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Cyr: Ryan Bamford’s moves prove he wants a winning culture at UMass and won’t settle for mediocrity

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(Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian)

Less than a year into his position as athletic director at the University of Massachusetts, Ryan Bamford has made one thing clear during his short stint in Amherst.

He will not settle for mediocrity.

Sunday morning, two minutes apart from one another, UMass athletics announced that both hockey coach John Micheletto and women’s basketball coach Sharon Dawley were relieved of their coaching duties after both teams suffered underperforming seasons in 2015-16.

“Quite honestly, the results just haven’t met our expectations,” Bamford said in a conference call with reporters Monday afternoon.

“I believe with the amount of energy and resources and time put into the programs, we just thought a new voice was needed in each of those sports to sort of reignite our fanbase, get our alumni excited and our ticket holders excited about where we’re going forward. These put us in the best position for future success.”

The Minutemen finished 8-22-4 (2-16-4 Hockey East) in 2015-16 while the Minutewomen finished 12-18 (6-12 Atlantic 10). Micheletto finished his four years at UMass with a 39-88-13 overall record, while Dawley ended her career with a 46-133 record in six years.

Both coaches had one year remaining on their contracts. Micheletto’s buyout will cost the athletic department $259,715, while Dawley’s buyout is worth $226, 415.

Bamford said the University is not providing any additional funds for these buyouts and that they will not be paid with taxpayer’s dollars.

But for argument’s sake, let’s throw all of the money and other administrative pieces aside. This is a move that needed to be done for the quality of each program. Fans were growing impatient with the Minutemen’s lack of success and Mullins Center has become a ghost town on Friday and Saturday nights.

Aside from Merrimack (2,359 average attendance at home games) and Northeastern (2,459), UMass had the third worst home attendance in the Hockey East, averaging 2,868. However, given the size of the Warriors’ Lawler Rink (2,549 seats), its home capacity was 92.5 percent, while the Huskies’ Matthews Arena received a 41 percent capacity rate.

Mullins Center holds 9,493, coming in with a league-worst 30.2 percent capacity rate for home games. Anyone who’s been to a game at Mullins this season instantly feels its cavernous environment from puck drop to the final whistle.

Bamford can’t mess this searching process up. The Minutemen play in the best conference in college hockey and it has been a while since there was legitimate buzz around the program. And while it isn’t the coach’s sole responsibility to put people in seats, the culture – a winning culture– starts with the head coach.

“Hockey is important to us. Hockey in this state is an important sport and there’s no reason why the flagship university of this state can’t be successful in hockey,” Bamford said. “I want to hire the best person for UMass hockey and the best person for our organization. How they interact with our campus community and our external ticket holders, all the way that a coach can be successful on this campus.”

Bamford had a tough decision to make and he pulled the trigger. While some might argue that cutting ties with both Micheletto and Dawley a year before their contracts were set to expire might not have been worth the athletic department’s time our resources, the move proves that Bamford isn’t wasting any time in rebuilding the UMass brand. He wants success and he isn’t willing to wait for it to come to him and the University.

He wants it now.

“I put a lot of thought into each of these and I think in my first 11 months, one of the things that I’ve really tried to articulate to people in our organization and externally is that we can build championship caliber programs at the University of Massachusetts,” Bamford said.

“I thought that new leadership was something that we needed in these two sports relative to that competitive success and building that championship culture.”

All that’s left to do now is sit back and wait as the internal searches for both a new hockey and women’s basketball coach begin. The easy part is over and now Bamford’s job gets a little bit tougher with a lot more pressure to find the right candidate for the job.

It might be a while until the UMass community finds out who’s running the ship for both jobs, but at least the fanbase can be excited about the upcoming opportunity for a much needed change of scenery at Mullins.

But for now, fans must wait.

Andrew Cyr can be reached at arcyr@umass.edu, and followed on Twitter @Andrew_Cyr.

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