COLUMBUS, Ohio — With the Ohio State men’s hockey squad headed to a new hockey conference, athletic director Gene Smith decided that it was time for a new coach.
Smith announced Monday that third-year head coach Mark Osiecki has been dismissed from his position at Ohio State.
Ohio State will buy out the remaining two years of Osiecki’s contract at just over $112,000.
“We are making a change in our head hockey coaching position,” Smith said in a statement. “There was a difference of opinion over the management of the program that could not be resolved.”
Osiecki led Ohio State to its best conference finish since 2005 this season as the Buckeyes finished fourth in the final year of the CCHA. Ohio State lost to Notre Dame in the CCHA semifinals on March 23 to end its season.
Despite Ohio State’s uptick this past season, it was a down year in the conference and the Buckeyes finished with a sub-.500 winning percentage overall.
In three seasons as head coach, Osiecki was 46-50-16 and never led the Buckeyes to an NCAA tournament appearance.
Osiecki told USCHO that he was “very surprised” of Ohio State’s decision. The timing of the decision is odd as the team ended its season over three weeks ago and Ohio State, in general, does not let go of coaches from non-revenue sports with years remaining on a contract.
“They came in this morning and told me at 8 a.m.,” Osiecki said. “We didn’t know anything.”
Despite a stagnant record and attendance, Osiecki said he thought the program was headed in the right direction.
“The opportunity that was here was great,” Osiecki said. “We felt good about where the program was headed and we felt good with the recruits, the families. The kids that we had in the locker room now are doing it the right way. A lot of good things.”
Osiecki was hired to replace 14-year head coach John Markell. Until Osiecki’s hiring, Ohio State had only two head coaches over a 34-year span.
The hockey program is overseen by Ohio State senior associate athletic director Chris Schneider, who helped hire Osiecki in 2010. When Schneider hired Osiecki, he said he was looking for the former Wisconsin assistant to lead Ohio State back to prominence at the national level, something Osiecki was unable to do in his short tenure.
“The timing of it relates to the evaluation of the programs we do,” Schneider said. “It came down to a difference in management.”
Schneider said that the university would make an announcement on Tuesday involving the coaching search.
“It is something where everyone is a candidate right now,” Schneider said. “As we continue to look at the program, we will have more information on that tomorrow.”
Recently ousted Denver coach George Gwozdecky could be a candidate for the Ohio State job; he consulted the school on the 2010 search that led to the Buckeyes hiring Osiecki but said at the time he had no interest in the job.
Whoever gets the job will have some limitations that could prevent growth of the program.
Ohio State is forced to share its facility with the men’s and women’s basketball programs that are benefiting from a $19 million project to improve the facilities at Value City Arena. The only benefit the men’s hockey program got from the improvements was a new locker room door. The hockey program also had to bus to its practice facility, cutting into the amount of time coaches could spend with players.
There are long-term plans to build a new hockey facility for the men’s and women’s programs but that has been on the back burner as improvements to the basketball facilities and a new arena for the volleyball, wrestling and gymnastics programs have taken precedence at Ohio State.
Until Ohio State announces its new coach, assistant Steve Rohlik will remain with the program as a point person for current players and recruits.
In the meantime, Osiecki is looking at his possibilities.
“I have to take the next couple of days and let the dust settle a little bit,” Osiecki said. “But obviously I want to stay in it. I’d like to coach. I’m not sure which direction, to be honest. I don’t know which direction to go or what will present itself.”
Ohio State will enter a highly competitive, six-team Big Ten Conference next season. Whoever becomes the new head coach will try to hang onto a rather small but solid recruiting class Osiecki had built for this autumn.
Headlining the class is goaltender Matt Tomkins, a Chicago seventh-round pick, and forward Zach Stepan, a fourth-round pick by Nashville.
Stepan posted on his Twitter account minutes after the announcement, “This can not be happening right now.” The Tweet was later deleted.
Contributing: Todd D. Milewski