An exciting weekend of conference tournament playoff championships, and the selection of the field for this year's NCAA Tournament buried the fact that one of the most prestigious jobs in college hockey is now vacant. Wisconsin wasted no time by firing head coach Mike Eaves less than 12 hours after the Badgers' season ended with a loss in the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday.
Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said a national search would begin immediately for Eaves' replacement(no AD has ever announced local search for a coaching replacement). The Badgers will likely want to move quickly to get a new head coach in place to begin rebuilding a program that has been in shambles the past two seasons.
The good news for the Badgers is that they have an incredible diaspora of alumni working in coaching these days. Hiring an alum isn't a necessity, but is certainly always a plus, and there is a very deep of pool for them to choose from.
Here is a look at six coaches that could be under consideration to replace Mike Eaves.
1. Mark Osiecki
Current job: Assistant Coach, Rockford IceHogs(AHL)
Wisconsin's success under Mike Eaves, and their eventual downfall, corresponds very strongly to Osiecki's arrival as an assistant at Wisconsin, and with his departure to become head coach at Ohio State. Osiecki is a strong identifier of talent and recruiter, and was given much of the credit for Wisconsin's prolific ability to churn out NHL-caliber defensemen in the mid-aughts. His tenure at Ohio State was short, and ended under cloudy circumstances, but many felt Osiecki had the Buckeyes right on the cusp of turning their program around with some of the talent he had lined up in Columbus.
Barry Alvarez likely doesn't know the difference, but Osiecki is likely to be the favorite of the hockey people whispering in his ear about which direction the program should go.
2. Don Granato
Current job: Head coach, US NTDP Program
The last time the Wisconsin head coaching position was open, they needed to replace a coach with an excellent career who had lost his fastball in recent years. They chose to go with a coach in his late-40s with a bevy of pro coaching experience who had spent the past few seasons with the US NTDP program, gaining contacts with some of the country's elite players. Sound familiar?
Granato spent years as an AHL head coach, and had some brief stints as an assistant at the NHL level. He's now in his fifth year as a head coach with the US NTDP team(Coaches alternate between the U17 and U18 teams each year so they coach the same group of kids for two years). He also has some experience coaching at the USHL level, but that was nearly 20 years ago.
Of the field, Granato might be the candidate with the least downside.
Incidentally, his older brother Tony Granato has been suggested as a potential candidate by some. Tony's resume is more impressive at the pro level--he's been an NHL head coach--but he has no college or junior hockey coaching experience, and seems unlikely to leave the pro ranks.
3. George Gwozdecky
Current job: Head coach, Valor Christian(Colorado HS)
No other candidate has the resume at the collegiate level that Gwozdecky has. After turning around Miami's program in the early '90s, Gwozdecky became the head coach at Denver. In 19 seasons at Denver, Gwoz won 20+ games 16 times, including his final 12 seasons. He won three regular season titles, and four playoff titles in the glory days of the old WCHA. He took the Pioneers to 12 NCAA Tournament appearances, and national titles in 2004 and 2005, the last time a team has won back-to-back titles.
Though he still looks fantastic for his age, Gwozdecky would be 63 years old before he coached his first game with the Badgers. Gwozdecky could maybe provide a quick turnaround, but the odds of him being around for anything other than that seem slim. Gwozdecky, despite his enormous success at Denver, was fired by the Pioneers after a dispute with the Denver athletic department about him deserving a raise. Could his ego co-exist with an athletic director with an ego of his own, and at a school where the hockey program is, at best, a distant, distant third on the priority list?
4. Steve Rohlik
Current job: Head coach, Ohio State
Rohlik was a long-time assistant at Minnesota Duluth, helping recruit the classes that would eventually lead the Bulldogs to a national title in 2011. He left Duluth in 2009 to be associate head coach at Ohio State under former Badger teammate Mark Osiecki, and was given the reins to the program after Osiecki was fired in 2013.
Rohlik hasn't had tremendous success as the head coach at Ohio State, but with a big freshman class this season, the Buckeyes showed improvement throughout the season, and looked like they could be a year or two away from turning things around.
5. Mark Johnson
Current job: Head coach, University of Wisconsin women
Johnson was an assistant coach with the Wisconsin men's team and up for the head coaching position in 2002 when Mike Eaves was hired. Instead, Johnson took over the Wisconsin women's program and turned them into one of the premier programs in women's college hockey. Johnson has won four national titles, and would have many, many more if not for their arch-nemesis in Minnesota.
There's no doubt he's a great coach. But Johnson hasn't coached in the men's game for over a decade. At 58, he's an older candidate too. And would he even want the job? He's got a great thing going on across the street at LaBahn bringing in the best female players in the world and dominating in the women's game.
6. Scott Owens
Current job: Head coach/GM Sioux Falls Stampede(USHL)
The only non-alum on the list, but Owens is a native of Madison and spent a year as an assistant at Wisconsin, so he's got some connection to the community. Owens was the coach at Colorado College for 15 seasons. He had a .579 winning percentage in his time there, including seven trips to the NCAA Tournament and one Frozen Four appearance. He was fired by Colorado College after the 2013-2014 season after three straight missed tournaments, including a 7-24-6 in his last year. But Colorado College is a tough school to recruit to, and have success at, as his successor is currently showing. Last May, the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL hired Owens, and they've been a .500 team this year, in a very small sample size.
The pros in hiring Owens would be his immense head coaching experience at the college level. Working against him is his age at 60. He's likely not a long-term hire, if he is the choice, and the end of his tenure at Colorado College likely raises some red flags. Owens wouldn't be a home run hire, but if Wisconsin strikes out on a couple other candidates, he's got a pretty impressive resume for a fallback candidate.