Canisius College athletic director Tim Dillon shocked the college hockey world Friday when he announced that he has fired head hockey coach Brian Cavanaugh, who was in his 24th season behind the bench for the Griffs.
It was not immediately known why Cavanaugh was fired, but the school cited “irreconcilable differences” in a release issued Friday.
In a prepared statement, Dillon, who according to college officials is not speaking with the media today, said that Cavanaugh has lost “the trust and confidence of the team.
“This had become severe enough that we felt that a change at this point of the season was necessary. This is not a decision that was made lightly, as Coach Cavanaugh has had a long career at Canisius during which he has contributed much to the growth and development of our program.”
It was rumored by numerous sources that the Canisius players were planning a revolt against the veteran coach and had told Dillon that if something wasn’t done they wouldn’t play tonight’s game at Mercyhurst. There was no indication of what might have fueled this anarchistic attitude among the players.
Reached by phone Friday afternoon, Cavanaugh said that this was not “related to one particular incident” and said, “It’s a real tough and difficult day for me. I’m real disappointed. My thoughts right now are with my family and my future.”
He also said that at this time he can’t discuss it any further.
Cavanaugh had compiled a 341-306-57 in his 24-plus seasons behind the bench at Canisius. He led the team through its transition to Division I and into the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and ultimately to Atlantic Hockey.
In 1998-99, the first season in the MAAC, Cavanaugh’s club upset top-seeded Quinnipiac in the semifinals of the conference tournament to play in the inaugural MAAC Championship game, losing 4-3 to host Holy Cross.
Since that time, the Griffs have posted only two winning seasons and have not returned to a league title game. This season, though, Canisius currently stands as one of only two teams in the league with a record of .500 or better (7-7-1). The 6-2-0 mark in Atlantic Hockey games for Canisius is the best league start since joining a Division I conference in 1998 and currently places the Griffs second.
The college hockey coaching community was both shocked and saddened by the news.
“I’ve known Brian for a long time and I’m very sad,” said Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin, who was recruited by Cavanaugh as a player when Cavanaugh was an assistant under E.J. Maguire at Brockport State. “I don’t know how you get to that point [of irreconcilable differences], but I think he’s a very good man and a very good coach.
“Clearly, this is a really sad day for college hockey and Atlantic Hockey. I think Canisius has lost a real good guy.”
“I’m shocked and disappointed,” said Holy Cross head coach Paul Pearl. “[Cavanaugh] is a friend and a good man and I’m sorry that thing went that way.”
Cavanaugh has always been known as an aggressive coach not afraid to speak his mind. In late November 2000, Cavanaugh was suspended pending an investigation that he struck in the head with a stick and injured a player during practice.
The college reinstated him five days later with little explanation, seemingly validating Cavanaugh’s defense that he simply tapped the player in the helmet to get him to pay attention.
Dillon said at the time that “an action such as this is unacceptable. In addition to the five-day suspension, he has received a severe reprimand and a warning that any further actions of this type will subject him to immediate dismissal.”
According to the release, assistant coaches Clancy Seymour and Stephen Fabilli will take over the team on an interim basis while the school begins an immediate search for a successor.
Canisius plays a home-and-home series at neighboring Mercyhurst this weekend.