UVM Hockey hires new coach despite University-wide hiring freeze


Image Source UVM Athletics

Head Coach Todd Woodcroft stands with Assistant Coach Stephen Wielder on the UVM ice rink holding hockey sticks.

Despite budgetary shortfalls and dozens of unfilled job openings across the University due to a hiring freeze, UVM Men’s Hockey has added two new coaches onto payroll with a combined yearly salary well over $150,000.

UVM Athletics and UVM finance said the decision to override the hiring freeze was based on an essential need to support the safety and wellbeing of the players. The team now has four coaches and 11 staff members.

The University implemented the hiring freeze in the last week of April to protect the finances of the school during the coronavirus shutdown, according to an April 27 memo from William Falls, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. 

Head Coach Todd Woodcroft was hired in April after the pandemic had already begun, and just days before the hiring freeze went into effect. 

Woodcroft was hired at an annual base pay salary of $275,000. However, according to an Apr. 16 Burlington Free Press article, the coach’s salary would be 165,000 until “the school returns to normal operations due to the coronavirus pandemic.”  

Several months later, Assistant Coach Stephen Wiedler was hired into the hockey program in September 2020, making him the team’s third assistant coach.

During last year’s 2019-2020 season, there was only one paid assistant coach and one volunteer. With the new hire, there are now two paid assistant coaches and one volunteer, according to the UVM Athletics website. 

The Cynic reached out to eight administrators from the Athletic Department and Human Resources asking why a hockey coach was hired during a hiring freeze. 

After two weeks, Nich Hall, director of communications shared the following statement from the Athletic Department.

“The hiring of an assistant coach in the men’s hockey program was delayed for five months. However, once the team returned to campus and began training, it was determined that the position was essential in order to support the safety and wellbeing of our student-athletes and the overall continuity of the program.”

The Athletic Department stated that they are unable to answer questions about the hiring freeze and how exceptions are made. 

Although the statement underscored the safety and wellbeing of athletes, neither Hockey players nor the two coaches mentioned in interviews that the hiring had to do with the safety or wellbeing of student-athletes.

Rather, the team members focused on the prospect of a winning season.

“COVID has affected everybody from an economic standpoint and a life standpoint. I think everybody has kind of been put on freeze and the hiring process here was definitely delayed and just not a natural progression,” Wiedler said. “The state of the world really slowed things down too.” 

Richard Cate, vice president of finance and administration, said exceptions to the hiring freeze follow prescribed protocol that requires approval of University leadership. 

“A very limited number of requests for permanent faculty and staff hires have been approved based on need, as has the hiring of student temporary employees,” he stated. “The hiring of the assistant hockey coach was consistent with this protocol.”

Senior defenseman Brian Kelly said players on the team were aware the team was hiring a new assistant coach during a hiring freeze. 

“Coach Woodcroft kept us up to date and informed us about the hiring freeze and that they did have someone in mind [for assistant coach], Kelly said. “But it was tough because they couldn’t announce it, so we were all waiting on the decision.”

Head Hockey Coach Todd Woodcroft stands before a group of kneeling UVM hockey athletes. (Image Source UVM Atheltics)

Senior goalkeeper Matt Beck said he knew the team was having difficulty hiring an assistant coach but said that his team was not informed about the identity of the candidates. 

Although the players and new coaches have begun practicing for the season, Hockey East, the conference UVM plays in, has postponed play until further notice.

Despite the uncertainty and safety concerns brought on by the pandemic, both coaches and players are optimistic about the prospect of having at least some type of season this year. 

“As a new person coming in, I am very impressed by both the NCAA and our own Athletic Department,” Woodcroft said. “I am very confident that we are playing and that it will be under very strict guidelines, like the NHL just did.” 

Beck said he, like Woodcroft, is feeling confident about the team and the likelihood of a season this year. 

“I think we are going to have a season,” Beck said. “It’s just a matter of how many games we’ll get to play and how the travel is going to work.” 

Although Kelly is optimistic about the upcoming season, he is also concerned about how not having fans will impact this year’s season, given the tremendous effect they have on the season as a whole. 

“Playing at a place like Vermont, the history and the fans are such a big part of home games, but when you come down to it, despite that aspect, it’s the same sheet of ice and the same rules,” Kelly said. “So whether there are fans or not we play to win.”

All four members of the men’s hockey team acknowledged the positives and negatives the unprecedented season has brought on and explained various ways that they have had to adjust.

One difference is in how the team conducts practices this year, with smaller groups of players on the ice at a time, since the whole team can’t have in-person gatherings to reduce contact.

“In terms of pulling some positives out of a negative, [the pods have] really allowed us to put greater one-on-one attention towards each player,” Wiedler said. 

According to a Sept. 14 Burlington Free Press article, the Athletic Department expects the team to start competition again sometime in November.  

“These are waters that haven’t been navigated before,” Woodcroft said. “This is all new for us; we’re just trying to keep the players healthy and be compliant with the rules set by the city and the University.”