What Now at Ohio State? Western Michigan? Bowling Green?
The CCHA Has an Unusual 3 Openings at Once
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
With the departure of John Markell at Ohio State, there are now three head coaching openings in college hockey — all in the CCHA. This is very unusual, because being a college head coach these days is almost as secure as being on the U.S. Supreme Court.
We recently looked into the possibilities to fill the opening at Western Michigan. There are many good names on there, and most of them are alumni. With all of the qualified alumni on there, it stands to reason that WMU athletic director Kathy Beauregard and her search committee should go that route. But will they?
Meanwhile, the Bowling Green job is open, for all intents and purposes. Dennis Williams was hired with an interim tag when Scott Paluch left last summer, and now, with the season over, BGSU athletic director Greg Christopher has thrown the door open to everyone — including Williams, who Christopher says will be given proper consideration.
Bowling Green also has a large alumni base to choose from. As we chronicled last year, when the program was dealing with being on the brink of ruin financially, there are a ton of Falcons alumni in college hockey. In fact, Markell is one of them — though it's hard to imagine he'd get picked up there. There's also George Roll at Clarkson, and Wayne Wilson at RIT. Would either of them want to move?
Which brings us to Ohio State. Unlike the others, there are not a lot of OSU alumni to pick from in the college coaching ranks. There are two notable exceptions.
One is Paul Pooley, the former Providence head coach and current Notre Dame assistant whose number is retired at Ohio State. (Canisius coach Dave Smith is also an Ohio State alum '92.)
The other is a "coaching alum," so to speak, in current Cornell assistant Casey Jones. Jones, a Cornell alumnus, left Clarkson to join Markell's staff as an assistant in the mid-'90s. Jones is largely credited with being the main Xs and Os guy there, as well as a great recruiter. The talent level OSU brought in clearly skyrocketed in his time, and he helped Ohio State to five NCAA appearances in his time there, and left the program in good hands when he left two seasons ago. The talent he left them with won 23 games and made the NCAAs last season, but this season, the team's play tailed off dramatically, finishing with 12 regular-season wins until its three playoff victories.
Jones is highly-qualified and highly-interested — he is not just sitting at Cornell waiting for Mike Schafer to leave. But will Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith give him a fair shake, or tie him in too closely to Markell? Doing the latter would be a mistake, and unfair. If Jones was the true reason for most of Ohio State's success in the last decade-plus, and he left in order to advance his career, then why should he be tied into Markell's "lack of consistency," as OSU's administration called it?
Having spoken to assistant AD Chris Schneider on Tuesday, I suspect Ohio State will probably at least try, at some point, to reach out and make a splash — see if it can entice other big names to come to Ohio State. This will happen behind the scenes, and we'll probably never know, since those people will probably turn them down. But what would the lure be? What current big-name coach would consider going to Ohio State, away from where they are now?
I've gotten e-mails suggesting that Ohio State's television potential and long-term "Big Ten Hockey Conference" possibilities should be enticing to current successful D-I coaches. But why? That means nothing to a current coach having success where he is. I've gotten e-mails suggesting Ohio State should make a play for Miami's Enrico Blasi or Denver's George Gwozdecky. Sure, asking is OK. But why would those men leave the great situations they're in for this unknown? Their teams already play plenty of games on television, and they're not having trouble recruiting.
Ohio State is going to have a pretty tough time finding any current successful college head coach who wants to leave. I saw someone speculate that Tim Whitehead might want to leave Maine — where he's been to four Frozen Fours — because he has family in the Columbus area. But that's just what it is — idle speculation — and I can't see it happening. Of all the current head coaches, newly-crowned ECAC Coach of the Year Nate Leaman, at Union, could be a logical candidate looking for an "upgrade," since he has no direct past ties to Union. But that's not exactly the splash Ohio State may want.
We mentioned a number of good candidates in the Western Michigan article — ones without connection to any of these schools but that are nonetheless hungry and very qualified. They include people like former Boston University assistant David Quinn, who left BU last year for the pros after getting passed over at Nebraska-Omaha. There's top-notch assistants/junior head coaches like Mike Hastings, Chris Bergeron (Miami), Mark Osiecki (Wisconsin), Mike Cavanaugh (Boston College), Mike Guentzel, Dave Peters (Dartmouth), and the list goes on. Any one of them could do a great job at Ohio State.
Maybe Ohio State wants a "name," but I don't see where they get it from. Perhaps it should put the cart before the horse. Even though the school says it puts all the resources into the hockey program (thus laying the blame all at Markell), Ohio State has plenty of money, if it wanted to, to really pour into hockey. If it really wants to build something, it will pour money into buying more television time (or will the Big Ten Network really take care of that for them), and it won't treat hockey like second-class citizens on its campus.
Oddly, Ohio State has the opposite problem of, say, Notre Dame, another huge school with the resources necessary to upgrade the program, which it has. Notre Dame lured in Jeff Jackson by promising a new hockey-only arena, an upgrade from the Joyce Center. OSU has the overly-large Value City Arena, and would need to "downgrade," in a sense, to a hockey-only facility of much cozier size. Most people agree, this would help the hockey program much more than its mid-'90s move to Value City Arena. The schools says there's no plans for this — but others say there is, and it's another case of having to get solid footing first before those plans come to fruition.
So maybe you have to prove those things first, before a "name" even considers wanting to come.
One intriguing possibility to throw out there is former NHL coach Ken Hitchcock. Hitchcock has been in California recently, but has residence in Columbus, where he was head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets until recently getting fired. Of course, he won a Stanley Cup with Dallas in 1999, and he helped out at Princeton during the 2004-05 NHL lockout, so he has shown interest in the college game.
Whatever the case may be, this does provide a rare opportunity for numerous qualified people out there to land some spots. It's so rare that jobs open, and so many people deserve them. There will be plenty of deserving people that still get left out, but at least here's a chance for some new blood to come into the head coaching ranks.