Apr. 13—I can’t tell you I didn’t have some clashes with Red Gendron. I did.
I can’t tell you I wanted University of Maine athletic director Ken Ralph to bring the late UMaine men’s hockey coach back for a ninth season on a one-year extension, which appears to have been the plan. I didn’t.
But I didn’t want Gendron to leave. He could have been valuable as an associate athletic director and I know he would have made an outstanding history professor.
Gendron, who died of an apparent heart attack Friday on the course at the Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono, was a good man.
The hockey coach was a renaissance man, an honorable man, an admirable man.
When he took over the program from Tim Whitehead, he allowed the players to keep their scholarships, even if he didn’t want them. Scholarships are reviewed every year, so he could have revoked some or all of them and brought in his own recruits.
But Gendron believed it was important to honor the scholarship agreements. The players and their families made a commitment to UMaine and he didn’t want them to endure a hardship.
He also knew that casting off those athletes might have put the hockey program or the university in a negative light.
Had he cleaned house, maybe his first four seasons would have gone better than 49-82-17. He could have begun the rebuild earlier.
Unfortunately, it left Gendron with a limited number of available scholarships for a few years.
On one occasion, a player decided to transfer after the first semester due to his lack of playing time. Gendron explained the ramifications of the decision, stressing that he was abandoning his teammates and would be losing his scholarship.
He promised not to interfere if the player wanted to leave.
The student’s mother called Gendron and explained that it would put their family in a financial bind if they had to pay for her son’s second semester at another school. She asked if he could remain at UMaine on his scholarship for the second semester before transferring.
Red agreed. The athlete didn’t play, but was allowed to keep his scholarship, practice and be part of the team.
Many coaches probably wouldn’t have allowed a disloyal player to remain on the roster in that situation.
“He always did what he felt was the right thing to do,” UMaine associate head coach Ben Guite said.
There was nothing phony about the 63-year-old Gendron. He was an honest, hardworking, blue-collar guy from a milltown: Berlin, New Hampshire.
He spoke his mind, but he was also a good listener who respected opposing views.
He was passionate about hockey and life. He cared deeply about his players, the people in his program and humanity in general. He wanted his players to develop not only as hockey players, but as students and people.
“He wanted them to become good husbands and good fathers,” Guite said.
Gendron had a tremendous thirst for knowledge. He was well-versed in a ton of topics. He read everything he could, including books written by or about successful coaches.
The history buff encouraged those around him to read and often quizzed people on different subjects.
Guite said people may have thought Gendron was an old-school coach who was set in his ways, but he was just the opposite. He was always searching for new, beneficial, innovative coaching methods and encouraging his assistants to do the same.
Gendron always took time to help young coaches, Guite said, and longtime UMaine hockey fan Kevin Mooney said his generosity extended to everyone.
Mooney and his wife were decked out in UMaine garb at Bangor International Airport trying to figure out the automated check-in system as they were preparing to go on vacation. Gendron and the team arrived on their way out of town and he noticed the Mooneys were having trouble. He went over and used his expertise to help them get checked in.
If a friend was hospitalized, he visited to cheer them up.
“He would always offer you tips on the golf course, even if you didn’t want them,” chuckled Paul Culina, the team’s athletic trainer and director of hockey operations.
Former Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna, Hall of Fame Boston College coach Jerry York and University of Massachusetts coach Greg Carvel talked about how genuine, sincere and classy Gendron was and how he was an important figure in college hockey.
Carvel, whose UMass team won the national championship on Saturday, said it was Gendron, more so than any other Hockey East coach, who filled him in on the landscape of Hockey East after he arrived at UMass from St. Lawrence five years ago.
Guite said Gendron was one of the most educated and well-read individuals he has ever known and that he had a terrific memory.
Gendron, who had worked at the paper mill in Berlin, once spent 10 minutes explaining to me the entire process of how a tree was transformed into paper.
His love for wife Jan and daughters Katelyn and Allison was unconditional. He cherished his family more than anything.
Guite said Gendron was like a third grandfather to his sons, Patrick and Max.
Gendron had a good sense of humor and kept you on your toes with his good-natured barbs.
He protected his players’ privacy when discussing injuries with the media, but he was prompt returning phone calls, which often isn’t the case with Division I coaches.
Gendron loved the University of Maine and was an avid supporter of all the other Black Bear teams.
He may not have turned the program into a consistent NCAA Tournament contender as he had hoped, but he was a tireless worker who also raised a lot of money for the program. He also donated 5 percent of his salary every year to the Grant Standbrook Maine Forever Fund/Savage Challenge that supports the program.
Gendron was a larger-than-life character and he will be sorely missed.