4 ‘Non-MSU Guys’ Who Could Replace Tom Anastos
UPDATE: This article previously referred to Harvard as 1999 NCAA champions not Maine. Also Mark Osiecki's previous job title as a scout was used as current as opposed to his current job with Wisconsin, our errors have been corrected, we apologize for any confusion.
Michigan State hockey is looking for a new head coach after Tom Anastos stepped down earlier this week. Michigan State is figuring to be the most attractive open head coaching job in the country this offseason in college hockey. The search is now on for that next coach.
Many different pundits across the state name a few people that should be anointed the next coach of the program on the grounds that they are already tied in some way to Michigan State and can come revive the program. Unfortunately for those people and Spartan fans, all the names usually listed have flaws so glaring or resumes so paltry it wouldn't be fair to expect anything but the same level of disappointment that is currently the standard.
Those names consistently listed as former "MSU guys" who can come back are people like George Gwozdecky, a former Ron Mason assistant currently coaching High School hockey in Colorado. While he is a two time national champion with Denver, he'll be 64 years old this summer and more than likely won't have the time or patience for a re-build on the scale that Michigan State needs.
Another name that comes up is Rod Brind'Amour, a former MSU player who does not have any head coaching experience and is currently a forward development coach for the Carolina Hurricanes organization. If the lack of experience isn't enough to scare you, consider that the Hurricanes are in the bottom 10 in goals scored in the NHL. Their AHL affiliate, Charlotte, is in the bottom half of the AHL in scoring as well. Brind'Amour has been in his current position since 2011.
How about a couple of guys from the USA National Team Development Program, Danton Cole and Chris Luongo?
Luongo, who is an assistant coach with USA NTDP, won just six games over two years in his only other college head coaching gig at Alabama-Huntsville. He's been with the program for two years so far.
Cole, the head coach of the program, has struggled in the USHL as head coach of the under-17's, never making the playoffs since he was appointed to that position in 2013. He was an assistant as far back as 2010 with the NTDP.
The USA NTDP haven't made the USHL playoffs since 2011-12, meaning that while Cole and Luongo have been in positions of significance there the program has struggled. The NTDP's USHL record since 2013-14 is 98-116-14-2. That recent track record shouldn't suggest a turnaround for MSU if either are hired.
The only Michigan State name maybe even worth considering is Jeff Jackson, a two-time NCAA champion as a head coach and current head coach of Notre Dame. However he's set to join the Big Ten hockey conference this upcoming season, and it's very doubtful he'd leave his current position for the same position at a worse program.
After all of those names are out of the way, if MSU is still determined to keep a former player or coach they might as well just keep interim head coach Tom Newton, who's been a long-time assistant coach in East Lansing. At the very least he'd probably be a cheaper option contract wise.
With that in mind, here are four names that aren't tied to MSU that should be strongly considered for the program's head coaching vacancy. These are names that have a combination of proven records, quality experience, and people that Michigan State wouldn't have to break the bank to get, considering that every coach after Ron Mason has made less than a million dollars a year on average.
Mel Pearson, head coach of Michigan Tech
Quite possibly the antithesis of "MSU guy", Pearson played his college hockey at Michigan Tech (so he's back at his alma mater) but was an assistant coach or associate head coach at Michigan from 1988-2011 where he was apart of two NCAA championship teams. He seems to be the heir apparent to Red Berenson's job should he retire this offseason. However if Pearson decides to be impatient, this MSU job could be the opening he could want to jump back into a big college hockey program as the head coach. Pearson was able to get the Huskies to the NCAA tournament this year.
Brent Brekke, assistant/associate coach at Miami (OH)
Brekke has been an assistant coach with the RedHawks since 2008 and was awarded the Terry Flanagan award for outstanding body of work over a coaching career back in 2015. Brekke was passed up for the job at his alma mater Western Michigan, and was rumored to be attached to the job at Penn State when their division one program was founded. Miami (OH) has made the NCAA tournament seven times since Brekke has been at Miami including a trip to the final in 2013-14.
Nate Leaman, head coach of Providence
Quite possibly the best possible scenario for Michigan State, Leaman coached Providence to a national championship in 2015, and was the coach of Union from 2003-2011 (Union won the national title in 2014, and went to the Frozen Four in 2012). This is a coach with a track record of bulilding up programs into powerhouses, no matter the size of the school. Leaman also won a championship as an assistant coach at Maine back in 1999.
Here some more about Leaman's qualifications from Mike McMahon of the College Hockey News. (Pick video up at 2:28:42 if it doesn't auto-skip)
Mark Osiecki, assistant coach at Wisconsin
Osiceki is formerly a head coach at Ohio State University and a scout in the Chicago Blackhawks organization. His three years with Ohio State was mediocre at best, but prior to that he did have a successful coaching stint with the Green Bay Gamblers out of the USHL, winning three USHL East titles.
A nationwide coaching search is sure to bring in more qualified names even than the ones listed here. However, the fact remains that if Spartan Hockey fans want to see the program back to being a dominating force they need to abandon the romantic notion of having a former player or coach lead them there, because quite simply there aren't any available that are good enough to get the job done. Let an outsider come in and carve their own legacy as an "MSU guy". That's what the program needs right now.