Badgers Hit 'Home Run' With Coaching Trio
Tony Granato, Introduced Today, to Lead Group
CHN Staff Report
Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said he initially called famed alumnus Tony Granato for advice on how to handle the Badgers' head coaching vacancy.
By the end of the conversation, things were headed in a very different direction.
Ultimately, Granato was named the new head coach, just the fifth in Madison since 1966, replacing another well-heeled alum in Mike Eaves, who was let go two weeks ago.
But he wasn't going to do it unless he could bring two names on Alvarez's original short list along with him — two more alumni — Granto's brother Don, and former Wisconsin assistant coach Mark Osiecki.
The deal was done. The trio was officially introduced together, a rarity in and of itself, at Wisconsin's Kohl Center today. Tony Granato received a five-year contract, while the assistants got three-year deals each.
"I wanted to talk to some respected hockey people from our program from different eras," Alvarez said about his initial conversation with Tony Granato. "People who were truly interested and cared and could give me a vision for what we needed."
Alvarez said he also asked NHL people, who thought Granato was great but wouldn't want to go because he was already in the NHL. After asking Granato if he would, Granato said, "I didn't have an answer for him."
Granato's wheels started spinning, and he thought about a dream staff that included his brother and Osiecki.
Alvarez said the move would knock peoples socks off. It certainly has.
"It's a unique hire. All but one of them was on my short list (for head coach)," Alvarez said. "Tony wasn't on my short list."
Once the trio decided on it together, it became a no-brainer, despite all currently having very good jobs.
"We knew we've always wanted to coach together, so there was no conversation," Don Granato said.
"We've all been places that are great. This place is really, really special," Osiecki said.
Now they need to prove it on the ice.
"We'll do everything we can to put the product you want to see on the ice," Tony Granato told the crowd gathered at Kohl Center today. "I wanted to come home. People asked, 'Why would you want to leave the NHL?' I'm coming back to Madison.
"I don't think my heart ever left Madison or the Badger program. It was always there with me that someday it would be great to go back. Someday it would be an opportunity — if it ever came along — where you always think in your mind, 'Wow, wouldn't that be special and a great place to go back to?'"
Eaves was also a highly-regarded alumnus when he was named coach in 2002, edging out someone perhaps even more famous and highly-regarded in Mark Johnson, the 1980 gold-medal Olympian and son of Badger coach legend Bob Johnson. Mark Johnson went on to coach the women's team at Wisconsin, where he is still in charge, leading a successful program.
But after a strong run that included the 2006 national championship and a title game appearance in 2010, the Badgers fell on hard time in recent seasons. The last two years were particularly dismal, winning 12 games combined, with the recruiting well seeming to have run dry, comparitively. Eaves tried changing his assistant coaches, to no avail.
Tony Granato spoke to Mark Johnson in recent days.
"He's been unbelievable in this whole process," Granato said. "He reached out to me and said how much it means to him to get the program to an elite level. That's all of our goals and expectations. That's what we expect.
"We'd like it to be alongside what Mark's done with the women's program. We want to be at that level. We want people banging on our doors to come to Wisconsin. We want to be respected like the women's program is, like the football program is, like the men's basketball program is. We want to be right there with them."
Tony Granato, who is in his second season as an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings, has been in the NHL as a head coach or an assistant coach since 2002, a year after retiring from a 13-year NHL career. Granato was 72-33-17 during his first head coaching stint with the Colorado Avalanche during the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons. He also coached them in 2009.
He will return to the Red Wings to finish the season. They are currently in the race for the final playoff spot in the NHL's Eastern Conference.
A four-time 30-goal scorer in the NHL, Tony Granato skated for the New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks during his 13-year playing career. He played in the 1993 Stanley Cup finals, and polayed for Team USA at the 1988 Olympic Winter Games. A two-time All-American for the Badgers, Granato was a finalist for the 1987 Hobey Baker Memorial Award after his 73-point senior season.
Don Granato, one of Tony’s younger brothers, has been a coach with the U.S. National Team Development Program for the last five years, mostly recently as head coach of the Under-17 team. Under Donato, Team USA won the 2015 Under-18 World Championship. Granato’s 2014-15 Under-18 National Team went 9-7-2 against NCAA Division I and III competition, while the 2012-13 U.S. Under-18 squad recorded an 11-6-4 record against NCAA Division I and III schools to earn the best winning percentage (.619) against collegiate teams in NTDP history.
"I don't want to leave here," Don said of the NTDP, "but this is too good to turn down."
“Don’s accomplishments here speak for themselves,” said Scott Monaghan, senior director of operations at the NTDP. “He won titles at every major event we participate in and helped develop numerous players into top draft picks. It’s a real tribute to how Don molds players that two of the guys from his first team were playing against each other in the NCAA Tournament as captains of their respective teams.”
Granato and Osiecki have worked together as assistants before, at the 2015 World Juniors and the 2014 World Championship.
"It's a perfect fit for Donny and I to go in and all of us work together," Osiecki said. "I can't believe how much fun we're going to have walking into the Kohl Center."
Don Granato has NHL coaching experience, serving as an assistant for the St. Louis Blues during the 2005-06 season. Before the NHL stint, Don enjoyed five years at the helm of the AHL’s Worcester IceCats (2000-05), earning recognition as league coach of the year in his debut season. That followed an ECHL title with the Peoria Rivermen (1999-2000). He also spent two seasons as coach for the ECHL’s Columbus Chill and two seasons for the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers. The two years in Green Bay included a pair of Clark Cup championships. He also directed the USHL’s Wisconsin Capitals in 1993-94.
During his playing career at Wisconsin, Don Granato was part of the 1990 national championship team. He had 88 points on 45 goals and 43 assists in his four years.
Osiecki has been associate coach of the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs for the past two years. He was an assistant under Eaves before being named head coach at Ohio State in 2010, where he spent three years before being fired.
"For me, there wasn't any convincing," Osiecki said. "Number one, it's Wisconsin. Number two, the athletic department. At the top of the heap is who I would be working with.
"The people you're working with and for is so important. When you look at that, it's an absolute slam dunk."
A native of Burnsville, Minn., Osiecki was part of the staff when Wisconsin won the national title in 2006. Twenty-two of the Badgers who played for Wisconsin during the six seasons Osiecki was part of the coaching staff went on to play in the NHL. Osiecki also served as a coach on the international level, helping the U.S. win gold at the 2010 and 2013 World Junior Championships and bronze at the 2011 tournament. He was head coach of the team in 2015.
Prior to his first stint in Madison, Osiecki was the head coach of the Green Bay Gamblers from 1997-2004, leading the team to the Clark Cup in 2000. He was also an assistant coach at North Dakota for its 1997 national championship.
Osiecki enjoyed a six-year professional career, including two years in the NHL with the Calgary Flames, Ottawa Senators, Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota North Stars. He also represented the United States as a player at the 1992 World Championship.
Some quotes courtesy of Andy Baggot of UWBadgers.com.