The Hot Seat
Many Coaching Changes Could Be In Store Soon
The coaching hot seat is never a fun one to talk about, but it's always there. But this year may actually see more coaches retire than those who get squeezed out for performance reasons.
The last three years have seen just a smattering of movement, an average of three coaching changes, and only a small handful were coaches getting fired. The 2015 offseason was almost the first year since 1961 without a coaching change, but Dave Hakstol took a job in the NHL in the middle of the offseason and ruined the excitement. Offseasons generally average around three or four coaching changes. But before these last three years, the three years prior to that were dizzying.
From 2011-13, there were 22 combined coaching changes. That's a crazy amount of turnover. Nine of those were firings.
I wouldn't expect anywhere close to that to happen this offseason, but there might be quite a few, depending.
There has already been one coaching casualty this offseason. Rensselaer beat us to the punch with the dismissal of Seth Appert earlier this week. We already planned to have him on this list. For the record, note that this isn't necessarily who we believe should lose their jobs, but an explanation of which schools may be looking to make a change.
Seth Appert, Rensselaer
RPI has already decided to make this move, after a season that was hard to overlook in its futility. After 11 seasons on the job, Appert is still young enough at age 42 to land on his feet and be fine. He was on the staff of two national champions at Denver, and did a solid job at RPI for a while. But things happen, one thing leads to another, and you get stuck in a hole that's hard to get out of. It's possible he would've figured a way out. He won't get that chance at RPI.
Walt Kyle, Northern Michigan
Walt Kyle has been operating this year without a contract for next season. He was suspended a couple years ago for a personnel issue. From what I know about it, it wasn't worth a suspension. But as a result, he's been in the crosshairs of the administration since. So he went into this year with his future uncertain, and proceeded to oversee the worst start to any season he's ever had. Kyle led NMU to a number of very good seasons in the CCHA after he took over for Rick Comley. But the fact is, NMU just doesn't provide the resources to the hockey program that it once did. Kyle is between a rock and a hard place. He knows his time might be up soon, and at 60, maybe it is what it is anyway. But college hockey would be losing a great voice.
Tom Anastos, Michigan State
Like the two coaches already mentioned, I have nothing but the utmost respect for Anastos. I take no joy in writing that someone's job is in jeopardy. But no one needs to tell him the natives are getting restless. He was in a tough spot from day one, having to defend his track record as a head coach at this level, despite his status as a prominent alum. He made the NCAAs his first year, with Torey Krug leading the way, but it's been tough sledding since. Anastos has found out what Comley discovered before him, that no matter how hard you try, MSU is not getting the high-end recruits anymore. Early optimism has waned. I'm not close enough to the situation to know where the blame lies, but it's a results business.
The issue here is that athletic director Mark Hollis stuck his neck out for Anastos, and he also happens to have more important controversies to take care of in his athletic department right now — scandals in other programs — and he's a member of the NCAA Men's Basketball Committee, which takes up more time. So he may be reluctant to pull this trigger now. No matter what you can say, the Spartans' hockey program are model citizens, so there's no issue there. It wouldn't surprise me if the change happens, but wouldn't surprise me if it didn't, either.
There may be a surprise or two that is just impossible to see; there often is. But the rest of the list is more about retirements than firings.
Red Berenson, Michigan
This is the obvious one. Berenson is 77 years old. He has been — and this is an amazing statistic — the oldest head coach in college hockey since 1992, when Len Ceglarski retired. That's right, at 52 years old, he was the oldest then, which is just another crazy thing to think about considering there are currently 23 coaches older than that in college hockey. (Bob Peters and Don Brose were older, but moved to D-I from D-III with Bemidji State and Minnesota State at later times.)
Anyway, Red was all but retired last year, as his team made one more run with a star-studded forward group. The entire first line of Kyle Connor, Tyler Motte and J.T. Compher have played in the NHL this year, and many considered that would be Berenson's swan song. But ultimately, Berenson decided to stay because new athletic director Warde Manual was still getting acclimated to Michigan, and he didn't want to dump the situation on his plate. Now, Berenson has been very open about the end being near, but he says he's still not sure if it will be this year or next.
If he does step down, expect alums Brian Wiseman and Bill Muckalt to be at the top of a short list. Keep an eye on current Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill as well. Of course, Berenson's former long-time assistant, Mel Pearson, now the head coach at Michigan Tech, would be a prime candidate, and he's proven himself as a head man at Tech. I've asked Pearson straight up what he'd do in that situation, and I'm not even sure he knows. But one thing is sure, Michigan could offer a lot more money than Michigan Tech, and that lure could be too great. On the other hand, Michigan could decide to just go young with Wiseman or Muckalt anyway.
Dick Umile, New Hampshire
Umile is 68 years old. Only Berenson and Boston College's Jerry York (71) are older. The team has been struggling to get back to prominence after a series of recruiting setbacks and trimmed budgets put the former powerhouse behind the eight ball. Umile has made no secret about his impending retirement. Mike Souza, who played for Umile from 1996-2000 and scored 23 goals on the 1999 national runner up team, was brought in as an assistant last year with the express purpose of being Umile's eventual replacement. There were a number of signs that this would be the year. Or it could be next year. But it will be soon. New Hampshire won its best-of-3 series last weekend with Merrimack, delaying the decision at least another week.
Dean Blais, Nebraska-Omaha
At 66, Blais is the next oldest after Umile. He's also been very public about clashes of opinion with the current UNO administration over how it has treated athletics. When he took the job at UNO, coming back to college hockey after time away to work in the pros, he said even then he didn't expect to last too long. He has a cabin on a lake in Minnesota, and would love to enjoy more of his days there. So with all that, the clock is ticking. I think current Minnesota assistant Mike Guentzel would be a prime candidate to return to Omaha and land this gig.
Andy Murray, Western Michigan
Murray is also 66, two months younger than Blais. There have been no outward signs that Murray is considering retirement, but any time a coach gets up there in years, someone starts their countdown clock. The one thing that gives it some extra credence, however, is that Murray's daughter, Sarah, who played for Minnesota-Duluth from 2006-10, has been named head coach of South Korea's team for the 2018 Olympics. That tournament, which happens to be in South Korea, would be right in the middle of next college hockey season. Murray may want to enjoy that experience, and figure it's a good a time as any to step down. Or maybe not. This is more just in the wild speculation department. Current assistants Todd Krygier and Dave Shyiak would be prime candidates to take over. Krygier is an NHL vet who previously was a head coach in the USHL. Shyiak was a head coach at Alaska-Anchorage. Pat Ferschweller, a WMU alum who went to coach with Blashill in the pros, would be another obvious potential replacement.
So the above four names are four of the top five oldest coaches in the NCAA, and are thus obvious for this list. The one of those five not on the list, however, is Jerry York, who at 71 keeps right on trekking. And despite issues with both eyes in recent years, he seems to continue to revel in what he's doing. And why not, given the Boston College's continued success. He may surprise us, but I don't think Jerry is ready for the pasture yet.