For Bob Gaudet, going “home” again just felt like the right thing to do.
On Apr. 2 Gaudet, the 1995 ECAC Coach of the Year, was named the next head coach at Dartmouth, his alma mater. He leaves behind a Brown program that he helped raise from the dead during his nine years, and returns to one that he twice took to the Final Four as a standout goalie in 1979 and 1980 before it lapsed into oblivion over the next 17 years.
For a guy who’s been courted by schools like Ohio State, there’s no need to tell Gaudet, 38, that this is a lateral move professionally. But sometimes, it’s not all about career advancement.
Providence, R.I., was good to him, Gaudet says, but the Hanover, N.H., area is where he met his wife, and where the first of his three children was born while he was an assistant at Dartmouth. The time felt right.
“The kids are nine, eight and two,” Gaudet said. “It was one of the few times we could move. If you wait, it would be more difficult.
“Professionaly it probably was (a lateral move), but priorities change when you get older.
“As a young coach with a wife without kids, your priorities are different. The last nine years were a blur, it’s gone by quickly. All of a sudden, I have a boy that’s 10, and high school and college are not far off — you change your thoughts.
“I don’t think it’s a huge professional sacrifice. I’m going to be challenged in Division I coaching still, with a program with potential still.”
After Roger Demment was fired at Dartmouth, school athletic director Dick Jaeger contacted Gaudet about his interest. Solid candidates applied, like New Hampshire assistant Brian McCloskey, but it always was Gaudet’s job if he wanted it.
“We sought him out,” Jaeger said. “We had a pretty good indication he would be interested. We approached him several times (in the past).”
Jaeger only went to Gaudet, however, after talking to Brown AD Dave Roach.
“Dave was OK with it,” Gaudet said. “It’s not ever a great situation, but it was done professionally.
“There were mixed emotions. Obviously there was an interest; any time those situations come up, you owe it to your family (to check it out). It just happened so quick.
“I wasn’t looking to leave Brown. The people were great to me here.
“When the situation happened, I was half hoping it would pass, I’d put my head in the sand and it would go away, and half hoping there was some interest.”
For Jaeger, the decision to focus on Gaudet seemed like a no-brainer.
“He has great Division I coaching experience and a great track record down there (at Providence),” said Jaeger. “We’ve gotten strong testimony from those he coached, and testimony from people in the hockey world. He’s a natural. We don’t need to look any further. He likes it (in Hanover). It’s tailor-made.”
Gaudet took over Brown after it had gone through 10 straight seasons with no more than 11 wins. In his first game as a head coach at any level, Gaudet saw the Bears defeat his alma mater, only to lose the next 25 straight.
Over the next three years, Brown crept toward mediocrity before eventually making the NCAA tournament in 1993, for the first time in 17 years. In 1995, Brown flirted with first place most of the season before settling for second, and Gaudet was named the league’s top coach.
The team came full-circle, of sorts, this past year. Brown finished last with league record of 4-17-1. Gaudet’s last win there was against the same team as his first — Dartmouth.
But, despite the tailoff the last two seasons, there’s little doubt that Gaudet left the Brown program in much better shape than he found it.
“We had a really good recruiting class coming,” Gaudet said. “We got a couple of kids that will be able to play that were major junior (and therefore ineligible last year). It was clearly my second-best recruiting class.”
At Dartmouth, Gaudet will again be asked to help a struggling program rejuvenate itself. And it would seem that Dartmouth has as good a chance as Brown did, especially when you consider its top-class facility, Thompson Arena. So the pressure is on, not just for Gaudet, but for Jaeger to finally produce a winning team.
“If this (hiring) won’t work, I’ll go on a cruise somewhere, and just pick a random name,” said Jaeger.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself,” said Gaudet. “Coming (to Brown) there was the pressure of the situation here. Taking over a program that was down and out was difficult. The situation here was pretty tough. As a 29-year-old head coach, if I didn’t get it done, I wouldn’t have gotten another job.
“Now at Dartmouth there’s another challenge, but I think that’s good. They really haven’t had the success people want, they haven’t been in the playoff picture. I think that’s definitely a realistic goal.”
Said Jaeger, “I think we can do as well (as this past year), if not better, then hit the ground running. He doesn’t have as much rebuilding to do.”
Dartmouth looked like it might turn a corner under Demment, who was named ECAC Coach of the Year in 1993 when the Big Green finished sixth. But the program never got over the hump, and instead took steps backward. There’s been concern from the outside over whether something inherent to the program made it impossible to win. There are obvious hindrances at any Ivy League school, but Gaudet says he wouldn’t be going if he wasn’t sure.
“There’s a lot of trust you place, when you make a decision like this, that things will be supported (by the school administration),” Gaudet said. “And that’s my feeling. And it’s my job to give them the best possible student-athletes to deal with. But the fact of the matter is, it shouldn’t be drastically different.”
“When I played there, we played there in front of a packed house. I know times have changed with TV and accessibility, but I do think it can be done or I wouldn’t have chosen to do it.”
“We do have good tradition,” Jaeger said. “Others have gotten better, and we’ve struggled of late. We have a great arena — a great fan arena — much like Burlington (Vt.). We want to do everything in reason to be successful, attractive, fun to watch. We’ll win some, lose some, while giving people a heck of a game.”
Of course, now the search is on for Gaudet’s successor at Brown. Gaudet is hoping Roach takes a good look at Brown assistant Jamie Rice, the 29-year-old Babson graduate.
“Jamie Rice has been with me five years, and he was previously at Dartmouth and Colby,” Gaudet said. “He’s been around quite a bit. He’s a really good candidate for the job. My hope is that Jamie’s given a real legitimate chance here.”
Another candidate is Boston University assistant Brian Durocher, 40, who was at one time an assistant with Gaudet. But that’s only if he’s interested.
“Brian’s another great one,” Gaudet said. “He’s a super guy and a dear friend. He was here and really helped to get the thing going.”
Gaudet has twice come close to taking jobs at scholarship schools, and everyone had assumed that would be his next step. By going to Dartmouth, those plans are now on hold, but Gaudet says the move doesn’t mean he’s given up on the idea of moving up in the coaching world.
“I’m going to Dartmouth to do the job, and I’m going to work really hard and get after it,” Gaudet said. “I’m 38 years old, I’m not just washed up. I’ve got some jump left. Maybe down the road — but I know I’m going to be (at Dartmouth) for a while.”