Minnesota State made the first coaching change of the men's college hockey offseason Sunday, announcing that Troy Jutting will be reassigned within the athletic department. Jutting spent 26 years at Minnesota State, including four as a player, a decade as an assistant coach, and then 12 years as head coach. I may not have approved of the physical play I saw from many of his teams, but Jutting worked his tail off to better the MSU hockey program, and he often proved to be a good soundbite -- the type of thing that matters to a hardened radio nerd.
(I'm easy. I appreciate any coach who helps make my job easier. Minnesota State doesn't get on television a lot, so I lean on those around the team for some insights before UMD plays the Mavericks. Everyone, most notably Jutting, has always been great.)
MSU has a tough decision ahead. As proven by schools like Ferris State, UMD, Minnesota, and many others, stability can really matter. UMD and Minnesota, most notably, had decisions to make in recent years regarding the direction of their respectable programs. After the 2007-2008 season, UMD fans were starting to call for coach Scott Sandelin's head. A WCHA title in 2009 earned him a modest two-year extension, but a third straight 20-win season and the school's first NCAA title in 2011 was the reward UMD deserved for its patience.
Last year, Minnesota fans were all over Don Lucia. Instead of changing the head coach, the school gave Lucia an extension, and Lucia replaced assistant coach John Hill with longtime aide Mike Guentzel. That seems to have worked out well, as Minnesota is back in the Frozen Four this week. Lucia is safe again.
Ferris State has Bob Daniels, a 20-year head coach responsible for more than half the wins in Ferris' history as a Division I program. The Bulldogs have never been a highly-regarded program in a league -- the CCHA -- loaded with big-name programs like Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, and Ohio State. Ferris is in the Frozen Four, off a CCHA regular-season championship.
Of course, not every program has seen success with the stability route. Look at Western Michigan. Jeff Blashill was hired before the 2010-11 season, and a downtrodden program saw immediate success. Western made the NCAAs and started landing some serious recruits. Blashill rode off into the sunset as quickly as he arrived, taking a job with the Detroit Red Wings.
The school brought in former NHL coach Andy Murray, who proved a quick study to college coaching. The Broncos won the CCHA tournament and made the NCAAs in Murray's first year. Thanks to the upcoming membership in the NCHC, things are really looking up in Kalamazoo.
Obviously, Murray may bring the school more stability than his predecessor could, but reality is that Western hired the best available coach (Blashill), probably understanding that he could very well bolt quickly if his rebuild was successful. It's not like WMU had Murray in its back pocket all along, instead it was about getting the best coach for the job.
Nothing is permanent. If you're Minnesota State, you can't go into this looking for a guy who will be around for a decade. After all, if the administration hits on this hire, reality is that the new guy will be coaching in Mankato, not exactly fertile ground for college hockey immortality.
I have four names that popped into my head immediately. None of them have any Division I head coaching experience. Someone on Twitter mentioned the idea of alum Ryan McKelvie, currently head coach at Division III Lake Forest (Ill.), but I think that's a heck of a home run swing that could come up empty. He's pretty inexperienced at this point, and won just five games in his first season with the Foresters.
The four names I came up with were former UMD assistant Steve Rohlik, now an assistant with Ohio State; Minnesota assistant coach Mike Guentzel, who may be a head-coach-in-waiting type at Minnesota, depending on how much longer you think Don Lucia wants to do this; Colorado College assistant Eric Rud, former head coach in Green Bay (USHL), as well as a former St. Cloud State assistant; and Green Bay's current head coach, Derek Lalonde, a former Denver assistant.
I can't guarantee any would give you long-term stability. You just never know how the coaching climate will be from year to year. One school's trash can become another's treasure, and an unknown coach can get his name on the map pretty quickly.
MSU needs to do what every school says it's doing. It needs to hire the best available coach, regardless of pedigree, and regardless of what the tea leaves say about that coach's willingness to spend 20 years in Mankato.
I'm biased, but I think Rohlik should get the first crack at the job. I don't know if he would take it, but with the number of contacts he has, and the number of close relationships he has, I can't imagine he would be a bad hire. He has great intensity, understands the game, and is a very good recruiter.
I think any of the four guys I listed would be great hires, even if they didn't end up being long for Mankato. They all have the look of being guys whose work would end up being good for the Minnesota State program's future.
No one should celebrate on a day like this, as a good man has lost a job he cared a lot about. It is ultimately an opportunity for Minnesota State to improve its signature sports program, and it's not an opportunity anyone should take lightly.