Doug Ross Didn't Win Any Olympic Hardware, but He Did Spend 25 Years at UAH
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Doug Ross recently announced he is stepping down after this season as head coach at Alabama-Huntsville. Ross, a 1976 U.S. Olympic team member, has seen the program through a lot of changes. He grew up in Michigan and played for Ron Mason at Lake Superior State. When Mason left for Bowling Green, Ross went with him at a time when you didn't have to sit out a transfer year. After the Olympics, Ross went to graduate school at Ohio University and played club hockey while starting in coaching. At UAH, he got to coach his son Jared, who turned into a Hobey Baker finalist before heading to the minor leagues.
CHN: So what led up to this decision?
Ross: I coached hockey for 30 years, 25 at UAH, and that was kind of my goal going in. I appreciated the opportunity in 1982. Loyalty is a big pat of my life. I wanted to make a statement. Maybe I could've moved and went somewhere and became a head assistant and then a head coach, but I got rooted here in Huntsville. ... I think I was respected. I brought a lot of continuity to the program. I always tried to reinforce the university mission and athletic department goals. It's always tough to stay somewhere for 25 years, but I got that respect and pretty good roots here. (But I'm not) hanging up the skates. I'm just passing the torch.
You know, like, I played in the Olympics and I was proud to represent the United States. I played for Bob Johnson and Grant Standbrook, and I got to carry the torch for Atlanta (in 1996). I carried it out of Huntsville. And I got to keep the torch. ... And so that's a little more appropriate to say — I'm passing the torch more than hanging up the skates, because I hope I can stay as more of a support role.
The other thing too is, I'm not hanging up skates. I'm out there in the job market as a hockey coach too. If someone wants a veteran coach who has 25-30 years experience, I feel I'm still young enough to coach. This is a retirement from coaching at UAH. But I'm still out there, if someone called me up.
CHN: So are you going to actively pursue something?
Ross: If a job opens that I may be interested in, I might pursue it. I've got a pretty good reputation. My brother Tom is the all-time (point) scorer at Michigan State. My son Jared is playing with the Chicago Wolves (in the AHL). Tom coaches youth hockey in Livonia (Mich.). He had a little stint with the Red Wings. ... I also want a chance to see Jared play.
CHN: What was your college experience like?
Ross: I played for the two greatest coaches ever in college — Ron Mason at Lake Superior State and Bowling Green ... and I played for Bob Johnson (at the Olympics).
CHN: What was the Olympics like?
Ross: It's not the same anymore. We were a bunch of college kids, we didn't have pros. The whole world is watching and it's a proud thing, especially playing against the Russian and Czechs. When you're a college kid and the next year you're playing against the best teams in the world in the Olympics, that's a pretty big deal.
CHN: Any thoughts on who should replace you?
Ross: Lance West. He's my assistant. He's been very loyal and done a wonderful job. I hope he would get consideration. Lance has made a lot of sacrifices. But that's decision of the athletic department.
CHN: Somehow you guys have survived down there.
Ross: That's how committed the university was to the hockey program. We're great ambassadors in the South. We've taken this little team and played against the best teams in the nation. We don't get top 10 teams to Huntsville, we go to them. But I'd have never thought in '82 — we didn't know it would be a D-I league. I didn't know we'd be playing Minnesota, Maine — we've played everybody. They're funded at a different level than we are. I'm proud of our guys that have played throughout the years.
CHN: Will the program survive with all of the uncertainty now, with the CHA on thin ice and you leaving?
Ross: We've been on a roller coaster, from club to NAIA to D-II to D-I, back to D-II and back to D-I. We always found a way to make it work. I like to think college hockey in general ... The CHA is strong right now, but we would like to get 6-7-8 teams. I'd like to think college hockey in general would absorb some of the programs (if necessary). We need growth in college hockey so that there's opportunities for more scholarships, more opportunities for coaches ... Now we have pro hockey all over the U.S. Now we need college hockey, D-I hockey, with some growth. It can only happen if some of the teams up north are willing to travel and help some schools grow. We need to have major schools, just once in a while, to come down to Huntsville and give us a little help. And I think that would encourage other universities to say, "If we could get a schedule, maybe we'll play D-I." Everyone would benefit for it.
