For new head coaches, first season often brings only marginal improvement

When the 2014-15 Division I men’s season begins this coming weekend, four head coaches will be behind the bench in a new place, each with an expectation of improvement.

You may have heard that success doesn’t happen overnight. In college hockey, that seems to apply for the first season after a coaching change.

Between 1994 and 2013, there were 96 offseason coaching changes for Division I college hockey teams. (We’re not counting coaching changes that happened in the middle of a season because the comparisons between one year and the next become imprecise.)

In the cases where the coaching change was as a result of poor performance, all of the programs surely wanted to see signs of improvement right away, and some did. Massachusetts-Lowell went from five wins in 2010-11 to 24 and an NCAA tournament spot in Norm Bazin’s debut season of 2011-12.

But not all coaching changes yield immediate results, at least not the kind that might be measured as a smashing success.

On average, those 96 coaching changes produced a winning percentage improvement of .027 in the first season. The mean improvement was .018.

Here they are, sorted with the greatest one-season improvements at the top:

Dashboard 1

This season, we’ll see whether Mike Haviland (Colorado College), David Berard (Holy Cross), Damon Whitten (Lake Superior State) and Ron Fogarty (Princeton) can turn teams with losing records into winners.

The challenge may be greatest at Princeton (a .188 winning percentage last season) and Colorado College (.270).

Of the 18 times in the last 20 years that a team made a coaching change the season after finishing with a winning percentage under .300, that team followed with a winning season only twice. Once was the aforementioned 2011-12 Lowell team, and the other was last season, when Matt Thomas took Alaska-Anchorage from 4-25-7 to 18-16-4.

If it does happen for a third consecutive season, it will certainly be unexpected. Both Princeton and Colorado College were picked for last in their respective leagues.