Who's Next? A Study of Coaching Changes

One of the things we've tried to examine throughout this process is what traits are preferential indicators of success in a head coach. THG broke down quite a few categories in our "Sweet Sixteen," outlining where each of them has coaching experience in various leagues (NHL, AHL, ECHL, NCAA D1, or T1 Junior Hockey (USHL/NAHL). For our analysis below we went a step further, taking a look at all the coaching changes between 1998 and 2014 and analyzing each coach in their first three seasons at the helm. During that time there were 71 coaching changes, and we analyzed each situation using the following potential indicators or attributes:

  • NCAA Division I Head Coach (D1 HC)
  • NCAA Division I Assistant Coach (D1 AC)
  • NCAA Division III Head Coach (D3 HC)
  • Tier 1 Junior Hockey Head Coach (T1 HC)
  • Previously played for School (Alumni)
  • Promotion from within Staff (Promotion)
  • NHL Head Coach (NHL HC)
  • NHL Assistant Coach (NHL AC)
  • NHL Player (NHL PL)
  • AHL Head Coach (AHL HC)
  • AHL Assistant Coach (AHL AC)
  • ECHL Head Coach (EC HC)
  • ECHL Assistant Coach (EC HC) 

After digging through all the data for the 71 coaching changes using the thirteen attributes we came up with four items that stick out as interesting and significant. 

Alumni do well

Most of the time, an opening is immediately connected to the most experienced coach among the school's alumni. THG was curious about this because in sports we often assume this is the case, but we suspected that being familiar with the program was much less important than just being good at coaching hockey. We were wrong. We found that alumni returning to the helm at their alma mater significantly outperformed the others, winning 14% more games in their first 3 years than their non-alumni counterparts. This is probably because alumni tend to better understand the university’s culture, recruiting profile, and style of play. This helps the case for semifinalists Cam Ellsworth, Pat Mikesch and Ron Rolston. 

Alumni with DI assistant experience do better

While Alumni in general do well, those who have also been a DI assistant coach do slightly better yet, winning 15% more games than other coaches. Whiles its not a huge difference from the singular attribute of alumni status, that 1% extra translates to about 1 more win in the first three seasons combined or improving one loss into a tie each season. Cam Ellsworth, Pat Mikesch, and Ron Rolston all fit this profile with each having previous experience as DI assistants. 

School experience helps too

Coaches who have some past affiliation to their new employer, having been either a promoted assistant coach there or an alumnus, do 16% better than others, a slightly larger gap still. Of the semifinalists, only Jason Herter does not have a past affiliation with Michigan Tech. Our analysis doesn't consider assistants who left a program and returned to become a head coach, so this category would not included Bill Muckalt.

Head coaching experience is best

Coaches having been at least one of NHL HC, DI HC, DIII HC, T1 HC, alumni or promotion are vastly better than those who have none of those on their resume, to the tune of winning 24% more games. That’s the difference between finishing where the Huskies did last year (2nd place) and missing out on home ice for the playoffs entirely. It’s not that each of these qualifications makes a coach inherently good, but that coaches that have none of them are inherently bad. Another way of looking at it is that if you hire a coach with at least one of the above qualifications, they may be a good or bad coach, but if you a hire a coach without any of the above qualifications, they will very likely be a bad coach. All of the semifinalists for Tech’s opening pass this test, so kudos to Suzanne Sanregret for knowing what she’s doing.

Review

The main thing we learned from all this analysis is that it looks like Michigan Tech and specifically Suzanne Sanregret knows what she’s doing. The semifinalists confirmed to have received in-person interviews have resumes that are correlated to success, and she did identify Mel Pearson and pester him long enough to get six excellent years out of him before his departure for Michigan. We have no reason to believe she won’t find an equally successful candidate this time around.

In Other News

We believe the in-person interview portion of the coaching search was completed on Tuesday with Ron Rolston's interview. He is the last of eight (or possibly ten) candidates to have received an in-person interview. It seems likely that a decision will be made soon. Hopefully, we will have a new head coach by the end of next week.

Analysis Notes:

Our sample size was small compared to the number of attributes we were analyzing, so many of our results had to be thrown out due to confounding factors or being too small of a selected group. The four points above were the most interesting and relevant to the current state of Michigan Tech’s search, and the least likely to be influenced by other factors.

While this article is attributed to Tim Braun, Brandon Maurisak compiled the data and Will Weaver analyzed the data, conducted the analysis, identified confounding factors and wrote the first draft of the above. Special thanks to Will Weaver for stepping up and helping out on this piece.

Featured image courtesy of wikimedia commons.