Anastos Staying at MSU; Michigan's Berenson Unsure
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
While Wisconsin makes a big splash with the changing of its coach, two other Big Ten teams are making news with their coaching positions, by what isn't happening.
Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said that head coach Tom Anastos would return next season, ending speculation that he was on the coaching hot seat.
And 76-year old Michigan coach Red Berenson, who it had been presumed would retire at the end of this season, now says he's not sure and will take more time to make a decision.
Anastos, a former player at Michigan State, was hired in 2011 to replace Rick Comley, after many years as an administrator, most notably commissioner of the CCHA. It was a controversial hire at the time because of what many perceived to be a lack of experience at this high of a level.
But Anastos went on to lead the Spartans to the NCAA tournament in his first season following a 19-16-4 record. Since then, however, Michigan State has been under .500 all but one season, including a low of 10-23-4 this year.
But Anastos inherited a barebones roster, and also has continued to fulfill commitments that sometimes players as young as 14 made while Comley was still coach.
“I feel like we’ve got a good system in place to build the type of student-athletes you want to have here,” Hollis told the Lansing State Journal. “Unfortunately you can’t do that in five years. Penn State had a great advantage in having no roster (when it started its program) and being able to build from ground zero. Tom fulfilled all of the commitments put out there prior to him (by Comley). And as you know, in hockey, you start recruiting kids at the age of 14 and maybe in some cases don’t get them until they’re 20. It’s uniquely different than football, uniquely different than basketball.”
Berenson, meanwhile, has reached the end of his contract originally signed in 2012. At that time, he said, "Let's face it, I'll be 76 when this contract is over. So I would say it's the last contract. ... I would be surprised if there would be another one after this."
He intended to follow through with that. But, following the team's exit last weekend in the NCAA Midwest Regional final, Berenson told the Detroit Free Press, "As the year went on, it got better and better. I thought it made more sense and it was working."
In recent years, Berenson has delegated more and more duties to assistants Billy Powers and Brian Wiseman. But he still might have an itch to be in charge. He said he will meet with new athletic director Warde Manual soon to decide.
“Hopefully, something’s done within the month, but I can’t promise you that,” Berenson told the Free Press. “I’d like to know, too.”
Part of Berenson's decision may hinge on what kind of team Michigan will have next season. Already, in addition to some key seniors graduating, the team has lost junior Michael Downing and sophomomre Drew Werenski, two defensemen, to pro deals. The top-line trio of freshman Kyle Connor and juniors Tyler Motte and JT Compher could also be wooed to the pro ranks soon.
"I want to do what’s best for the program, too. It’s not just about me,” Berenson said.
Berenson, who took over his alma mater in 1984 after stints in the NHL, has won two national championships as head coach, in 1996 and 1998. The Wolverines went to 22 straight NCAA tournaments, starting in 1991, before missing three in a row. This year, the team returned after winning the Big Ten championship for the first time.
Berenson is currently fourth all-time in wins with 835.
Michigan State's issues may be more systemic than anything. MSU's Munn Arena is outdated, and the program had ceded the recruiting of high-end talent to neighbor Michigan over the last 15 years. Anastos has not been able to turn that ship back around. In Ron Mason's later years, the team had become more defensive oriented. When Comley took over in 2002, he vowed to return the team to its up-tempo roots. But after a couple of seasons where that didn't work as he hoped, unable to attract the high-end talent needed, Comley went back to grinding it out, and it won him a national title in 2007.
A string of 17 consecutive 20-win seasons ended in 2008-09, and Michigan State hasn't had one since. Comley stepped down after a 15-19-4 season in 2010-11.
Berenson has been the oldest coach in NCAA Division I since Don Brose stepped down as then-Mankato State's coach in 2000. But Brose started in Division III. If you don't include that, Berenson has been the oldest since Boston College's Len Ceglarski retired in 1992.