Cavanaugh Chosen Over Experienced Field
by Michael King/Staff Writer
STORRS, Conn. Despite considering a high-profile and experienced finalist for the position, Connecticut hired long-time Boston College assistant Mike Cavanaugh to lead its program and begin the transition to Hockey East. The school introduced Cavanaugh to the media Thursday afternoon.
"This is a special day in our hockey history," UConn athletic director Warde Manuel said. "It's a time when we're transitioning to the top conference in the country."
The Huskies will spend one final season in Atlantic Hockey before joining Hockey East in the fall of 2014.
According to Manuel, Cavanaugh beat out interim coach David Berard and two-time national champion George Gwozdecky for the position. Berard took over for Bruce Marshall, who resigned in January for health reasons. Some believed earlier in the week that Gwozdecky would be the choice, given his success at the highest level as Denver's coach.
Cavanaugh spent the last 18 years learning from the side of BC's Jerry York, the all-time winningest coach in college hockey, eight of those years as associate head coach. He also played at Division III Bowdoin and served as an assistant at Dartmouth for two years.
While some athletic directors treasure head coaching experience as a key applicant characteristic, Manuel believes there are other reliable indicators of an individual's potential.
"Every head coach has been an assistant for the most part," he said. "Most don't go from playing or walking off the street to being a head coach. At some point, you have to have your first opportunity. In this case, I thought Mike brought much to the table in terms of experience, success and knowledge of recruiting in New England."
The athletic director emphasized that BC's on-ice success (10 Frozen Fours and four national titles), as well as his familiarity with the state of Connecticut, were the two key qualities which landed the North Andover, Mass., native in Storrs.
"In the sport of hockey, where there are only two (full-time) assistants, you can't have been involved with a successful program without having contributed in a significant way," he said. "It's not just the head coach. It’s the assistant coaches and the teams that they recruit."
In addition, Manuel stressed that it was the development of the state as a power in producing hockey talent which originally led to the school to upgrade the program. The success of Yale and Quinnipiac in the NCAA tournament this year, including the Bulldogs' national championship, underscores this point.
Given his experience and success recruiting the area for the Eagles, Cavanaugh further appeared to be the logical choice for the Huskies from Manuel's perspective. Cavanaugh recently recruited many successful athletes to BC from this state, including Cam Atkinson, Ben Smith, Tommy Cross and Pat Mullane.
"For years, I've recruited this area extensively," Cavanaugh said. "These players were an integral part of (BC's) success. The home-grown talent was something that attracted me to the job. I have a lot of connections here and trusted friendships."
In the end, this specific experience earned Cavanaugh the job.
"With David and Mike, I had two candidates with strong ties to New England recruiting. That was important to me," Manuel said. "It was probably why I made the decision with Mike and didn't offer or try to talk to George further. Connecticut is really growing in terms of local hockey programs and the number of Division I players produced."
Manuel did not directly confirm if compensation was a factor in the school's lack of extensive pursuit of Gwozdecky. Many suggested that the former Denver coach would command a significant salary in his next coaching position, given that was the primary driver of an acrimonious departure from the school he coached for 19 seasons.
"I didn't talk to George or Mike about what they were paid beforehand," he said. "We had a sense of what the average was in the league we're joining and what the average was for assistants who move up to take head coaching positions. I knew what I wanted to offer."
Manuel also dismissed rumors that Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy influenced the decision-making process. Many speculated that Malloy, as a BC alumnus, directed Manuel to make the hire of the Eagle associate head coach.
"We talked several times since last summer about hockey. I called him recently to let him know where we were in the process. He said 'they sound like great choices to me. Good luck with the decisions, and I don't think you can go wrong with any of them.' Then, I left him a message that we had decided to hire Mike. The Governor has been a great supporter of UConn in general, and he has a passion for hockey."
Cavanaugh spoke about developing rivalries with the other Connecticut programs, as well as nurturing the regional rivalries in Hockey East.
In addition, the new coach accentuated that his ties and experience with BC will not overshadow his position as UConn coach.
"We're going to move forward; this is not Boston College moving to Storrs," he said. "Jerry York gave me my start, and it's important to remember your roots. But it's also important that we establish what UConn hockey stands for. Whatever organization you're involved with, it has to be a partnership and everyone needs to buy-in."
With the coaching position filled, UConn can now focus on building other aspects of its program. The Huskies will begin adding scholarships to the program as comparable to other schools in Hockey East.
Though the school will play its Hockey East games for four seasons at the XL Center in downtown Hartford, it plans to build an on-campus rink in the near future.
Manual noted that the school is within 12 months of hiring an architect to draw-up plans for the facility, which is one of the final milestones before fundraising can formally begin in earnest. Though retrofitting Gampel Pavilion (UConn's on-campus basketball arena) remains an option, Manuel said it's unlikely to be a cost-effective choice.