Blais Steps Down as UNO Coach After 8 Seasons
CHN Staff Report
OMAHA, Neb. Dean Blais has stepped down as head coach at Nebraska-Omaha, just two days after suggesting he'd return.
The 66-year old Blais recently completed his eighth season as the program's head coach — just the second coach in the program's history. A two-time national champion coach (1997, 2000) during his time at North Dakota, he was 146-133-30 during his tenure in Omaha, with two NCAA tournament appearances and a Frozen Four appearance in 2015.
“I have been extremely fortunate in my career to work in so many good places with so many people who care about the game of hockey,” Blais said in a statement. “Omaha is one of those places. Our administration, led by (athletic director) Trev Alberts and Mike Kemp, have been very supportive during my time as UNO head coach, and our fans are some of the best in college hockey.
“That’s what has been most important to me in my career – the relationships I have made everywhere I’ve been. My experience in Omaha has been so much fun, assisting Trev and Mike with the moves to two different leagues and the building of Baxter Arena. It was challenging but all very positive."
Blais has hinted at retirement a few times over the years. When he first took the job, he said he may not go beyond five years. But he was instrumental in helping raise money for a new arena, Baxter Arena, which opened before last season, and wanted to see that through.
He was also coming off the 2015 Frozen Four appearance, which energized him.
However, prior to this season, Blais expressed concerns over an impending change of the school's chancellor, and what it would mean to the internal support of the program. As it stands, UNO is operating without giving full cost of attendance scholarships to its players, something most of the rest of the NCHC is now doing once the NCAA started to allow it a couple of years ago.
According to sources, Blais offered to take a pay cut so the savings could be used towards full cost of attendance, but was turned down.
Going forward, the school is facing a budget crunch that could have impacted hockey, and may impact the type of hire is made to replace Blais.
Next year was the last one in Blais' contract. He was scheduled to make $270,000 base salary next season, one of the highest salaries in college hockey, which goes up to $332,500 when including his longevity bonus. Unless there was a deal made, he'd be leaving that money on the table.
This season, UNO was 17-17-5 and lost in three games to Western Michigan in the NCHC quarterfinals this past weekend.
After the game, Blais told reporters he was staying on. “Right now, yeah,” he said to the World-Herald. “I don’t know how the scoop got around.”
But either he was concealing his true intentions, or things changed in the last two days.
“Dean has been a remarkable leader for our hockey program during the last eight seasons, and he leaves it in a more prominent position nationally than when he began here in 2009,” Alberts said. “Milestones were a regular occurrence on his watch."
Blais said he would be involved in the search for his successor. One of his assistants, Mike Gabinet, is a UNO grad and considered a prime candidate if the school decides to go younger.
Other well-known names with ties to Omaha include current Minnesota State head coach Mike Hastings, and current Minnesota top assistant Mike Guentzel. However, both may be outside of UNO's new price range.
Blais also has considerable international coaching experience. He led the U.S. National Junior Team to a gold medal at the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship and also coached the team in the 1993 and 2012 championships. He served as an assistant coach for several national teams including the U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team in 1992.