No Shortage of Candidates at Vermont

The names keep pouring in, and Bob Corran has his hands full. Though, he’s quick to say, it’s a great problem to have.

(see separate Q&A with Corran)

The new Vermont athletic director was immediately saddled with two pressing matters — finding a new coach for two of the school’s signature sports, women’s basketball and men’s ice hockey. And though he doesn’t begin officially working out of Burlington until June 16, Corran is wasting no time getting the ball rolling.

“We know we’re going to have good quality people,” said Corran. “I think they’re going to be real excited about the potential the program has. It’s a case of a coach coming into a program with a solid foundation, there’s a tremendous history and tradition, and really good relationships with the alumni. It’s a good situation to come into.”

Corran expects to do interviews after arriving on campus June 16, though may do some earlier. He hopes to have a coach named by the end of June.

Talk of “expanding resources” for hockey has made the job even more attractive than it would normally be.

When Mike Gilligan announced he was stepping down after 19 years on the job, four immediate names popped into mind, because of their ties to the area and/or the school itself: current assistant coach Damian DiGiulian, former assistant and current Brown head coach Roger Grillo, and a pair of head coaches at nearby Division III powerhouses, Mike McShane of Norwich and Bill Beaney of Middlebury.

Beaney, who won five consecutive national championships at Middlebury during the ’90s, hasn’t explicitly stated interest in the job, though he was a finalist for the 1995 opening at Cornell and in the mix for the 1999 opening at Harvard before taking himself out of the running each time. And Beaney, who took a one-year hiatus from Middlebury last season, has expressed interest in a Division I job when “the time was right.”

McShane, who has previous Division I experience at Providence and St. Lawrence, said to the Burlington Free Press, “Obviously, I’d have some interest, but I want to stress I’m really happy with where I am. I really want to make that clear.”

Grillo, who was a Vermont assistant when it went to the Frozen Four in 1996, is in a tricky spot, as the current coach at ECAC rival Brown.

“At this point, I really can’t comment,” Grillo said. “Obviously I have strong ties to Vermont, and I had great times there. … Obviously it’s a place I hold dear in my heart. My seven years there were great, but right now, I have a job to do at Brown.”

Corran said that having strong ties to Vermont is good, but not a necessity.

“I really don’t know if that provides any additional support for a candidate,” Corran said. “We’re more interested in looking at the total package. … How does a person fit within the institution? Knowing what the objectives are for the program, what we’re trying to do for the program, the type of student athlete Vermont is recruiting, what their traditional recruiting areas have been — but having said that, it does not lead us away from people who may be able to get us into areas that we haven’t traditionally recruited, because that in itself can be very positive.”

Beyond that core, dozens of other names kept cropping up, and there’s hardly an assistant coach in the East without at least passing interest. Among the more intriguing names USCHO has confirmed are former Clarkson coach Mark Morris, who was fired last November after 15 years, and former Lake Superior coach Jeff Jackson. Jackson, a two-time national champion with the Lakers, left Lake Superior after the 1996 season to head up the National Junior Development Program, but was fired after four seasons. He then coached the Guelph Storm of the Ontario (Major Junior) League for more than two years before his firing in the middle of last season.

A Division I opening will always attract a fair amount of attention, but the Vermont situation is piquing the interest of a much larger, and more prominent, group of names. Vermont is the only full-fledged Division I scholarship school in the ECAC, and, more importantly, its new president and Corran have pledged to devote more resources to the program. Gilligan was one of the lowest paid coaches in the ECAC, and that will change, Corran said.

“We’ve got to get coaches salaries to a level that’s more competitive within the conference and more competitive nationally,” Corran said. “That is tangible evidence that there is a commitment to do things the right way.”

There’s also talk of a new state-of-the-art building to replace Gutterson Fieldhouse, and Gilligan is remaining on staff to spearhead the effort there. He will investigate it from a technical aspect, and try to raise funds and rally support in the community.

Meanwhile, the names keep coming in.

