Editorial: Dear Dr. Altenkirch, Hire Lance West

Dr. Altenkirch —

You saved this program from extinction.  You clearly made the last coaching decision in bringing in Kurt Kleinendorst.  It’s clear that you’ll play a large part in deciding who be the next coach behind the Chargers’ bench.  That’s why we’re appealing to you.

headshot_2_west1024x1280Please hire Lance West, UAH ’95.  You may not know much about him, but that’s why we’re here.

Lance had success here as a player.  As a right wing, Lance amassed 43 goals and 65 assists for 108 points in 106 games (1.02 ppg) as a Charger, which finds him at 20th on our all-time scorers list. He was on the top line for UAH in the 1994 NCAA Division II championship series.

Lance had success here as an assistant coach.  He was a volunteer assistant from 1995-98, which means that he was around for both of our Division II national championships.  He was a full-time assistant from 2000-07, a period of time during which the Chargers went 118-103-22, winning two College Hockey America regular-season titles and our first NCAA Division I tournament appearance.  He recruited most of those players, and when he wasn’t recruiting, he was doing the hard work of running practices, fundraising, scheduling non-conference games, managing travel, handling administrative duties, and more.  We would often see Lance sharpening skates outside of visiting locker rooms, too, when we were on the road.

Lance has deep roots in Western Canadian hockey.  He’s from Penticton, British Columbia, and he has consistently recruited top Chargers (and later Nanooks) from there.  As a Western team, we will do very well to increase our recruiting out west, because our student-athletes will be seeing their old friends and rivals wearing other WCHA sweaters, and our guys will want to play as close to their parents as possible.  That’s hard here in Huntsville, but we’ve seen so many BC, Alberta, and Saskatchewan kids become Alabama men that it’s not even funny.  And as you know, many of those young men set down roots here and have a continued impact on our community.

Lance has had success at Alaska.  After Doug Ross retired in 2007, Lance went to coach at one of our now-conference-mates in Fairbanks.  The Nanooks have gone 89-102-28 with Westy behind the bench, with a first season of 9-21-5 under one-year coach Doc DelCastillo dragging that record down — and in that season, he was only a volunteer and obviously didn’t have any impact on recruiting with a class in place by the time he got there.  He again brought in fine classes of young men that resulted in an NCAA berth for Alaska in 2009-10.  That’s a quick turnaround for a program, and that’s the kind of turnaround that we need at UAH as we restore this program’s winning tradition.

We agree that talking to everyone who’s interested in our opening is worthwhile, especially the “name” guys.  It was great for us to bring in George Gwozdecky, even though he declared it a bad fit within 48 hours.  It will be great for us to talk with whoever else is interested.  Among many names, we see Mike Corbett of Air Force coming up the most.  Corbett certainly has a great record in Colorado Springs, and we’ve seen Derek Schooley do well at Robert Morris after time spent coaching under Frank Serratore’s tutelage.

But Dr. Altenkirch, Doug Ross retired in 2007 after 25 years behind our bench.  Since then, we’ve had three coaches: Danton Cole for three years, Chris Luongo for two, and Kleinendorst for one.  Our next coach will be our fourth in seven years.  Our rising seniors will be playing for their third coach after having been recruited for another one.  This revolving door has to stop.  When we talk to players and alumni, that’s the theme that keeps coming up.

Lance is a UAH Charger.  If UAH hires Lance, he will be here until he retires or the University decides that it’s time for a change.  We’ve talked to him about this, and he very much wants to be the head coach here, but we didn’t need to have a phone call to know that.  He was a finalist to replace Ross back then.  I’m sure that the University wanted a new voice at the point that they hired Coach Cole; we got one, and it’s easy to argue that it was a good one.  But it’s just as easy to argue that we need a familiar one right now, and we certainly believe in that.

Lance will move the needle with fundraising.  You know that we’re really ramping up the fund-raising efforts — to do this right, to do right by the efforts you made to continue the program, it’s imperative.  Because Lance is a Charger, and because people know that he’ll be here for the long haul, they’re going to feel good about giving.  Our boosters have to be a little leery of giving right now, not knowing who will be running the program.  Bringing in someone with a UAH pedigree will help, as many of our boosters knew Lance as a player and even more know him from his coaching tenure here.  Hiring Lance stops that revolving door, and that will give donors the confidence they need to invest in the program.

We believe in Lance West, and we think that you should hire him.

Mike Anderson (’05)

Jamie Gilliam (UAH SID 2001-11)

Bud McLaughlin (’82)

Geof Morris (’02)

Michael Napier (’97)

Update: We have heard back from Dr. Altenkirch.  I’ll quote a snippet:

We received a large amount of interest from very qualified individuals, Lance being one of them.  Anyone we have talked to we have indicated that longevity, providing stability, is important, and they would need to make a commitment to that.

We have gotten a lot of good input, from alumni, supporters, the Search Advisory Committee, etc.  Whoever is selected in the end will be stepping into a good situation, and, with some success, will be at UAH for sometime.

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