COMMENTARY: Questions Abound on Taylor Move
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Today's decision by Yale to essentially fire 28-year coach Tim Taylor, was stunning in its methodology, if not in hockey terms.
A statement by the school's athletic director, Tom Beckett, vaguely acknowledged the sensitivity of the issue, saying, "We are extremely respectful and appreciative of his service to Yale." But went into little further detail.
Earlier this season, CSTV asked me to come up with a list of coaches that were on the "hot seat." I mentioned Dan Fridgen of RPI (since resigned), Jim Culhane of Western Michigan and Blaise MacDonald of Massachusetts-Lowell. In another category, though, I mentioned Taylor — saying he was close to retirement, and given the stagnation of the program, may be looking to leave, or squeezed out. I then qualified it by saying that, as far as I was concerned, he could stick around forever.
Also, right after the Yale-Union five overtime game, I spoke to Taylor and, without giving anything away, he hinted there may be something to talk about after the season is over. After all, he did have another weekend to play (or more, all he knew) at that point, so he wasn't about to reveal his thoughts. But I got the sense he was at least mulling retirement.
So in a sense, this is not a surprise. But there is something very wrong about the way it was handled, at least on the surface. AD Tom Beckett could not be reached for further comment, but his statement did little to explain why he felt this was necessary.
Taylor was clearly blind-sided. When calling his home Tuesday evening, his wife was screening calls, and calmly and cordially indicated that he was still trying to process what had just happened, and wouldn't be talking to anyone at this time.
In a sport filled with great gentlemen, Tim Taylor is perhaps at the top of the list. An extremely friendly and engaging guy, his burning desire to win was often not easy to notice, but it was there.
Unfortunately, there were many more losses than wins for Taylor, a condition that can generally be explained by the nature of recruiting to a school like Yale. Yale is in the elite of the elite in academic requirements among all hockey schools, in the same tier only with Harvard and Princeton, but without the benefit of Harvard's tradition and proximity to Boston.
One needs to look no further than Princeton to see its results over the years. Don Cahoon was able to work miracles, but never finished higher than fourth in the regular season, won 20 games only once, and one ECAC tournament championship.
In the same vein, Yale has had good teams. Throughout the '80s, Taylor's teams were very competitive and fun, with future NHL players Randy Wood, Bob Logan, Mike O'Neill, Bob Brooke and Bob Kudelski on the roster.
Clearly, he was doing something right. Long-involved in the U.S. national program — he was originally asked by Herb Brooks to be his assistant for the 1980 Olympics — Taylor was named to coach the 1994 U.S. Olympic team in Lillehammer, Norway.
It was widely speculated at that time that Taylor would use the Olympics as a launching pad to the pros. But the team, featuring Todd Marchant, Brian Rolston and Peter Laviollette, finished a highly disappointing eighth.
Taylor returned to Yale, but the program went into a serious tailspin, not just because of his absence, but because Taylor's batteries were empty in the aftermath of the Olympic disappointment.
"Being an Olympian and representing your country is a tremendous honor and a tremendous thrill," Taylor told the Yale Daily News after the 1998 Olympcis. "It was a great, great spectacle. But it's unfortunate the media expectations are so high. It probably affected me too much."
It wasn't long, however, before Yale revitalized, and in 1998, the Bulldogs won the ECAC regular-season for the first and only time, and made the NCAAs, losing to Ohio State in the first round. That team had future NHL players Ray Giroux and Jeff Hamilton, a Hobey finalist.
Yale was never able to match anything close to that kind of success. As Cornell's style came to dominate the league, Taylor tried to stick to his philosophy of speed and offense. Instead, Yale gave up enormous amounts of goals over the last five years, and were often pushed around.
Taylor went on to apply for the vacant job at Harvard, his alma mater, after Ronn Tomassoni was fired. But he pulled himself out of the running.
In a sign that Taylor wasn't completely losing it, though, his teams always managed to have strong second halves. And to that end, Taylor's final win wound up being the five-overtime victory over Union that won the first round of the ECAC Tournament in two straight games. That was the longest game ever played in NCAA ice hockey history. The next weekend, Yale was swept in two games by Dartmouth. Taylor's career ended on a brisk Saturday night in Hanover, New Hampshire.
The speculation on his successor will begin, as it always does. Long time assistant C.J. Marattolo will get consideration. Dartmouth assistant Dave Peters, who said recently he doesn't want the RPI job, should get serious consideration because of his Ivy League experience. Or will Yale dip into its past with Randy Wood or Bob Brooke, as Harvard did with Ted Donato?
Actually, if it wants to dip into its past, the obvious choice would be Dave Baseggio. He was a star defenseman from 1985-89 at Yale, then had a lengthy AHL and IHL career without getting a shot in the NHL. Last season, he got his first head coaching job, taking over for Greg Cronin with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the AHL, just a stone's throw from New Haven.
Keith Allain is another one. A 1980 grad, Allain currently coaches with the St. Louis Blues, and has been a part of the U.S. National Program.
But that's speculation better left for another day.
Right now, I've got too many more questions about this. If Taylor decides to open up about it, then we'll find out more. If not, then he deserves that respect too.