Some of you may not know who Shannon Miller is, but those of us in The State of Hockey (Minnesota) do. Shannon Miller was a highly successful women’s hockey coach at University of Minnesota-Duluth where her teams have won five NCAA championships, she developed 28 current and former Olympians, and amassed a .713 winning percentage. I say “was” because on 12/16/2014 Miller was fired in the middle of her season (her contract was not renewed for 2015-16) because she got paid too much. Miller was the highest paid women’s hockey coach in the country at $215,000, largely because she is one of the best. Miller’s counterpart, the head men’s hockey coach at UMD makes $235,000, and still has his job.
In a story posted on MPR Athletic Director Josh Berlo was quoted as saying, “She established a winning program, raised it to the highest level of competition and sustained a national championship tradition over the last 15 years. Today’s decision about Shannon’s contract was an immensely difficult and financially driven decision. Unfortunately, UMD Athletics is not in a position to sustain the current salary levels of our women’s hockey coaching staff.”
Let me point out a few things about Berlo’s decision that just don’t add up.
1. First it is public knowledge that UMD is “in serious financial trouble” and faces $5M+ budget shortfall. Is saving $45,000 by firing Miller really going to make a significant difference? They have to pay a new coach. Minnesota’s highly successful head women’s hockey coach Brad Frost makes $170,000 and in this article the salaries of Miller’s male colleagues are stated. Miller was willing, but not given the option, to take a pay cut. In sum, her firing is really not about money.
2. If it were about money, let’s look at the Equity in Athletic Data Analysis (EADA numbers) for UMD that clearly show that there is significantly more money being spent on the men’s hockey team, compared to the women’s team. In fact, the budget for men’s hockey is $533,322 (including coach salaries) and for the women that figure is $259,732. That is a $275,590 difference in favor of the men’s hockey team.
3. In all my research on coaches, I have NEVER heard of a male coach of any sport being fired because he was paid “too much.” In fact, if you look at salary comparisons of coaches for men’s teams and coaches of women’s teams (some of which are men), the pay gap is staggering, especially when you factor in football coach salaries. (EADA, 2012).
4. There are very few head women’s hockey coaches that are female in the most visible prominent programs, Miller was one of the few left. Based on 2014-15 data for my Women in College Coaching Report Card (being released Feb. 4, 2015) there are very few (n=8) women’s hockey programs in the “Big 7” NCAA-I conferences, and only one of those programs is headed by a woman. Therefore, only 12.5% of premiere women’s hockey programs are coached by women. In my report card, hockey earns an “F” for the percentage of women’s teams coached by women and adds to the trend that the percentage of women head coaches have been in a steady decline (~40%) since the passage of Title IX in 1972 when over 90% of female athletes were coached by women.
It is well documented in my own research, and of my colleagues, that women coaches face a number of barriers and double standards that preclude women from entering the coaching profession, impede career advancement, and lead to women burning out and quitting the profession. The firing of Miller and the reasons given are a game changer and new “barrier” for women coaches.
It communicates to women that even if you do your job well, win, coach with integrity, are beloved by your players, well respected by your peers, turn out Champions and Olympians, are paid well for your expertise, make a long term commitment to the community, institution, and program, that you can be fired under the guise of “financial reasons” while your male colleague with less success and a greater salary, remains.
If this issue concerns you, become involved in the Alliance of Women Coaches.
note: I amended this post 5pm 12/17/14 to reflect an inaccuracy that I wrote in an earlier version of this post. Miller’s contract is not being renewed and she will continue coaching through the 2014-15 season. What I wrote earlier made it seem that she was terminated immediately. I will say however on a related note, that being notified of a non-renewal in the middle of the season is not a common approach.
note 2: The best posts I’ve read on this topic are by colleagues Pat Griffin, College Athletics’ War on Women Coaches, where she summarizes some recent discrimination lawsuits filed on behalf of women in athletics. Kris Newhall’s post on the Title IX blog is also very good, What should we take from Miller’s firing?