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Hockey coach Shannon Miller getting pushed out at University of Minnesota-Duluth

01/23/2015 07:00 EST | Updated 03/25/2015 05:59 EDT
Canadian Shannon Miller is among the most successful coaches in NCAA Division 1 women's hockey and also among the highest-paid. It's the pay that's putting her out of a job.

Canada's coach when women's hockey made its Olympic debut in 1998 has since led the University of Minnesota-Duluth women to five national championships. With a record of 378-138-48, Miller has a winning percentage of .713 in her 16th season with the Bulldogs.

But after winning 12 of their last 13 games and achieving a national ranking of No. 6, Miller was told Dec. 9 that her contract would not be renewed after this 2014-15 season.

Her assistants Laura Schuler and Gina Kingsbury, both former Canadian Olympians, as well as director of operations Jen Banford will also be cut loose at season's end.

"UMD Athletics is not in a position to sustain the current salary levels of our women's hockey coaching staff," athletics director Josh Berlo said in a Dec. 15 statement.

So Miller is bracing for her impending dismissal while she continues coaching the 15-6-3 Bulldogs.

"God, it's heartbreaking," she told The Canadian Press. "I'm just so disappointed that in this day and age there's still people who think they can treat women like this, still."

According to a database of Minnesota public salaries on TwinCities.com, Miller's salary in 2013 was $205,000. Her salary this season was reported to be $215,000. Berlo has said Miller is the highest-paid coach in Division 1 women's hockey.

UMD men's hockey coach Scott Sandelin was paid $255,000 in 2013, according to the database. In his 14 seasons, the Bulldogs won their first and only national championship in 2011. Sandelin's contract doesn't expire until 2017.

Minnesota-Duluth is facing a budget deficit due in part to declining enrolment. Men's and women's hockey are UMD's only Division 1 sports with the rest in Division 2.

Miller says she was repeatedly told the decision to jettison her was because of "financial constraints." She was not aware of any cost-cutting measures happening in men's hockey.

Berlo told The Canadian Press in an email that he would give no additional comment on Miller "given that this is a personnel issue."

"I'm confident we will find a coaching team that is as committed as we are to Bulldogs women's hockey," he said. "The search will begin toward the end of the season."

Miller's contract expires in June. She has hired two lawyers including one with expertise in gender-discrimination complaints against post-secondary institutions.

Oakland lawyer Dan Siegel helped female volleyball, basketball and softball coaches, as well as a female associate athletic director, win financial settlements against their employer Fresno State in 2007 and 2008.

"We're still documenting things," Miller said. "No decision has been made on what route we're going to go. I can just tell you I have two attorneys and they're assembling a team of people. One step at a time."

The 51-year-old from Melfort, Sask., said when she met with Berlo and university chancellor Lendley Black on July 29, she told them she was open to discussing her salary.

"I kept saying 'I'm sure if we keep talking we can come up with a win-win. I understand the tough fiscal climate,'" she said. "You don't expect to be called in Dec. 9 and get a termination notice when that was your last conversation about it on July 29."

In the university's statement released Dec. 15, Black thanked Miller for "being one of the best coaches in the history of UMD Intercollegiate Athletics. I will always fondly remember our 2010 trip to the White House."

The former Calgary police officer coached Canada to world championships in 1991, 1994 and 1997 as well as Olympic silver in 1998.

The Bulldog women won three straight national titles from 2001 to 2003 and again in 2008 and 2010 under Miller. Twenty-six alumni have represented their respective countries at Winter Olympics, including Canada's Caroline Ouellette and Haley Irwin.

There are eight Canadians on her Miller's current roster.

"As far as the athletes go, they're doing OK," Miller said. "We don't talk about it every day, but if you don't talk about it, it's the elephant in the room, so you have to address it.

"They're in a state of confusion a little bit. Some want to stay, some want to transfer. It's confusing for them to say the very least."

Schuler, who played for Miller in the 1998 Winter Games, will be Canada's assistant coach at the world women's championship in April. Kingsbury, an Olympic gold medallist in 2006 and 2010, joined Miller's staff last summer.

The number of female hockey coaches in both NCAA and Canadian university hockey is dropping, according to a recent study by University of Massachusetts-Lowell professor Jeffrey Gerson.

Gerson found the number of women in head coaching positions in Division 1 female hockey plummeted from 50 per cent in 1998 to 18 per cent in 2014.

Miller fears her current situation further discourages women from pursuing a career as a hockey coach.

"That's why somebody like me has got to stand up and fight back," she said. "It has to change because why would young women go into the coaching profession when they sit there and watch the most successful female coaches get fired because they're making too much money, because they have succeeded.

"It's a slap in the face to our gender and I'm not going to tolerate it. I want to fight back and make things better for the women who come after me."

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