Tom Anastos’ career as head coach at Michigan State finally, mercifully, came to an end on Tuesday. It was a resignation that was long, long overdue and yet, in some ways, a bit of a surprise.
Anastos’ record at Michigan State was terrible. It was beyond terrible. Michigan State went from middling with the occasional run of success under Rick Comley to one of the worst programs in the country.
But that wasn’t necessarily anything new. Anastos was a controversial hire when he was hired from his job as CCHA commissioner in 2011, but I still think it was a hire that could have worked. Obviously it did not, and obviously it would not have in the future. I thought if Michigan State was going to make a change at head coach, it would have come last year, or the year prior, when it had become the clear that the experiment was a failure.
That his decision to step down comes now is interesting timing. It could be perfect for Anastos personally. USA Hockey’s executive director position is set to open up in August. There has never been any question about Anastos’ skills as an administrator, and with his daughter just graduating as a star player for Boston College, Anastos brings some credibility on the women’s side of the game that uh.....may be beneficial to USA Hockey from a PR standpoint.
Stepping down this year comes at a very awkward time for Michigan State though, and that is putting it very mildly. At this point, it seems like there is a very real possibility that whoever is hired as the next head hockey coach at Michigan State could be working for a different boss before they coach their first game.
Regardless, Michigan State is a program with a strong tradition and history. There are certainly challenges to coaching there in 2017, with the level of support Michigan State gives to programs that aren’t football or men’s basketball. But it’s also place with enough positives going for it that it is a place that the right coach could win. Let’s hope they find him this time, because college hockey as a whole would be better with a strong Michigan State team.
I have no idea which way Michigan State’s search will go. And if their last coaching search was any indication, don’t even bother trying to guess. But here are a few names that jumped out to me as possibilities for the job.
You can’t do much better than a guy with multiple national championships at the collegiate level, connections to the program, and what I’m assuming is an aggressively reasonable buyout at the Colorado high school he’s currently coaching at.
The big downside here is that Gwozdecky will turn 64 in July. Gwozdecky is about as young of a 64-year-old as you’re going to find, but even in a best-case scenario, he’s not a long-term solution. He could provide some stability in the short-term and move the program in the right direction for the next guy though. But again, at 64, is that really a project he wants to undertake when he’s already got a pretty comfortable position out in Colorado?
Cole the name a lot of Michigan State fans wanted hired when Mark Hollis hired Anastos out of nowhere in 2011. There were rumors Cole wasn’t pleased with the decision—and yeah, losing out a great job to a guy with almost no qualifications has got to sting—but seemed conciliatory when asked about the job today, and mentioned it was his “dream job”.
Is he the right guy though? His resume is a little thin. There’s no shame in the lack of success he had at Alabama-Huntsville. And his track record at the NTDP is a little iffy. Cole was the one most often thrown under the bus for the U18s having an embarrassing lack of depth beyond their top line last season, and the U17s haven’t been very good this year either.
There’s no doubt that Whitten is an excellent recruiter. He was responsible for a big chunk of the Michigan Tech roster that has had success these past few years. He’s significantly upgraded the level of talent at Lake Superior State too, which is no easy feat. He could likely do wonders at a place with the name cachet of Michigan State.
The problem is that the jury is still out on what he could do with that talent. Ideally, Lake State would have shown a little progress this past season, which would have made Whitten the clear top candidate. Instead, they struggled this year, especially late in the season. Whitten has done some decent thing in really tough situations, but there’s no guarantee how that would translate to a bigger job like Michigan State.
Newell Brown was a head coach for a brief period of time at Michigan Tech before spending the past quarter-century coaching in the pro ranks, including the past 20 years as an NHL assistant. So there’s no questioning his knowledge of Xs-and-Os and player development. He’s been away from the college game for a really long time, but surround him with some great recruiters and that might not be a terrible hire.
Who knows if he would leave Providence but if Michigan State is really serious about getting it right this time, giving him a call wouldn’t hurt.
Renfrew was the associate head coach at MSU under Rick Comley and was pretty respected as an up-and-coming coach. After leaving Michigan State, Renfrew spent a year at Omaha before taking an NHL amateur scouting job with the Winnipeg Jets, who have killed it in the NHL Draft with American/USHL players in recent years.
Maybe Mark Hollis just has a type.