Jamie Russell had coaching at Michigan Tech in his mind all along.
Russell, the Cornell assistant coach who worked with the nation’s best defense and penalty kill last season, was introduced as the Huskies’ head coach on Thursday.
A Michigan Tech alumnus who played defense for the Huskies from 1987 to 1989, Russell, 36, replaces Mike Sertich, who retired in March. Russell will be the third head coach in the collegiate careers of next year’s Huskies seniors.
“When I got into coaching nine years ago, I had the goal of being a head coach, dreamed of being a head coach,” Russell said. “And when I imagined it, this is the position that I wanted and I coveted.”
Tech selected Russell from a group of interviewees that was believed to also include Huskies assistant Mark Maroste and Northern Michigan assistant Dave Shyiak.
Russell said he plans to talk to Maroste soon about staying on as an assistant and has talked with others around the country in forming his staff. He said, however, there was no timetable for that search.
A Kamloops, British Columbia, native, Russell spent the last four seasons as an assistant at Cornell, with responsibilities including defense, penalty killing and recruiting.
The Big Red made the Frozen Four last season thanks to the top defense in the country (1.36 goals allowed per game) and the best penalty kill (90 percent of opponents’ chances killed). He also helped recruit goaltender David LeNeveu, a Hobey Baker Award finalist last season.
“You can look at a variety of things that have happened in history, and you can bet that if you’ve got a leader that knows what success is and knows what it takes to cause success, you’ve got a good chance to take anything forward,” Michigan Tech president Curtis Tompkins said. “We’ve got that in Jamie. He’s a proven leader who is coming from success, and we believe is the right guy for Michigan Tech.”
Russell said he plans to “build upon the tradition of the past and take the program forward.”
Patience might be the key for Russell, who was an assistant at Ferris State before going to Cornell. Michigan Tech hasn’t had a winning season since 1993 and hasn’t finished outside the bottom three in the WCHA since 1996.
Russell is the Huskies’ 20th head coach since the program started in 1919, and the third since 2000, when Tim Watters resigned and Sertich took over on an interim basis, then took the job full time.
Michigan Tech athletics director Rick Yeo said the school received inquiries from about 20 candidates. Russell was one of the people the school contacted to gauge interest, but Russell said he would have called Yeo if the school hadn’t initiated the process.
The school had a six-person advisory committee in place to conduct the coaching search.
“When it came down to selecting one, it was a unanimous choice,” Yeo said. “Everybody felt very strongly that Jamie Russell was the right person for this position. Jamie is one of the bright young stars in college hockey today.”
Russell pledged to install an up-tempo style at Tech, which was 10-24-4 last season, including a 7-18-3 WCHA record that landed the Huskies in ninth place.
He said the popular belief that Cornell got as far as it did last season only because of defense was wrong. It was the aggressive, disciplined nature of the Big Red that fueled success, Russell said, and that’s what he wants to bring to the Huskies.
“It was a great bunch of guys to work with there — I’ll miss them,” said Russell, whose tenure at Tech will start June 1. “But (I’m) looking forward to getting to know the players here … and starting a whole new run of Michigan Tech toward the championship.”