Utica head coach Gary Heenan resigned Monday to become an assistant coach at Division I Union.
Heenan started the Utica program four years ago, and has continually stressed to his players the importance of having goals. His personal career goals included progressing to the Division I coaching ranks, and perhaps into the NHL someday, so Utica knew this day would eventually come.
“This is a chance to get into a D-I program, and a good one,” said Heenan. “I can learn a lot from [Union head coach] Nate Leaman. For me, this is a logical step. Nate was looking for someone who has done a lot of community work, and team building stuff, and that has always been a key focus of mine here at Utica.”
The Pioneers captured the ECAC West regular season title last season, and just missed earning an NCAA bid, losing to Manhattanville in the league championship game. Heenan compiled a 52-40-11 record while at Utica.
Each of the last four off seasons, Heenan has interviewed for various Division I assistant coaching positions.
“I have been offered a Division I job before, but either it was too early or not the right situation. I feel that now is the right time to walk away [from Utica], knowing that the foundation is set for the future. I told the players that they need to take the reigns and keep this thing going. They will need to believe in the new coach, and roll with the direction he wants to take the program.”
The search process for the new head coach has already commenced, and is expected to take four to six weeks to complete. Between eight and ten phone calls have been received from interested candidates, and Utica is expecting to receive perhaps thirty applications for the opening.
“It’s official today. We go through a regular process,” Utica athletic director Jim Spartano told the Utica Observer Dispatch. “We have to advertise in the NCAA News. We had some people call about the position.”
Leaman told the Schenectady Daily Gazette that Heenan will be a great fit and complimented his new assistant on his ability to build a program from the ground up. “He started a program basically from scratch,” Leaman said. “Within four years, he took them to the top of the league. That’s not an easy thing to do.”
The Utica program has become known around the ranks of Division III college hockey for producing stellar assistant coaches. Four of Heenan’s former assistants are currently on the coaching staffs at other schools: Dennis [nl]Williams (head coach — Neumann), Alex Todd (head coach — Castleton State), Scott MacDonald (assistant coach — RIT), and Matt Lindsay (assistant coach — Hobart).
“I think some of them will be interested in this job,” said Heenan. “They are all on good paths and happy where they are now. But this is a dream job at Utica, supported by an outstanding community and college. So I think some of my former assistants might want to come back.”