Despite being this late in the offseason, Harvard has options, and plenty of them, as it looks to fill its head coaching position. Dipping into someone else’s head coach would be dicey at this time of year, but that probably won’t be necessary.
So much has been said and written about Harvard, the pressure is sure to come from all sides as Bob Scalise looks to make the first hockey hire of his tenure as athletic director.
It’s an important hire to be sure, since the last two Harvard coaches were not alumni and left under varying degrees of disgruntlement from parents and players, past and present. For whatever the reason, it really takes a certain kind of person to deal with all that goes along with the Ivy League environment; especially at Harvard, which is in that holy trio tier of Ivy League schools — with Princeton and Yale — with the added pressure of being expected to win.
This is what makes an alumnus so attractive to these schools — even more so than it does elsewhere in hockey. Very, very few coaches have had a great deal of success as non-Ivy Leaguers at Ivy League schools, especially in the last 30 years. Roger Grillo has done an admirable job at Brown, but only Don Cahoon at Princeton was able to pull it off in any advanced, more sustained, sense. In addition to the force of his personality winning over players, Cahoon, a Boston University graduate, also completely immersed himself in the Princeton culture.
The dilemma for Scalise is that there just aren’t a lot of alumni coaching. Heck, why would you? Princeton and Yale have the same problem. If you were all but assured a six-figure job when you left Harvard, would you bother sticking around the dingy grind of coaching?
Kevin Sneddon, captain of the 1992 team and a freshman on the 1989 national championship squad, is the one of the few Harvard alums with major head and assistant coaching experience at the college level. The problem is, he just left one job last season for Vermont, a situation which held the allure of the program’s impending move to Hockey East. Sneddon and Vermont are building a good thing there. Would he want to leave so quickly? While Vermont’s administration would probably understand if Sneddon wanted to leave, would it be fair to them?
Yale coach Tim Taylor (class of 1962), of course, is another one. He was a finalist in 1999, but pulled himself out of the running. At this stage of his career, it probably isn’t worth it for him to leave Yale, and Harvard may want a younger coach. Former Northeastern coach Ben Smith, a 1968 alum, is an intriguing name. He has had a ton of success since leaving Northeastern to coach the U.S. Women’s National Team that it’s hard to see him coming back to Division I, but you never know.
Otherwise, all you’ve got is former defenseman Sean McCann, a member of the 1994 Frozen Four team, who spent the last couple of seasons on Mazzoleni’s staff as the second assistant. Another popular, smart, standup guy (what Harvard hockey alum isn’t?) but probably not ready for the job.
Everywhere you turn right now, the one name that persists is former Harvard forward Ted Donato. Sources tell us this is more than just a rumor, and Scalise may even be actively courting him, and that Donato is listening. Donato has had a long NHL career, playing just last season for the Bruins. The impending NHL lockout may be his motivation to retire from playing.
But for as smart and well-liked a guy Donato is, he has zero coaching experience. Does Harvard want to bring in someone for on-the-job training with a team as good as it has now? The pressure to find an alumnus should not be so strong that Scalise rolls the dice on Donato. When is the last NHL player that came back to his alma mater with zero head coaching experience and did well? It took Dave Poulin a long time to get adjusted at Notre Dame. This would cause a big splash, but will it work? There are too many other strong college coaching people out there to bother messing around like that.
Another alum we’re hearing about is Steve Dagdigian, who graduated Harvard in 1975 and is currently the head coach at St. Sebastian’s. The name has surfaced largely because he coached next year’s captain, Noah Welch, in prep school, and one of Harvard’s key recruits, Nick Coskren. He’s also been an assistant coach at Clarkson (and, how cute, he played a year of prep hockey in Green Bay.). It would be pretty rare to bring a prep coach into the college ranks, but I’d sooner roll the dice on him than Donato.
So this brings us to the non-alums, of which there are five names that instantly come to mind, all of whom would be very good in the position. Instead of chasing down alumni for the sake of picking alumni, Scalise could not go wrong from selecting among this group:
• Ron Rolston is a no-brainer. He has experience as an assistant at Clarkson, Harvard and Boston College. He’s gotten a reputation as a solid recruiter and a winner, as well as a personable guy. His name has been in the running for all sorts of positions in recent years, and by all accounts he is ready to be a head coach. The problem is, USHR.com reports that Rolston is one of three finalists for a head coaching opening at the U.S. National Team Development Program. Harvard would have to act quickly, something it didn’t do last time.
• Stan Moore is another no-brainer. Where else can you find a two-time Coach of the Year — the last coming as recently as last season — who currently doesn’t have a head coaching job? He is an intelligent, well-spoken guy who gets the most out of his players. He’s never been in an Ivy League situation, but he has been in some difficult situations, and came through better than most people could reasonably expect.
• Gene Reilly is a name that for some reason hasn’t been high on many people’s lists. With the non-alum/assistant-coach focus being on Rolston, Reilly has been overlooked by many. But he’s on the Harvard staff now and is known as an honest straight shooter with the respect of the players. He was very successful in junior hockey, coached three years on Maine’s staff — part of the time as interim head coach — and even had a stint in the NHL before landing with Harvard as an assistant this past season.
• Dave Peters. Dartmouth’s top assistant was a finalist for the Princeton opening earlier this summer. He has proven to be an excellent recruiter at Dartmouth, and is another honest stand-up guy who would get along very well with Harvard’s players.
• Bill Gilligan. Another finalist for the Princeton job, he recently stepped down from his position as top assistant at Massachusetts to get away from the recruiting grind and spend more time with his family. A former All-America forward at Brown, he coached successfully in Switzerland and Austria for years before returning to the U.S. and landing at UMass. He has been integral to the rise of UMass’ program.
One name apparently not in the running is current Union head coach Nate Leaman, a former member of Mazzoleni’s staff. Leaman said last week he will not pursue the job, and is excited about the momentum he has going in Schenectady.
Two other names surfaced the last time the Harvard position was open, St. Lawrence’s Joe Marsh and Middlebury’s Bill Beaney.
We’ve pretty much given up on Beaney. He’s been considered for just about every ECAC opening for the last 10 years, and if he hasn’t taken one by now, it probably won’t ever happen. He’d do a good job, but he has a great situation at Middlebury, and makes more money than he can anywhere else.
Marsh was Harvard’s choice last time around, and for good reason — he’s a top tier coach and an even greater guy. The New Hampshire grad and native of Beverly, Mass., ultimately turned it down. His kids are grown now, so moving might be easier, but St. Lawrence treats him so well, he may have no interest in leaving.
Finally, some Western coach could sweep in and surprise everyone. There so many qualified people in the East that you figure this won’t happen, but then again, no one expected Guy Gadowsky to go to Princeton, or Mark Mazzoleni to go to Harvard, either.