As of Friday morning, THG was been able to confirm 7 of the 8 semifinalists to get in-person interviews with Michigan Tech for their head coaching vacancy. We've profiled all seven for an in depth look at each:
It is possible that we profiled the candidate eighth (i.e. Brett Larson, Keith Fisher, etc) or it could be another candidate that we either didn't think would be interested or missed. It's hard to say because it is so difficult to predict not only what Athletic Director Suzanne Sanregret is looking for in an outside candidate and who would actually be interested in giving Houghton/Hancock the chance to show them how it is far better than what many believe. This has been a struggle for us in our choices for profiling. We tried to understand as much about why someone would want the job as they would interested in being in the upper peninsula of Michigan.
For now, let's get back to focusing on the seven we do know and worry about "the field" later. Of the seven candidates that we have confirmed over the last couple weeks, one really sticks out as the front runner at this point.
Ron Rolston - Odds: 5/2
Among the confirmed candidates, Rolston is clearly the favorite. His coaching experience with the USNTDP, four colleges and in the pros is obviously the best on paper of any of the candidates. The fact that he is an alum of Michigan Tech speaks well to his knowledge and understanding of the university and the community. Rolston appears to be the last to get an interview, so unless someone else wows MTU prior to his interview, all indications are that Rolston can have the job if he wants it.
The biggest reason Rolston's odds aren't higher is because it's extremely hard to judge if Houghton/Hancock and working in college hockey is where Rolston wants to be at this point in his life. Since he's been open to taking an in-person interview, we know he hasn't closed the door yet.
Joe Shawhan - Odds: 7/1
Shawhan is the best candidate in-house. His wealth of coaching experience—including a decade in charge of a NAHL franchise and stints with all three UP schools—leads us to believe that Sanregret might hand the keys to him if Rolston and MTU cannot work something out. Shawhan's biggest drawback to THG throughout this process is "why hasn't he gotten a head coaching job before now?" The best answer we can come up with is that he didn't finish his degree until his recent stint as an assistant coach with Northern Michigan. Without that degree, he's been unable to apply for most (if not all) head-coaching jobs until the last few years. Once you remove that question, Shawhan jumps near the top of the list. We also think his mindset and attitude plays better to college kids as a head coach versus being the face on the recruiting trail. If Rolston is out of the picture, expect Shawhan to be a finalist.
Cam Ellsworth - Odds: 8/1
While Ellsworth is the youngest of the known candidates, his alumni status and his role in building UMass Lowell into a perennial power while competing in Hockey East definitely differentiates him. There is little doubt that Ellsworth wants nothing more than to coach the Huskies and take some of that River Hawk magic to Houghton with him. The fact that the other original assistant under Norm Bazin at UML had a successful stint in the USHL and is now an NCAA head coach also plays well in hoping that Ellsworth can use what he's learned to take the next step and be the head coach Michigan Tech needs right now. Depending on how things shake out, its also a possibility that Ellsworth would consider returning in an associate head coach role. If Rolston is out of the picture, expect Ellsworth to be a finalist.
Bill Muckalt - Odds: 10/1
Muckalt was the first call for Coach Pearson and was an important part of MTU during his four years in Houghton. Originally, we had Muckalt closer to 5/1, but he has aspirations to be an NHL coach and it seems likely that he would move on to "something better" relatively quickly. The loss of Pearson to Michigan should weigh heavily on Sanregret and might lead her in a different direction, trying to find stability again. If Muckalt genuinely wanted the job, we don't think that those aspirations should disqualify him but there is little doubt that this has an effect on his chances to be the next head coach of Michigan Tech. If Rolston is out of the picture, Muckalt could be a finalist, but it's not guaranteed.
Pat Mikesch - Odds: 23/2
Mikesch has done his best to distance himself from the end of the Russell era. While we at THG appreciate everything Russell did for the program, many in the community still have a bad taste in their mouth and Mikesch's perception suffers because of it. If the end of the Russell era had gone differently or if Mikesch had stayed in Houghton instead of Whitten, his odds would likely be much higher. He certainly deserves this interview and what he's done since leaving Houghton bodes well for his chances as it shows he can lead a team and will do things differently than his former boss. If Rolston is out of the picture, Mikesch could be a finalist, but it's not guaranteed.
Jason Herter - Odds: 15/1
Since we didn't initially profile Herter, you might be surprised to see him this far up the list but the biggest reason he missed the initial list is we thought Brett Larson was a better option. Once we looked into his record and connections, his interest made more sense. Larson is a Duluth local and UMD grad while Herter is from Canada and went to UND. As the only outsider to be a known finalist, his resume presents very well and his connection to Tanner Kero's development speaks well to chances of a great reference for Sanregret to discuss how he could fit with Michigan Tech. The caliber of candidates already mentioned and his lack of MTU connections are what push him this far down the list. If Rolston is out of the picture, Herter could be a finalist, but it's not guaranteed.
Gary Shuchuk - Odds: 30/1
Despite his status as a member of last year's staff, Gary Shuchuk seems to be the least likely of the confirmed candidates to get the job. Shuchuk was the last assistant hired by Mel Pearson and spent just two years in Houghton after five years as an assistant under Mike Eaves at Wisconsin. His resume is the is one of the shortest of any of the candidates and he appears to lack the desire to be in charge based on his laid back approach to both recruiting and coaching according to those who have encountered or observed him in both situations. While he could get the job, he's the longest shot of any name we're comfortable with putting on the board. Even if Rolston is out of the picture, Shuchuk is unlikely to be a finalist, but he could remain on the staff depending on who is hired.
The Field - Odds: 22/1
While we don't no for sure who is the eighth candidate, there is plenty of speculation. Damon Whitten's name has been suggested a few times and the fact that he is currently a head coach elsewhere could explain why it's been so difficult to verify that he will or has gotten an in-person interview. Another unprofiled candidate like Dean Blais or Todd Krygier could emerge yet over the next week or two. It's possible that this eighth person hasn't been to Houghton yet and that may be the biggest reason confirmation has been difficult so far. Even with the difficulty in knowing who this last spot belongs to, THG has placed the odds slightly better than Gary Shuchuk because of the unknown nature of who exactly will get to sit down with Sanregret.
Your odds will probably differ from ours as some here at THG had different orders for the seven confirmed candidates. Any which way you slice it though, Ron Rolston is the favorite and if there is an announcement before Memorial Day Weekend, you can bet the answer will be Ron Rolston. If not, he will likely have been ruled out for whatever reason and there will be another round of interviews for Sanregret's top choices among the other seven candidates. It's anyone's guess as to who would get a second interview, but Joe Shawhan and Cam Ellsworth seem the most likely to get that chance. Stay tuned as we try to keep up with whats going on and keep you as informed as possible.
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Feature Image courtesy of Ron Shelley as part of the GNU Free Documentation License