May 9, 2003
Gilligan, Vermont look to the future

By Nate Ewell

Mike Gilligan is 279-289-46 in 19 years at Vermont. Only Jim Cross, with 280 victories, has more wins with the Catamounts.

Mike Gilligan has been behind the bench for the highest peaks and deepest valleys in Vermont hockey history; the trip to the Frozen Four in 1996 and the scandal-shortened season in 1999-2000.

Now, with a new president and athletic director in place in Burlington, Gilligan says he wants to help bring the program back into the national spotlight. But it remains to be seen whether he will be the one to see those improvements through from behind the bench.

Gilligan talked candidly on Friday about his excitement for the upcoming season. He also said that he planned to stay at Vermont for another four or five years, but left open the possibility that he may not be coaching hockey for that long.

“I've got to keep working like heck to get this program back where we want it,” he said. “It may involve getting into athletic development, coaching hockey or coaching golf.”

When asked how soon that transition away from the bench could take place, Gilligan said: “I've made some commitments to my athletes and I intend to honor them. Either way, it's up to me. Right now I feel great about last year, and great about where we're headed.”

Bob Corran, who was hired as Vermont’s new A.D. on Wednesday, met with Gilligan for an hour in Burlington on Thursday. He echoed the idea that any change will be Gilligan’s decision, but indicated that it could come in the relatively near future.

“Mike’s been talking about (stepping down) but there's been no decision yet,” Corran said Friday. “I talked to him in person yesterday, because it's certainly the kind of thing you'd want to know going into a job like this. He told me he's going to make a decision within a few weeks.”

Regardless of his personal plans, Gilligan was emphatic about the need for added support from the administration if Vermont hockey hopes to compete on the national stage. After back-to-back 20-win seasons in the mid-1990s, including that 1996 Frozen Four appearance, the Catamounts have finished under .500 for six straight seasons. The 1999-2000 campaign was canceled midway through due to a team hazing scandal, and Vermont hasn’t finished higher than ninth in the ECAC since 1996-97. The Catamounts were 13-20-3 this past season (8-14-0 and 10th in the ECAC).

“We need better support in terms of our facilities, our compensation for assistant coaches, our equipment manager – those sorts of things,” Gilligan said. “I spend time every September teaching a student equipment manager how to sharpen skates – that shouldn’t happen.

“We need a large increase in our operating budget, and we’ve got to push admissions to the limit. These are the things we have to do to keep up with the Joneses.”

Gilligan, whether he stays on as hockey coach or in another role, would appear to have allies in Corran and Daniel Fogel, Vermont’s first-year president. Fogel has stated his desire to have a new, 9,000-seat arena built in Burlington, and as Gilligan said, “has made some very public statements” about measuring the school with the nation’s best in every way.

Meanwhile, Corran helped build a very successful athletic program at Minnesota-Duluth – including the three-time defending national champion women’s hockey team – and certainly said all the right things as he met Gilligan and other coaches this week.

“I think he’s going to do everything he can,” Gilligan said. “I’m really optimistic about what he’s going to try to do.”

Gilligan also has optimism for Vermont hockey. Time will tell if he helps to fulfill it as a fundraiser or as the program’s head coach.

Special reporting by Jess Myers

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