Dear Coach Umile:
It is very much with mixed feelings that I've decided to write to you in this manner, and I truly hope that you take my thoughts with good grace and an even temperament. As a long-standing UNH Hockey fan and supporter going back almost 35 years now, I've seen the good, the bad and the ugly, and I can say without qualification that no one has been more responsible for the good moments than you. And that's no small accomplishment, as you've had to eclipse the Hall of Fame career your former coach and long-time mentor Charlie Holt to make that claim ... although I know you'd never make such a claim, given your modesty and your great reverence for Coach Holt. But as unlikely as that all may have seemed to have been when you first took the head job at UNH just over 20 years under less-than-ideal circumstances, it is now very much a reality, and ALL UNH Hockey fans owe you a great debt for all you have done to first restore the UNH program to the heights attained by Coach Holt, and in fact eventually surpass your great mentor's achievements.
You've earned the right to call your shots, and although some would call for your unceremonial dismissal from the program and institution that owes you so much ... I'm not going to be one of those folks. As someone who's been involved in coaching over 700 games in the last decade, and coached both teams that have experienced the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat in their last games of the season in tournament competition, I can at least begin to appreciate the amount of hard work and dedication required to have had the impact on your program that you've undeniably had.
I'm sure you would agree that some of the most important lessons any coach can stem from adversity, and when things don't turn out the way you'd like them to. You were already well on your way towards the top when your health became an issue in the late '90's. But you adjusted and overcame those problems, and took UNH to the next level in the years that followed. And after coming oh-so-close in '99, you made some other adjustments to take UNH to the pinnacle of its long hockey history in the '02-'03 seasons.
The years that have followed have hardly been a fall from grace ... but it's admittedly been a stretch where your teams have seemingly fallen back from the edge of glory that you had consistently gotten them to on either side of the millennium. There have been several "false dawns" that ended badly in the final game of the season, and the hope and faith placed in you and your teams by the UNH faithful has gradually waned ... as you can sometimes see (and no doubt often hear) up in the stands, at the arena that someday may rightfully bear the names of you and your legendary mentor. Things have gone stale. You are not a self-centered and ego-driven man. You are not blind. You can see/feel the gradual backslide of your beloved program, and you want more than anything else to arrest that backslide.
You now have the opportunity to learn one final lesson from your mentor, and it's the lesson of the graceful transition to cap off a fabulous UNH career, and to ensure that the Holt-Umile legacy lives on in Durham for generations to come. You know how the end of Coach Holt's UNH career saw a program fester at the bottom of Hockey East in its early years, and then struggle with tragic circumstances during Coach Kullen's all-too-brief UNH career. It took you almost a decade to rebuild things, but the school had seen enough of your promise to have invested in the Whittemore Center when you'd first begun to return the program to its former prominence. You've rewarded the university several times over for that faith and commitment to the program you'd put back on the map, and eventually took to its apex a few years ago.
You know that the program is badly in need of fresh blood and leadership, and you know that's the only piece that Coach Holt failed to successfully navigate. The best part is that the options are out there, and several were your most reliable and inspirational players in the "glory years". They are doing what you did after your UNH playing days ended ... whether it be as college assistants or high school head coaches, there are people out there that you know and love, and know you can trust, just as people who knew and trusted you eventually gave you a chance to succeed your mentor.
You have always been loyal to your assistants, and I know that setting up things for the future in a way that might not involve them causes you no shortage of consternation. At the end of the day, that might be the most difficult hurdle for you to negotiate here. But you can see as plain as the nose on your face that the talent that used to come to Durham isn't at the same level it's been for quite awhile. And you and your assistants aren't getting any younger. You know this is the best argument for "new blood".
And just as Coach Holt was always there for you after he stepped away from the limelight ... you can be there for your chosen successor(s). It can be a gradual transition - one that would allow you to re-assure yourself and your school that you've made the right choice(s), and one that would allow your would-be successor(s) not to have to dive in at the deep end - a luxury you certainly were not afforded when you took over 20 years ago.
In any case ... that you've earned the right to continue to be calling the shots for your beloved program is in my mind undeniable. UNH has shown unshakeable faith in you over the years, and all in all, that has been for the best of the program and the university. You have benefitted from that trust and faith, and you know you owe it to your beloved program not to allow it to backslide in the final years of your glorious career. Everything you've done at UNH has surpassed the accomplishments of your legendary mentor, and it only would be fitting for you to cap off an amazing legacy to the UNH program to succeed now in the only area where Coach Holt arguably failed.
You know this has to be done. Please do the right thing, Coach Umile.
Self-appointed WIS President-for-Life
Long-time admirer of Coach Dick Umile