Craig Barnett, the only coach at Findlay since the program started eight years ago, has resigned to take a position as head coach and assistant athletic director in charge of hockey operations at [nl]Lake Forest Academy, a prep school in Illinois.
Barnett informed his team on Tuesday he was looking at different opportunities. He met for the last time with [nl]Lake Forest officials on Thursday, and handed in his resignation this morning.
Barnett cited family concerns as the main reason for the move.
“I feel that the opportunity [at [nl]Lake Forest] is going to be a great improvement in my family’s quality of life,” Barnett said. “In terms of not having the Division I recruiting pressures and so forth … it’s an opportunity for us both as a family, personally, professionally — an opportunity that I think we have to take.”
The [nl]Lake Forest position opened late in the summer after former Northeastern assistant Paul Cannata decided to forego the opportunity he accepted last March and become head coach at Milton (Conn.) Prep instead. That left Lake Forest, which is trying to upgrade its hockey program, in a lurch. Now, Findlay is in a similar bind.
“The only reason I considered it at this late stage of the game is because we have Pat Ford as my assistant and he’s very capable of taking over the reigns,” Barnett said.
Barnett said the naming of Ford as his replacement is not yet official, but that he assumed it would happen soon, and that he recommends him for the job.
Ford, a former assistant under Jeff Sauer at Wisconsin, was a finalist for two Division I openings in the past year — the one at Wisconsin last summer, and the recent one at fledgling Robert Morris.
“I care very deeply about the Findlay hockey program,” Barnett said. “I was given the opportunity to start it eight years ago, so I’m it. And I would not do anything to jeopardize our program.
“So with the combination of Pat Ford on staff and this opportunity at [nl]Lake Forest Academy … I went and visited the academy. For all the coaches out there who look for a dream job, I found it. From people who run it, to the headmaster, to the athletic director, to everyone I met, it’s a giant up there.”
Barnett dismissed some wild rumors that he was leaving because the school was considering dropping the hockey program, or at least moving out of Division I.
“It’s typical stuff,” he said. “We went through a change in presidents, a change in the board of trustees and change scares people. … I think that made some people nervous. In terms of our program, I hope that would not be the case because I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into it.
“When you look at some of the institutions and their programs — Iona, Fairfield — the biggest difference is, at Findlay, there’s a rink on campus. … So I would hope nothing here would happen.
Barnett said it’s always possible something would happen, but he doesn’t foresee it.
“I don’t think [Iona’s] Frank Bretti or [Fairfield’s] Jim Hunt could sit here a year ago and say I think [their program] is in trouble,” Barnett said. “I don’t think they had any inclination at all.
“We don’t think we’re in trouble. The administration made a commitment to the program, built a rink on campus, made a big commitment to the CHA. I would hope the new administration would live up to that.”
Regardless, those concerns had nothing to do with Barnett’s decision, he said.
“A lot of people are going to think I’m a typical [crazy] goalie,” he said. “But at this stage of my life, with a 3-month old and three children, I have an opportunity to go and improve our quality of life, be at home a little more.
“I showed my wife my [[nl]Lake Forest] schedule. She asked for the away schedule, and I said ‘It’s already included.’ I understand how great it is being one of 58 [Division I coaches], but with a third child being born, this is the right decision for me.”
A decision made easier knowing the program is in good shape.
“It’s a tough decision given that we’re ready to take a step,” Barnett said. “We went through some tough times last year, where we lost some guys for different types of team violations. But we’ve got ourselves set to make some noise.
“I think they have things in place here to make a drastic improvement in the hockey program.
“The other thing is, I’m very excited that Pat Ford has an opportunity to be a head coach.”
Telling athletic director Steve Rackley, and then the players, was the toughest part.
“Steve has been very supportive. He’s a very dear friend,” Barnett said. “I kept him in the loop.
“I hope the players understand. In reality, I don’t know if they can totally understand until they have a family of their own with three children. I hope they know I put a lot of thought and time into it, and they’re in great hands. Pat has earned a lot of respect.”
Now Barnett is looking forward to making his stamp at [nl]Lake Forest.
“Their board of trustees is sensitive to their high academic standards. But at the same time, they decided to make a commitment to the hockey program, to bring that up to the same level as their academics,” Barnett said. “It’s in a very affluent area, there’s an abundance of hockey players. Our immediate goal is to have the top Illinois players that are leaving for New England to come look at [nl]Lake Forest now.”