Of the many shakeups in the ECAC this season, the most complex and unorthodox may be at Colgate. Less than three weeks before the start of the 2003-04 season, associate coach Stan Moore grabbed the head coaching position thanks to an opening of the university’s Director of Athletics. Now the school’s Board of Trustees has granted the program athletic scholarships for the upcoming year, leaving Union and the Ivies as the only schools in the ECAC without such packages.
It’s a stark change for Colgate, a strong but small institution of 2,800 students in the tiny hamlet of Hamilton, N.Y. (pop. 3,800), situated in a vast open triangle between a number of major upstate New York cities, trying to keep up in Division I.
In the middle of all of these changes stands Don Vaughan, Colgate hockey’s former coach and currently the school’s interim AD. Vaughan took the head coaching position in 1992 and accumulated 179 wins and a NCAA appearance in 11 years with the club. Vaughan proved himself as skilled in taking control of his athletes, so when a search committee failed to find a replacement for departed AD Mark Murphy, Vaughan stepped up to take control of the university’s entire athletic program.
“It’s not something that I was actively pursuing,” said Vaughan. “But I think based on my experience of having been here for 11 years and my work with a sub-group of the strategic planning committee, I think [President Rebecca Chopp] felt comfortable in my ability to do the job. Colgate’s been very, very good to me. I believe in this school, I believe in its mission, and I felt it was the right thing to do.”
While three other ECAC schools (Clarkson, Union, and Vermont) made coaching changes in the off-season, Colgate’s was by far the latest and least expected. Vaughan called a team meeting less than three weeks before the opening face-off, and while most of the players expected to be berated for weekend tomfoolery, they were instead shocked to hear that the man whom they expected to pace behind them during the year would instead be watching from the press box.
“The most difficult part of all of this was when I had to go into the locker room and tell my team that I was going to give up coaching for the year,” Vaughan conceded. “If I had more time to think about it, I probably would have convinced myself that I could do both, but clearly I’ve made the right decision.”
Filling Vaughan’s shoes is Stan Moore, a member of the Raider coaching staff for nine of the last eleven years and a former ECAC Coach of the Year with Union in 1997. Moore’s experience, past success, and understanding of the team eased Vaughan’s temporary move to Colgate’s administrative side.
“The decision was made easier knowing that I had Stan and [assistant coach] Andrew Dickson there,” said Vaughan. “Clearly there can only be one head coach, and that’s what I told the team when I met with them. I’ve really given the reigns over to Stan and trusted that he’ll do a great job.”
With the possibly awkward situation of handing his friend the role of interim coach, Vaughan assured Moore that the team was Moore’s to lead. That said, the interim AD expects that the style in which Colgate plays will not change despite its new leader.
“There’s a lot of Stan Moore in this program too,” said Vaughan. “The guys know Stan as well as they know me. He’ll coach differently because he has to. You can’t try to be someone else. Stan has to be Stan. In terms of the systems, Stan and I worked on that together. A lot of it is Stan’s and a lot of it is mine, but it’s still ‘Colgate Hockey’.”
Of course, the real intrigue of this move will begin at the end of the season, when all is expected to return to its former state. The success of the 2003-04 team may leave Colgate fans with questions about their team’s past and future.
“If the team has a good year, people might think, ‘Well, why do they need Coach Vaughan?'” said Vaughan. “And if they have a bad year they might think, ‘Where were you?’ But I think that program will still have a lot of my personality in it, and I’m confident that going back into the program will be an easy transition.”
It is clear, however, that Vaughan expects to be patrolling the bench once again next season. New candidates for the permanent AD position are set to be interviewed beginning in December, and Vaughan is excited to get back to what he loves in 2004-05.
“It’s been really difficult to sit around and watch,” said Vaughan. “I have a lot to keep me busy and occupied, but I really do miss it. At this point I anticipate that the position is just an interim position, and I’ll be coaching next year.”
Vaughan will be entering new waters in his next year at the Raiders’ helm, as Colgate will welcome scholarship athletes for the first time in the institution’s history. The Board of Trustees voted to spread 31 scholarships over various sports including soccer, basketball, lacrosse, and ice hockey, which will receive less than but close to the NCAA limit of 18 scholarships over four years.
The decision flies in the face of an ideological principle that previously held Colgate University to offering only need-based financial aid packages. This kept Raider teams from attracting athletes with little or no financial problems. Colgate hockey also struggled in losing players to the Ivy League teams in their own league, for while the Raiders attempted to attract the same type of student-athlete to their program, they often failed to compete with the name recognition that accompanies schools such as Harvard, Brown, and Yale.
“The philosophical change creates most of the contention on campus, and you can understand that,” explained Vaughan. “But I think this is a very good move for Colgate. The need-based program wasn’t working, and we had to find a way to make our teams more competitive while continuing to achieve the mission of the university in terms of attracting quality students.”
With the opportunity to draw blue-chip athletes from a wider pool, Vaughan hopes that Colgate can achieve a new level of consistency by adding one or two quality players every year. He recognizes, however, that the Raiders should not expect to suddenly become an NCAA powerhouse.
“We’re still really in a catch-up mode,” assessed Vaughan. “I don’t think we’re going to make a significant jump to the top of the national scene, but over time we should be able to be more consistently competitive within the ECAC. The opportunity to challenge for home ice regularly and have a chance to win the ECAC tournament and reach the NCAA tournament excites me.”
After a strong start to the 2003-04 season, including a victory over defending CCHA champion Ferris State, Colgate hockey appears to be none-the-worse for all of its changes. And now thanks to an alteration in the university’s policies, the future of the program looks even brighter. Vaughan and all Raider fans hope that Colgate will be able to ride through the team’s initial turmoil to arrive at the top of the ever-changing ECAC heap.