adversity is how you are truly measured, and I do believe that. So we will rise up and fight again in a different venue. If I was an NHL guy, I'd be a long tenured and I'd have a job next week. But the college world is different, and that's one of the reasons we chose to do this, there is more stability. And perhaps that's changing some, but it's always been a tough business. But I'm not one to shy away from challenges and this was a great experience for my family. It's all my children have ever known, they've grown up here, they live and breathe Maine hockey. So their world is turned upside down a little bit.
CHN: I was thinking this week, both yourself and George (Gwozdecky) were let go, and you guys coached against each other in the 2004 national championship game. There was such a razor-thin difference between winning and losing that game.
Whitehead: Yeah, the toe in the crease, hitting a crossbar near the end. Life's weird like that, isn't it? It's amazing to think we were one goal away from two national champioships (Maine lost to Minnesota in overtime in Whitehead's first year, 2002). But that's the way life is. We had our share of bounces along the way, too. It's the experiences that really matters, and how you handle them, and I'm immensely proud of the players I've coached and what we've been able to accomplish.
Like life, the game can be cruel sometimes but it can also be fabulous. We've experienced all the emotions, and all of them in between many times.