For Providence, Leaman Must be the Present and Future
Even After NCAA Loss, PC Remains Strong
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. At this point, it's just expected. When a job opens, a big one, Nate Leaman's name comes up.
He's never said anything.
There's no reason to suggest he wants a change.
But it's always there. He's the kind of coach you can hire and sit back while the wins pile up.
At least, that's what has happened at Providence since Leaman took over. It was the same at Union. A few years after Leaman takes over, a bad or mediocre team turns into a powerhouse. Providence is the kind of team everyone just expects will get a first-round bye in its conference tournament and earn at least an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
"I knew very quickly," Providence athletic director Bob Driscoll said of his confidence in Leaman leading the program to success. "He was the only guy I had in mind. I used to coach hockey at Union College and knew what he did. I knew he was the best up and coming young coach in college hockey. What he has done has far exceeded what I initially expected. But what he's done in renovating the rink and turning the team into a perennial contender, I can say he's one of the best coaches I've been around in 43 years."
"He develops players, and he develops teams," Providence captain Josh Monk said. "I think anybody you talk to would say he's probably one of the best coaches in college hockey, and there's a reason for that, the way he prepares the teams to play, the way to prepares players to move onto the next level. He does a great job. He gave our team a chance to win tonight, and we had a gameplan that was very good."
He's just that good.
So it's only natural that with Friday's 3-0 loss to Harvard in the NCAA tournament, there are some questions. Especially with a very large spot opening about a thousand miles or so west. When Michigan State coach Tom Anastos resigned after a troubling six-year reign in East Lansing, Leaman's name popped up immediately. Not because anyone said anything or because he is somehow too big for his position now at PC. It's how collegiate athletics work. There's always another job, always a bigger paycheck. Always a rumor and the name everybody wants to hear.
Leaman's already thinking about next season, though, and another run with the program he built.
"I like the direction our program is going," he said after Friday's loss.
"I was really happy where we finished up. I'm really excited about our future at Providence. I love everything we are doing. I love the people I work work with, and I certainly love the people I work for. I couldn't be around better leaders. You put your head on your pillow every night, you want to be around great people."
If, perhaps, one of the 31 National Hockey League franchises were to make a call and a serious offer, there's probably nothing Providence could do in that case. A year ago, a rumor floated around Boston that Leaman was a possible candidate for the Boston Bruins job. The position will likely be open again this summer after the Bruins fired Claude Julien and slapped the interim tag on Bruce Cassidy.
The challenge now becomes keeping Leaman around. Again, there's been no direct link between Leaman and any job one would consider a legitimate step up from Providence and no indication he has any interest in leaving. He runs a successful program in a power conference. He moved his family to a leafy suburb just outside the big city where he's created a college hockey powerhouse. He's made a life here and his career an unquestioned success including the 2015 national championship.
There aren't many jobs in the NCAA that could be better than his current situation. And there's reason to believe that any interview and offer from another program would be matched by Providence in a second.
Asked recently about the terms of Leaman's contract, Providence athletic director Bob Driscoll joked that it's a lifetime contract. To wit: Leaman will be the head coach of the Providence College Friars as long as he wants to be.
"I would never hold him back in something he wants to do," Driscoll said. "But my assumption is that he's very happy here. I believe he'll be here for a very long time."
The "why" behind his ascent to one of the best handful of coaches in college hockey is quite simple. It's in his head. He remembers everything and the engine never stops running. There's always a spot for improvement. There's always a word of encouragement that follows the stern correction. He gets the most of his players because helps them believe they have so much more to work with than they ever understood.
As Monk detailed all the reasons for Leaman's success, the coach scanned a stat sheet, trying not to listen to his captain praise him.
His season had just ended. He has to say goodbye to the first-ever Providence class that played in the NCAA tournament in each of their four seasons on campus. That's something they earned, but they owe the opportunity to their head coach.
Despite the ode to the skipper Monk delivered, Leaman grabbed a pen. He saw something. He made a note. His season just ended. There are a million reasons his mind could've been on anything but his responsibility to the team and coaching and winning in the 2017-18 season.
That just wouldn't be Nate Leaman.