Earlier this week, longtime Michigan Head Coach Red Berenson announced his retirement in what we might someday call "The Press Conference Heard Round The NCAA." The 77-year old Berenson closed the book on a 33-year head coaching career in which he led Michigan to a 848-426-92 (.654) record, with two NCAA championships in 1996 and 1998. Before the tears in everyone's eyes were dry, speculation immediately turned to the question of "Who will be the next Michigan Head Coach?" At the top of a lot of these articles is current Michigan Tech Head Coach Mel Pearson.
Before you keep reading, just take a deep breath... okay.
It's right there. As of Tuesday, when Berenson announced, nobody had talked to Pearson about the job. Since then we haven't seen a single outlet provide confirmation that any business meetings had taken place. Pearson was reported—by The Detroit News—to have talked with Berenson in Ann Arbor on Tuesday, but there are no reports that there was any discussion of Pearson being a successor.
What has many more fans worried is this quote from Pearson, which was included in that article:
This seems a little worrying, on the surface. We have an established outlet both suggesting Pearson as a shortlist candidate—as did MLive—and directly quoting him implying that he's not entirely opposed to the idea of moving back downstate. Some Michigan Tech fans would read this article and panic.
Take another deep breath.
Look at how these lists are presented, first from The Detroit News:
And from MLive:
These are both carefully worded. Neither one says that they have confirmation that this is anything more than speculation or that any of the candidates they list are actually on Michigan's list, and the MLive article even outright says that it's their own list of possibilities. Even THG looked at publishing a list (and still might), but nobody has anything more than speculation.
Now, getting back to the Pearson quote, even that's what we call "coach speak." Coach speak makes for great soundbites and quick quotes, but it's also very much about giving away as little as possible. With the NHL playoffs underway, you could easily make a bingo card of coach speak (and player speak) phrases like:
- Finish our checks
- Play all three periods/Play every shift
- Bang bodies
- Just take shots
- Give 110%
- Want it more than the other team
- Stick to our game plan
- [most things involving the term "puck luck"]
It's the worst-kept secret of sports journalism that none of these really say anything greatly substantial about the game. Just like teams don't publicly publish their scouting reports, no coach or player is going to come right out and say what their game plan is for the other team, so they use phrases like these that don't really say anything insightful but give the fans something to go on.
That quote above seems to imply that Pearson would walk away if the price was right or if Michigan did something surprising. Hold that up next to this quote that he gave to The Daily Mining Gazette's Daver Karnosky on the same day that the Detroit News piece ran:
He never actually says he'll stay with Tech in this quote either, but the tone is much different than "But Michigan's Michigan." The point is that we just don't know that anything is really going on there. This could be a way of setting up a campaign for a favorable contract extension as much as it could be an indication that he's truly interested in returning to Ann Arbor.
All we do know is that Pearson made more money at Tech this season ($275k) than Berenson did at Michigan($254k), and that the fans in Houghton are happy just to be seeing above-.500 hockey while the fans in Ann Arbor now carry an expectation of regular NCAA tournament berths.
Even if Pearson does get a more appealing offer elsewhere—and it shouldn't be a surprise if someone indicates interest—he would be leaving the program in undeniably better shape than he found it. His time here so far has shown that Michigan Tech is a place where the administration is ready to support the program, and players and coaches can find success. There would likely be more than a few quality candidates interested in coming to Houghton so they can build on what he's started.
So what do we do now? We take a deep breath, have a seat, and wait. The job was only posted on Tuesday, and we don't expect to hear anything until at least next Tuesday, when the job posting is scheduled to end.
I speak for everyone at Tech Hockey Guide when I say that we hope Pearson will stay in Houghton; he has turned around a program that was getting frustrating to watch and turned them into a contender, and for that we're all grateful. If you're reading this, Coach, know that we all hope you'll stick around.
... besides, if you go to Ann Arbor, it doesn't snow often enough to consistently make a good driveway-shoveling tweet.
Cover photo credit: Ryan Johnson (Nov. 18, 2016).