Analysis: Sneddon In at UVM

Assuming the reports are true, Kevin Sneddon will become the new coach at Vermont on Wednesday, coming in with a new athletic director, a new president, and a new commitment to hockey in Burlington. It was a highly-coveted job, and it could turn out to be great for Sneddon, Vermont and the ECAC as a whole.

We’ve heard new AD Bob Corran wanted to go young. Well, if that’s the case, he couldn’t have done much better in combining hockey smarts, integrity and youth than the 33-year old Sneddon.

Nevertheless, if you’d asked me a month ago who would be the next Vermont head coach, I never would have imagined Kevin Sneddon being the guy.

Think about the candidates that were out there. Start with: Bill Beaney, coach of nearby D-III Middlebury, winner of five straight national championships in the late ’90s; Mike McShane, a recent two-time national champion at nearby D-III Norwich, and a previous two-time Division I coach; and Roger Grillo, head coach at Brown and previously the long-time assistant at Vermont where he helped recruit the team that made the 1996 Frozen Four.

That was the trio that immediately leaped out at you.

Then there was Tim Bothwell, a former NHL assistant coach, a graduate of Brown, a finalist at Minnesota-Duluth when Corran was AD there (he hired Scott Sandelin), head coach at the University of Calgary when Corran was AD there, and an 11-year veteran of the NHL.

How about Jeff Jackson, a two-time national championship coach — a Jim Montgomery third-period hat trick away from three straight titles — and the man who led the U.S. National Development Program in its beginning years?

For as great a pedigree as Sneddon has — a standout four-year career at Harvard during their glory era, and a freshman on the 1989 national championship team — all of those names have far more experience than he does. And it’s not just the experience, it’s the quality of the experience, and, other than Bothwell, the proven track record of winning on the college level.

I am not saying Sneddon is a bad choice by any means. He’s as classy an individual as there is in college hockey, he’s approachable, polite, and by all measures a solid coach. Coming in with no prior head coaching experience at any level, Sneddon did as good a job as you could expect at a very difficult place to win.

It’s just a surprise, that’s all.

It was probably wrong for any of us to assume Bob Corran was going to take someone with Vermont ties to begin with. So Grillo’s chances were probably no better than any other young head coach within the ECAC. But at least he was on the list of five finalists. The other names apparently were never considered.

One of the biggest mysteries remains Beaney. By all measures, this is another classy, polite, approachable coach, with the added benefit of being a five-time national champion in Division III. All the signals I’ve ever gotten is that Beaney would like to try his hand in Division I eventually, and there was no better time, seemingly, than right now.

Then — in a similar pattern to his flirtations with Cornell (1995) and Harvard (1999) — word came down he apparently pulled himself out of the running. So, we ask, why? Could it be that Corran told him early on that he was looking for a much younger coach, and thus spared Beaney the ignominy of losing out on the position? Or did Beaney simply decide that Middlebury was such a great situation — where he’s making more money than he would at Vermont — that he just couldn’t leave?

I don’t know, and we may never. But you wonder, if Beaney doesn’t get this opening at this time, what Division I job is he ever going to have? And if he did, indeed, pull himself out, did he do so with the understanding that it was his last great chance at a D-I job?

It is not mine, or anyone else’s, right to tell Beaney what to do. But I admit being somewhat disappointed he wasn’t the end result. Personally, I sure would’ve like to see him get a crack at a Division I job and show what he can do. For whatever reason, that didn’t happen.

Jeff Jackson is another mystery. He didn’t even get interviewed, which is hard to believe. He was fired as coach of the national program, and then fired in the middle of last season as coach of Guelph in the OHL. The latter was just hockey reasons, as far as we know, and the national program was a politically motivated move. So we have no reason to believe there are any skeletons in Jackson’s closet that would turn people off from giving him a look. If there is something, I’ve never heard a sniff about it.

Bothwell, who actually turned down the Brown job in 1997, came up just short for the second time for an NCAA job that Corran was hiring for. At Minnesota-Duluth, there was some rumblings that the locals pushed Corran to choose North Dakota assistant Scott Sandelin over Bothwell, who had no NCAA ties since graduation. But, I don’t know if that’s true. If it was, Corran could’ve hired Bothwell here. Instead, just like with Sandelin, he went with the younger coach. In the case of Sandelin, it’s turned out pretty well.

The interviews of current assistant Damian DiGiulian and Team USA under-17 coach David Quinn also would point towards the theory that Corran was looking for a young coach. But how young is young? Jackson is just approaching 50, Grillo is in his early 40s. Bothwell is 48.

But in the end, there’s no reason for Catamount fans to worry. There’s nothing bad you can say about Sneddon. It’s a solid choice and there is every reason to believe, given the great support he’ll have at Vermont, that he will do very well.

Union, on the other hand, will have it tough … again. Their assistants, Andrew Will, 29, and Greg Klym, 34, seem too young and inexperienced for the position. Of course, they are actually somewhat older than Sneddon was when took over at Union in 1998 after being an assistant to Stan Moore.

Would Moore leave Colgate to return to Union now that there is at least some sort of coherent athletic plan in place there? Probably not. If Moore, a North Country native, didn’t even pursue the Clarkson job, it’s hard to believe he’d pursue it at Union.

Perhaps athletic director Val Belmonte can take a page from Bob Corran’s book. Belmonte has ties to the USA Hockey program, and Quinn is a coach in that system. Not a bad choice, if Quinn is interested.

Unfortunately for Union, they won’t get the pick of the litter to choose from as Vermont did. The job is one of the lowest paying in Division I, it’s a non-scholarship school, and it had to be dragged kicking and screaming a few years ago just to give any sort of preferential aid.

One chapter ends, another begins …