After its controversial decision to dismiss its longtime women's hockey coach last year, the University of Minnesota Duluth has hired a new one.
Maura Crowell, 34, was introduced Friday as the second head coach in the 16-year history of the Bulldog women's hockey team. She will replace Shannon Miller, who was told in December that her contract would not be renewed.
Crowell, a native of Mansfield, Mass., has been on the coaching staff of the Harvard women's hockey team for the past five years, serving as assistant coach, interim head coach and associate head coach over that span. Harvard lost in the 2015 Frozen Four to the Minnesota Gophers just two weeks ago.
UMD Athletics Director Josh Berlo called Crowell a "perfect fit" for the university, according to a statement released by the school.
"Maura exhibits the passion and commitment necessary to lead our Bulldog women's hockey student-athletes to excellence in the classroom, community and competition," Berlo said. "She is a proven winner, a strong recruiter and an experienced head coach with great connections to USA Hockey."
Crowell called the decision to take the UMD job a "no-brainer," according to the Duluth News Tribune.
"This is one of the best jobs in the country and I couldn’t be more happy to work in a city that loves hockey as much as Duluth does," she said. "I’m psyched to be in state and recruiting in Minnesota."
Here's video of the Friday news conference announcing Crowell's hiring.
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Accusations of bias
When Berlo announced mid-season that Miller would not return, he said her $207,000 annual salary — the highest in college women’s hockey — was too expensive for the school to maintain because it was having budget problems.
But Chancellor Lendley Black later added the program's success has declined in recent years, citing the fact that Miller hasn’t won a national title since 2010, reached the NCAA tournament since 2011 and has gone 7-28-6 against the top teams in the WCHA — Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota — since the 2011-12 season, according to the Duluth News Tribune.
Miller has led the Bulldogs to five national championships. She and her supporters accused the school of discrimination because Miller is a woman and a lesbian, and she is consulting with attorneys about possible legal action against UMD.
The controversy over Miller's departure didn't deter Crowell from applying for the job, the News Tribune notes.
"I feel comfortable with the resources, the facilities, the players," said Crowell, who is gay. "I think this is a national championship-caliber team and place. I feel good about it.”
According to the News Tribune, Crowell's salary will be $140,000 for the upcoming season, and increases $7,500 each year over the five-year length of her contract.
Crowell's arrival at the school does seem to bolster the administration's reasons for dismissing Miller, according to MPR News blogger Bob Collins, who says, "maybe it was really only about the money."
The two other finalists were longtime UMD assistant coach Laura Schuler and Mike Sisti, the head coach at Mercyhurst.