Q&A with ... Tom Anastos
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Tom Anastos, who has been CCHA commissioner for the last 13 years, was named Michigan State's sixth head coach today. The move came as a shock to most people, and, Anastos himself was surprised to be approached, he said.
One of the top administrators in the game, he is also a Michigan State alum, where he scored 68 points his senior year, 1985. A native of Dearborn, Mich., and a sixth-round draft pick of Montreal in 1981, Anastos played one year of minor-league hockey before getting into coaching. He was eventually an assistant under Ron Mason from 1990-92 before getting into administration. In recent years, in addition to his commissioner's duties, he has coached in youth and junior hockey in the Detroit area.
Anastos spoke to CHN on his way to do appearances in Detroit, including on Fox Sports Detroit during Thursday night's Red Wings game. As much was asked as possible in the time window. More will come in the days and weeks ahead.
CHN: This seemed to come out of left field.
Anastos: It's been a whirlwind. These leagues have small staffs — we were in overdrive for two weeks for our (CCHA) Tournament. I came back and watched the (NCAA Tournament) Selection Show Sunday morning. Then I got a voicemail from Mark Hollis. He said, "Hey, gimme a call, I'd like to talk to you about the hockey coaching position." I thought nothing of it. I'd talked to him before, like I talk to all (CCHA) ADs about open positions, just to share thoughts.
CHN: So this all came down at the last minute?
Anastos: Yeah. He called and said, "What's up? I'd like to talk to you about our coaching position." I said, "What do you need to know?" He said, "No, I'd like to talk to you, I'd like to see if you'd be interested in it." I don't remember my exact words, but I said, "C'mon!" He says, "No, I'm serious," and he asked me if I'd consider it. I said sure, why not listen. So I went up there the next day, met with the selection committee, met with them for a while, and returned back to my office. Later that evening I got a call from (Hollis) and (associate AD Shelley) Applebaum, and they said, "We'd like you to be our hockey coach. We're at the end of our process and we need to get a decision because we made a commitment they'd have a coach by the end of the week."
So I got together wife my wife — my head was spinning — and talked to my kids, and made a decision. And I told him, "I'm interested, let's do it."
He had a list of reasons for why he wanted me. He has a pretty specific profile that he uses in hiring, and he said I hit, in his view, every one of them. It started that way, we talked about expectations and philosophy.
CHN: People are talking about how shocked they are by the announcement, because you have not coached (at this level) in a long time. Do you feel confident that you're ready?
Anastos: I haven't been away from the game. I'm part of the game on so many different layers, coaching at the amateur level for years. I'm on the ice almost every day with two different youth teams. I understand the game. It's important to have the ability to communicate with kids that age. I have a fair bit of confidence. There's tons of questions over it, and that's fine. But I'm very comfortable with that, I expected that. But as I told the players, my approach, whether it's in sports or business is that it's better well done than well said. No matter what I said to you or how I answer those questions, it matters what I do. It matters how the team performs.
CHN: There's a lot of pressure with the position, I'm sure you know. Michigan State people expect a lot.
Anastos: Part of the attraction is the challenge of that position. There are some coaches that have to follow a legendary coach ... I have to follow three — Amo Bessone to Ron Mason to Rick Comley. That's a very impressive list. Those guys have years and years of experience.
CHN: If you listen to the chatter out there, some people are questioning you for getting off a sinking ship; and wondering if you were working for the CCHA against the Big Ten while talking to Michigan State at the same time. Would you like to put that to rest.
Anastos: That would be absolutely not true. From the minute I received the call from Mark Hollis (on Sunday), I made contact to (the CCHA person) I directly report (to, Bowling Green AD) Greg Christopher. I was in constant communication with him. This Big Ten thing, I've been involved with for months. I've spoken to the Big Ten, I've made petitions to the Big Ten to essentially bring Penn State into our league.
We were all preparing for it (the Big Ten announcement). Being on the other end, we essentially came to a conclusion some time ago what the outcome would be. Now, what's the next step? My doing this has zero to do with the Big Ten. If the Big Ten change didn't happen, I'd still be right here.
I have confidence the CCHA will navigate through the transition. They'll continue to do well and prosper. (Former Notre Dame coach) Lefty Smith told me that when four schools left the WCHA for the CCHA in 1980, everyone thought it was the death of college hockey in the West. It turned out OK.
CHN: Had you ever had the itch to get into college coaching at all?
Anastos: I've been coaching and I've really enjoyed that, it's been part of my life forever. I'm in a rink almost every day of the week. It's been a nice combination with my other work. But the part I've had the itch — and a very compelling part of my interest — it's nice to have something at stake. As a commissioner you help build up this palace, you go to games, you hope you're entertained and everything goes smooth. Now I have a stake in the game. And I'm really looking forward to that. I'm loking forward to not having to worry if my tie is the color of one of the other schools when I go to games, or worry that my kids can't wear anything green and white. No doubt that that was one part, a very atttactive part, of getting back into it.
And the other part was (that it's) Michigan State.