Berenson: Difficult to Say Goodbye, But Time is Right
On his way out the door this morning, Red Berenson's wife asked the 77-year old if he was sure he wanted to retire.
His philosophy on this day was the same as on his wedding day.
"The day we got married, 56 years ago, I was walking into the church, and one of my best friends who was in the wedding said, 'Are you sure you want to do this?'" Berenson said. "So, I was sure. I don't like (the process of) getting married but I wanted to be married. I don't like going thorugh this (retirement process). I want to get out of the way for the next coach to take the program to a high level."
Berenson stepped down Monday after 33 years as Michigan's head coach. He was hired during a tumultuous time in the program's history, May 1984. It was the third time then-athletic director Don Canham had asked him to take over. He was an assistant coach in the NHL at the time. He finally accepted.
"I left a job making $85,000 a year to take a job making $40,000," Berenson said. "I thought, 'Did I get my MBA at Michigan to make a decision like this?' But it was the right thing to do. I loved Michigan and loved the experience I had."
Berenson went on to lead the Wolverines to 23 NCAA appearances, 11 Frozen Fours and two national championships.
But it still wasn't enough, which is why it was difficult to say goodbye.
"I don't think we did as well as we should have with all the players we had," Berenson said. "Oh, I can blame the refs — there was a lot of situations we had I didn't like. But I thought we could've done better and I still think we could do better, and that's what keeps me going."
The team had some struggles the last few seasons, and Berenson had to face constant questions about his impending retirement, something that made him uncomfortable. He always felt he had more to give and more to do. But given his age and the continued questions from recruits, he decided the time was finally right.
"It bothered me that this was an issue," Berenson said. "It's come to the point now where (I) could sign long term but I don't know if that's best for this program, so I feel we're doing the right thing. ... Last year, (athletic director) Warde (Manual) hadn't even moved here yet. He agreed I should come back for another year.
"We've had a great staff and we'll continue to have a great staff, but it's time for me to get out of the way. ... We've been able to touch a lot of people, a lot of people touched us.
"I feel good — I don't feel relieved. I still feel I have my thumb on the program. I'm concerned about today, tomorrow, but there will be a time in the future Warde will announce the next coach and he'll have my support."
Berenson played at Michigan from 1959-62 under Al Renfrew. He went on to become the first player in the NHL to go right from college to the NHL, and was the only player at that time to have a college degree.
"Everyone thought I was goofy," Berenson said. "I was preparing for life after hockey ... so I guess now life after hockey will start.
"I was blessed to come to Michigan. It changed my life. And that's been my motivation to help these young guys, help it change their lives and live their dreams. I've always felt strong about life after hockey. Even when we were in the Stanley Cup parade, a few days later I was in grad school. That was the best day. Not the day we were in the parade but the day I was in the class and knew I could take care of myself. There were six NHL teams. It was a cutthroat business and no money."
Praise came in swiftly and from all corners, former players and fellow coaches.
"Berenson is an icon," former defenseman Aaron Ward said. "He guided us as teenagers, and created men in the end. He is the ultimate Michigan Man."
Said former forward Mike Knuble, "Thank you Red for making us who we are today. You are the true definition of a Michigan Man. Will always be proud to say I played for you."
And Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said, "Congrats to a true friend Red Berenson on a HOF career. I'll miss our battles on the ice but look fwd to battling you for (fish)."
Berenson said he heard from Brendan Morrison, who was a junior in 1996 when he scored in overtime to give Michigan the national championship. He won the Hobey Baker Award the next year, and then became one of 73 NHL players Berenson coached at Michigan.
"He's one of my favorite people, favorite players," Berenson said. "He did it all, he did it right. He reminded me of the good years and good days."
There will be no shortage of potential replacements. Berenson said he'd be around to advise Manual, and give whatever help is asked for.
"Warde is going to use me as an advisor. I'll be one of several I'm sure," Berenson said. "I hope there's some Michigan awareness or connection, someone who will feel the right way about what a Michigan team should be like."
And now what for Berenson?
His old coach, Al Renfrew, ran the ticket office after he retired.
"I'm not going to get into that," Berenson quipped.
"I'd like to get out on the river more, take my trailer to visit my kids and grandkids more. But we'll be around Ann Arbor. It's hard to leave.
"My wife is concerned. She knew (former New Hampshire coach) Charlie Holt's wife. When he retired, his wife said, 'Don't ever let your husband retire, living with a retired coach is like living with a caged animal.' I'll try."