When we went Division I in 1988, I was coaching D-I hockey, then I was asked to coach men's and women's tennis, which I did for five years. And I was teaching phys ed, and running hockey camps, two major fundraisers, and I wrote the first student-athlete handbook. I made a lot of sacrifices. A lot of other people made sacrifices too. A lot of people helped.
It's hard to believe (when jobs open up), an equal opportunity employer when they don't even give you an interview. So it's difficult, and there's a lot of selfishness and nepotism. So hockey needs to grow so there's more opportunities for everyone. But there's no ambassador out there doing it for college hockey in general. We need to get someone who has a lot of respect to show them and tell them how to get a schedule.
CHN: What is your favorite moment?
Ross: My favorite moment is the day after the last game of the season. (chuckles) Hockey's a long brutal season. We play more games and it lasts longer than any other sport. There's a lot of stress on coaches and players. I want to keep going as long as I can, I don't want it to sound like I want the season to end, but there's a lot of stress. They need some reform on the recruiting calendars. Football can't go year round. It puts a lot of stress on families. Schools that have a lot of money can put people on the road for 365 days. We need to start making some reform and put more emphasis on education and it would be better for coaches, their families.
When you get out there, you find out there's a lot more life out there than just coaching and watching kids. I'd like to see hockey grow. I'm not hanging up my skates. I have a lot of experiences. I'm goal-oriented. I walk about five miles a night.
CHN: Are you going back to Detroit?
Ross: I told mother I'd move back in after I retire. She said "Don't count on it." I started playing hockey in Michigan and when we (UAH) played Lake Superior State and we beat them on the road — my son played that year. We beat them and tied. I was pretty pleased.
At Bowling Green, we were ranked seventh in the nation. It must have been '74 or '75.
CHN: How did you get to the Olympic team?
Ross: If you got hurt before the Olympics, somebody else can come in and take your place. So it's stressful. You had to go out and prove yourself to Bob Johnson. There was a tournament at Christmas, against the Russians and Czechs. I played on a line with Steve Jensen, who went pro for a few years [he played 438 NHL games for Minnesota and L.A.], and Bobby Dobek. We played against the Russians. You know, they sent three teams to play in North American before the Olympics. The Red Army team played versus the NHL. We played Spartak or whatever. We won the tournament, at the Broadmoor (in Colorado Springs). I played really well. That probably clinched my spot.
At the same time, the Flyers were beating up on the Red Army team. Just ran them out of the building. So after we won the Broadmoor, Jensen told (reporters), "Hey, we play a finesse game. ... We weren't playing the way the Flyers did when they beat the crap out of them." So he went pro with the North Stars, and they were playing the Flyers after that. The coach said to Jensen, "This is going to be a sticky night. I'll have to get your out at a certain time in the game." So he put Jensen in, and half of the Flyers emptied the bench and beat the crap out of him.
CHN: What about your pro aspirations?
Ross: I tried out with Ted Lindsay and the Red Wings. He was trying to put aggressive hockey back in town. I knew Teddy from Detroit. I just had in my mind, I'm 24-25 years old, I'll probably pursue coaching. I got my masters at Western Michigan. The best I ever made was to get my masters.
I talked to Herbie (Brooks) at The Olympia one time. He wanted me to try out for 1980. I said I already did it. I'd have to play four years in the minors and then there was no guarantee. But that was great. They did what nobody else could do (winning the gold in '80). It helped spur the growth of the sport.
CHN: What about 1976?
Ross: '76 was pretty important back then. The Russians beat us 7-2. It was 3-1 going into the third. The Czechs beat us 5-0. But we played great against the Czechs too. They were just really good. And when Tretiak was playing in net, forget it.
CHN: How did you get involved in the torch run in 1996?
Ross: They select people to run in torch relay. They need people to carry it. It came through Huntsville and I was an Olympian. I said I'd love to be in the relay. I was the first out from Huntsville. I got to keep the torch. That was real nice.
CHN: And so Jared is doing well?
Ross: I hope my son some day gets a chance at the NHL. You know, you asked me what my favorite moment was. A proud day is when I could see my son every day in practice. He went away to play at Catholic Central High School, he was voted MVP in Michigan, the highest scorer in the state. But I didn't see him for a couple years. When he came back to Huntsville and decided to go to school here, I was really proud. Jared was D-I statistical points leader.