When Michigan was knocked out of NCAA tournament contention this past weekend, speculation immediately arose about the future of head coach Red Berenson. Berenson ranks fourth overall in most coaching victories at the NCAA Division I level and has won two national championships at Michigan, but after a streak of 22 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, the Wolverines have missed the big tournament two years in a row.
That's not to say that Berenson is in any sort of danger of losing his job. He's more than earned the right to choose when he is ready to retire. But when Berenson signed a three-year contract extension in June of 2012 keeping him under contract through 2015-2016, the coach said it would likely be his last contract at Michigan. Berenson has also made numerous comments over the years that if he felt his presence was inhibiting the hockey program in any way, he would step aside.
But meeting with the media on Sunday at the end of Michigan's season, Berenson told reporters that despite that he plans to be back as head coach at Michigan next season.
Red Berenson said he'll definitely be back to coach Michigan next season.
— George Sipple (@GeorgeSipple) March 23, 2014
Berenson: "I'm getting closer (to retirement). I can't handle losing. I can't handle a team underachieving ... and this team underachieved."
— Alejandro L. Zúñiga (@the_zuniga) March 23, 2014
While Berenson will turn 75 next winter, health would certainly seem to be no issue. Berenson played in the NHL Winter Classic Alumni Game at Comerica Park this past January, and showed little signs of his advanced age. He certainly impressed some of his current players:
Coach did a conditioning skate with me as he prepares for the alumni game. Found out he's in better shape than I am. He is 74 years old.
— Andrew Sinelli (@asinelli22) December 18, 2013
But the real question is how much Michigan's lack of success on the ice has worn on the ultra-competitive coach. It was a strange season for the Wolverines in that they played almost exactly to expectations, but did so in perhaps the most excruciating way possible.
Here was our prediction for the Wolverines heading into the season:
Michigan should be good enough to separate themselves from the bottom half of the league, but not quite on the level of Wisconsin and Minnesota, and probably on the outside looking in when it comes to the NCAA tournament again.
That's pretty much exactly how I'd eulogize Michigan's season now.. But the way Michigan got there was ugly. The Wolverines jumped out to a 10-2-2 record heading into the Christmas break. There were certainly signs that the Wolverines were not as good as their record indicated, but with their remaining schedule, Michigan seemed nearly assured of returning back to the national tournament. But the Wolverines would end up losing two of five games to a struggling MIchigan State team, and three of five games to a Penn State outfit that only won eight games all season, combined with an inability to get any points on the road at Minnesota and Wisconsin, and the Wolverines slid out of the NCAA tournament picture.
The more important question may be why a program with the tradition and resources of Michigan has found themselves in a position where their roster doesn't suggest a team of NCAA tournament caliber. A combination of some early departures to the pros and some high-profile recruits that were complete busts left the Wolverines incredibly thin this year, especially on defense.
Whether that problem can be fixed with a few years of patience and a new players coming into the program, or can only be fixed with a change behind the bench is a difficult question to answer. In any case, it appears Red Berenson will give it at least one more shot.