It’s a delicate situation for current Division I head coaches, but some may be looking to go to a more prominent program. One name that’s been mentioned is current Union coach Kevin Sneddon.

“I’m sure there are going to be a lot of head coaches interested in exploring that,” said Sneddon. “It’s a premier job in the ECAC and in the NCAA, and I’d be shocked if it didn’t go to a head coach; and that’s nothing against some of the assistant coaches who will be candidates. I would just expect that there would be enough interest from head coaches.

“I’m just going to wait it out and see. If someone wanted to talk to me about it, I’d probably want to explore it.”

Some prominent assistants confirmed to have applied for the job are Ohio State’s Casey Jones, a Cornell graduate (1990) who has been an assistant at Clarkson and Cornell; and Boston College’s Ron Rolston, who was a finalist at Clarkson earlier this offseason and has been an assistant at Clarkson and Harvard.

“[Jones is] the guy that I hope they’ll look at as being one of the better [candidates] among the assistant coaches out there,” said Ohio State head coach John Markell. “Casey came here to a nontraditional hockey program, and he got it up to the point where it can compete with everyone else. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t want to lose him — but he’s definitely a great candidate for this.”

Markell said that Jones is “the type of candidate that you know if he’s applying, that he really wants the position.” Jones, for example, did not put his name in at Michigan Tech this summer or Miami in 1999, but was a finalist for the Bowling Green job last year. And Markell thinks that, with Jones’ experience recruiting at Cornell and Clarkson, Vermont would be a good fit.

“Their hotbeds are in the Quebec-Ontario range, and he’s well-experienced there,” Markell said. “When he was at Clarkson, he helped build them into a national contender, and he’s been with me eight years and done great things for this program. “And [Vermont] is the type of school that can go national [in recruiting], and he’s done that, too. We’ve got three All-Americans here and three first-rounders.”

Rolston has plenty of credentials too.

“It’s a great job. It has a lot of potential, and I know that there will be numerous people, both assistants and head coaches, that are going to apply,” Rolston said. “This is really going to bring out some big names in terms of candidates.”

Other assistants have explicity stated they will not apply. That includes former LSSU head coach Scott Borek, now an assistant at New Hampshire, and Mark Dennehy, a current assistant at Massachusetts.

“Although, I feel I could make the move to head coach successfully, I also feel that there are things I can still learn as an assistant,” said Dennehy, who was the head coach at Fairfield for one season. “Also, there
are more things to do here at UMass. More importantly, my wife and I are expecting our first child June 4th, which means any day now. We are so busy preparing for that there is no room in our lives for a move of that magnitude.”

With so many high-quality candidates, Corran can afford to be choosy. He said there is no preconceived notion of who the best candidate will be, but there are some fundamental attributes he is looking for.

“We haven’t built the perfect coach,” Corran said. “There are certainly quality characterisitics you’re looking for: head coaching experience, a breadth of experience … we want someone that has a really solid coaching record, the right kind of values, the understanding that there’s an academic component to what their role with be.

“I don’t know if it helps per se [to come from a strong academic school]; it certainly deosn’t hurt. Because you can have those values without actually having been at that particular school. But that philosophy, that value, that understanding of the role of student athletes and the importance that the University of Vermont places on academic performance, that is going to be important.”

Corran comes to Vermont from Minnesota-Duluth, where he chose former North Dakota assistant Scott Sandelin as the successor to Mike Sertich. Previously, he was also at the University of Calgary, where former Brown and NHL defenseman Tim Bothwell was head coach. Bothwell was a finalist for the Brown opening in 1997, which went to Grillo. There is no indication whether Bothwell or Sandelin have interest in the Vermont job.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of head coaches applying for that job, but [Corran] also knows that Scott Sandelin was an assistant coach previously, and here he is doing a good job as a head coach,” said Markell. “And from talking to Bob a little bit, they’re going to open [the search] up. It’s going to be wide-open. … They’re going to get the best candidates available. For this job, everyone is going to be a good candidate. This is a premier job. It’s natural that a lot of top coaches are going to be applying for it.”

(Jon Paul Morosi contributed to this report.)