Colorado College vice president and director of athletics Lesley Irvine confirmed that Mike Haviland will return to coach the hockey team for the 2020-21 season after a disappointing campaign.
A year after the program seemingly took a step forward in a playoff series win, the Tigers finished with a 11-20-3 overall record. A seven-game, second-half losing streak dropped them to eighth and last place in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, when they were picked to finish sixth. They were 4-17-3 in league play. It's their sixth losing season in six seasons under Haviland.
Irvine discussed what is being done to help improve that record and many other topics with The Gazette on Tuesday.*
Last time we talked, we were talking about new uniforms and new logos, and now it’s life and death. Can you give me a rundown of the last few weeks?
With the Block 7 distance learning, that essentially cancelled our spring sports. I think that was probably one of the hardest moments of my career to date, was to go in — I chose to do that in-person and to tell those student-athletes, particularly the seniors, their seasons were over.
We were one of the earlier schools to do that and then I remember sitting at home and seeing the NBA announce that they were canceling. It was really interesting — it was like in that moment, it all became very real for people. And what happens after that is there was just this ripple effect of people making the right decisions.
Ultimately, it’s not about sport at this point, right? It’s about the sacrifice we’re all making to help everyone be safe, and us doing our part in that.
We’re all working remotely at this point. I’m really proud of how the coaches are getting really creative in using technology. We have an awesome Infotech department on our campus. In talking to our coaches and reminding them, your responsibility is to build culture, put these teams together and motivate these student-athletes. Your challenge at this point is how to do that in a virtual world. It’s been really fun to see some of the coaches holding Zoom calls with their teams and engaging on social media with their teams to make sure that they stay in touch with them in a way that they come back focused in the fall.
The NCAA quickly announced it will grant spring student-athletes eligibility relief. Is that something you support or have been thinking about?
I think it was great for the NCAA to step up in that way and do what felt right. Obviously how that plays out on each campus is to be determined.
I think they’ve had a couple of moments during this crisis where — at some point, I think it was a paragraph or a message sent out about, as you’re making decisions on how to keep your students safe, please don’t let concern around NCAA rules burden you. Just do it and then ask for forgiveness afterward. Because there’s always that question of, can we pay to send a student home, because it might be an extra benefit? I was really pleased to see the NCAA step up in some ways where they were essentially like, listen, this isn’t what’s most important right now.
Do you anticipate the state of the world delaying Robson Arena construction?
A lot of the meetings we’re still engaged with are obviously around the ongoing construction of the building. At this point, we’re obviously following direction from the state and city around closures or essential staff. At this point, it’s not at the point where it’s affecting the schedule. We are starting to think about, goodness, does that start to affect shipment of materials? We’re in ongoing discussions with Nunn Construction about what their projections are with that.
As far as I know at this point, it hasn’t been impacted. But that could change. It could change tomorrow, it could change within the hour, depending on any determination around essential employees.
The men’s basketball coach, Andy Partee, resigned March 4 after 14 years at the school. Can you break down that search a bit?
We’ve had that position posted. It was posted last week and we’ve had tremendous interest. My first head coaching search, so excited to kind of sink my teeth into that, I’ll be chairing the search. We have a committee put together too, which includes a student-athlete from the team.
We actually have our first committee call Friday to just touch base on priorities and then we’ll start to go through resumes next week.
My inbox has been full of unhappy hockey fans. Are you happy with the hockey results of late, specifically this year?
To be real clear, I certainly believe we have the resources and certainly the support to have a really competitive hockey program. Needless to say, we’re also not satisfied with where we ended up this year, and certainly on the heels of a year that was really promising last year. I really want to say that part of those quick conversations with coaches was me sitting down with Mike quickly after the season to just be really clear with him about where we want to be as a program next year. And certainly part of the backdrop, there, is working toward the arena coming online as well.
I’m confident that coach and I are on the same page. I’ve gotten to know Mike over the last seven or eight months and I really do feel positive about where we could be next year. But he is clear on where we need to be next year. Really what that’s about is we believe that we should be in the hunt for home ice in the NCHC each year.
So coach Mike Haviland will be back?
Coach will be our coach next year. This has been my first opportunity to sit down with him. I pride myself on the fact that I coached, and part of where I see my role as a supportive administrator and athletic director is having honest conversations about — how can we help with this? It’s not just about the coach, it’s about support of the program overall. We have been engaging and will be continue to be engaging in some pretty intensive conversation over the next couple of weeks to say, how do we help Mike get there next year? That’s been conversations from everything to what the summer training looks like for the team to who’s on the roster next year.
I’m really excited about the recruiting class — I know coach is too. We’re currently listed as a top-5 recruiting class for next year so we’re excited about the talent that we’re bringing in. It’s about honestly looking at his staff structure, how he’s dividing responsibilities. Looking at, basically, all the resources that he has at his fingertips to make sure he’s maximizing those things. That’s where we’re at.
I want to be careful — it’s not a rebuild of a rebuild. Coach has been here for six seasons. He knows that this is his team. But I do think that we’ve identified some things that we can have some quick change and some high impact in terms of outcomes. So that’s the goal.
You said he knows this is his team. Is there a bit of an undercurrent that, with the new arena coming and a level of expectation, time is of the essence here?
It’s absolutely critical as we work toward the openings of the doors of the arena that we go into the arena with a team that our community and our supporters are excited about. I think that’s part of my biggest message here, is I’ve also heard from many of our community members who really do have expectations of success, and I want to be clear that — we do too.
*Questions shortened for clarity, answers for length.