Jamie Russell is getting a taste of what it’s like to be a head coach.
He flew into Houghton, Mich., on Wednesday to be introduced as the 20th hockey coach in Michigan Tech’s history at a news conference on Thursday. On Friday, he met with the school’s board of control.
In between, he’s tried to meet with the Huskies players who are still around taking final exams and made trips to three area radio stations to do interviews.
Such is the life of a head coach — always in demand.
“It has been busy,” Russell said, “but that’s a good thing.”
Russell spoke with USCHO on Friday afternoon. Here are excerpts from that conversation:
USCHO: You said in being introduced as the head coach that this is a job you coveted. Why?
Russell: I’m very proud to be an alumnus of Michigan Tech. I had a great experience here as a student athlete. Getting into coaching and getting started, I set a goal for myself to be a head coach, and as I said, Michigan Tech is the place that I wanted to go. I have very strong ties to the area, my wife is from the area. I think all the resources are in place for Michigan Tech to be successful. It was difficult for me to see the program struggling a little bit. It’s a good combination of the academics and the facility here is beautiful — the Peter Grant Hockey Educational Center is among the top in the country. And I think being in the WCHA, I think there’s no question it’s the elite league in the country, proven with five teams in last year’s NCAA tournament.
USCHO: There’s obviously a lot of work for you at Tech. Where do you start?
Russell: It’s a big challenge, and [I’m] looking forward to that challenge. Recruiting is an area that we have to get top-caliber players into Michigan Tech to be successful. We have to start with a work ethic and character and discipline, letting talented players be successful and getting everyone on the same page in terms of playing a system — everybody buying into the system and committed to it.
USCHO: What kind of system do you want that to be?
Russell: I’ve been meeting with the players here a little bit and getting to know them, getting their input a little bit. I certainly have my ideas. Once I get a staff in place, I’ll sit down with them. I’d like to play an aggressive, up-tempo game. I’m not a big proponent of the trap. I want the John MacInnes Ice Arena to be a very difficult place to play when teams make the road trip up here. Specialty teams in college hockey is very important — I think you have to have a good penalty kill and be successful on the power play. If you do those things, I think those are good ingredients for you to be successful as a program.
USCHO: Some elements of the Michigan Tech hockey alumni base have been splintered in recent years. Do you hope to bring everyone back together?
— Jamie Russell
Russell: I think bringing everybody together, and everybody being positive and supportive is very important. Tech alumni have been very loyal to the program. I think everybody wants to see the program be successful and get back into the national spotlight.
USCHO: As you’re talking to some players before they leave for summer, what are you trying to instill in them over the break?
Russell: It’s a big summer for every member of the team. For players that maybe didn’t have the year that they wanted, a new coach coming in is a clean slate, a new opportunity. For established players that did well, they need to reprove themselves to a certain extent. Any time a new coach comes in, there’s changes made. I think we have to set the groundwork with a very good summer of being committed and dedicated to being in the best shape they can be.
USCHO: What do you think you’ll take most from your background as an assistant coach that will help you as a head coach?
Russell: I was fortunate to work with two very good coaches and two very good people in Bob Daniels and Mike Schafer. [They were] two very different schools — Ferris State being mostly Division II sports with Division I hockey, similar to Michigan Tech. Academics, Ferris has some very unique programs, optometry and pharmacy, and Cornell being an Ivy League school, there’s different academic requirements. There were scholarships at Ferris; it was financial aid at Cornell. In terms of working with those two coaches, I can take a little bit from each guy I worked with and each experience I had, mix that with my own as well as the other members of the coaching staff, and put together a program and a style of play and a philosophy that’ll bring Tech back to the forefront.
USCHO: Do you have a timetable in mind of what progress you’d like to see by what point?
Russell: No, I don’t think I want to put — people have asked me to put a certain number of wins that you’d like to have. I’m very against doing that because what it can do is it can put a ceiling as to how high your expectations are. I think everybody should have the goal of being as successful as they can and everybody should be working toward winning a national championship every year.
USCHO: Do you anticipate any major changes to the program in the next couple of years?
Russell: Changing the record is probably going to be the most major change that I can foresee.
USCHO: At your news conference, you said you weren’t in a hurry to complete a coaching staff. There have been rumors that one of the conditions on the new coach was that assistant Mark Maroste (a finalist for the head coaching job) be retained. Can you address those issues?
Russell: In terms of a timetable, I’d like to have a coaching staff in place as quickly as possible. That being said, I’d like to take my time and make sure the right people are in place. With regard to Mark, I’ve known Mark for a long time. I’ve known him on a personal level — I don’t know him that much as a coach, I don’t know him that much as a recruiter. But I’m going to be sitting down and talking to him, getting to know him. I think there is something to be said for continuity in the program. It’s been difficult — the senior class at Tech, this is their third head coach. So it’s been difficult on those players and they’ve had to deal with a lot in terms of turnover of coaches. We’ll sit down and talk about things and see where they go.