George Gwozdecky is out as the University of Denver men's hockey coach, ending a 19-year run as the Pioneers bench boss. The 59-year-old head coach had one year left on his contract and was seeking an extension. Instead, Gwozdecky was fired and the school will pay the remaining year on his contract.
Denver is the only Division I program to have won 20 games in each of the last 12 seasons. However the Pioneers have been bounced from the first round of the tournament five times in the last six years. Denver's lone NCAA Tournament win since winning back-to-back titles occurred in 2011, a 3-2 double OT victory over 3rd seeded Western Michigan in the Midwest Regional. The Pioneers would go on to get waxed by North Dakota, 6-1, in the Regional Final.
A lack of NCAA Tournament success and an inability to reach an agreement on a contract extension factored into the decision. I totally buy the second, but the first is a head-scratcher. Particularly when you go to evaluate a coach's performance in a postseason tournament that has become more and more of a crapshoot to win in recent years. There is a significant amount of luck required to win a title these days and I'm not sure NCAA Tournament success should be the end-all, be-all when it comes to evaluating performance.
Consider that BU's Jack Parker won titles at a 1-in-15 year clip, lasts 40 years on the other end of Comm. Ave. and gets slobbered by the media after announcing his retirement. Gwozdecky wins two National titles in the last 10 years and gets fired after a contract extension dispute. Hope DU knows what it's doing here.
All told, Gwozdecky compiled a 443-267-64 record with DU, including the back-to-back National Championships in (the lost college hockey years) of 2004 and 2005. The Kid was singing Denver's praises on Twitter yesterday and justifiably so as Denver has been one of the top programs in the nation for quite some time.
I'd say Denver has been the second or third best program in the game since 2000 and they fire they fire Gwozdecky ? Awful— BC Hockey Blog (@bchockeyblog1) April 1, 2013
At the time I thought second or third best program seemed a bit much though, so I went about the task of compiling the list of NCAA Tournament wins going back to the 2000 season. Denver wound up ranked tied for seventh on that list with New Hampshire with 9 wins over 14 years. More than a respectable total until you realize that eight of nine of those games were in back-to-back title years in 2004 and 2005. The Pioneers have one Tournament win combined in all those other years. Ouch.
Where the numbers become eye-popping is in the programs ahead of Denver / New Hampshire on that list.
6. Wisconsin -- 10
5. Maine -- 12
3t. Minnesota -- 14
3t. Michigan -- 14
2. North Dakota -- 19
1. Boston College -- 28
One didn't necessarily need much confirmation to know that Boston College hockey has been the class of the sport for more than a decade now but ... damn. Seriously? This really puts things into perspective. Also ... BU 7.
York and the Eagles have averaged a Frozen Four appearance -- 2 NCAA Tournament wins -- every year for the past 14. Coach York is actually averaging a little more than a Frozen Four every year as the tournament was a 12-team affair in 2000 and 2001, where top seeds would receive first round byes. If you threw in the Frozen Four appearances in 1998 and 1999, we start inching closer to averaging a National Championship Game appearance every year. That's ... almost unfair; certainly part of the cause for Eagles' fans disappointment at the results of this season.
Back to Denver, it will be interesting to see who DU vice chancellor for athletics and recreation Peg Bradley-Doppes has in mind for the now vacant head coaching position. The school claims that it will conduct a "national search" for Gwozdecky's replacement, but I'm not sure if they mean "national search" national search, "national search" school alumni search (Boston U.) or "national search" promote assistant coach search (Spaz'd).
College hockey is funny in that there is very little turnover year to year among the head coaching ranks. There's never more than a handful of positions that open up every year. If DU isn't set on hiring a school alum, would they take a look at Boston College associate head coaches Greg Brown or Mike Cavanaugh? I'd imagine if the school put out feelers, whichever associate that isn't feeling particularly York successor-y these days would be interested. Denver, while arguably not a top 2/3 job, is most certainly a top 10 one and those type of opportunities don't come around all that often.
As for Gwozdecky, it will be interesting to see if he resurfaces elsewhere. The 19-year Pioneers bench boss could get paid not to work for a year, or could jump right back into it with another club. The issue Gwozdecky will run into is there aren't many job openings out there right now and it's really hard to predict the college hockey job market a year from now.
Anchorage and UConn have openings at the moment and Maine's top job could open up shortly. As 59 years of age, I doubt Gwozdecky would have the time or patience to take on the significant program building effort down in Storrs. Denver to Anchorage similarly doesn't seem like an option that would be entertained. I could see Gwozdecky in Maine as Whitehead's successor. That would be a bit of a scary proposition for Boston College, but if he only consistently gets the Black Bears back to the NCAA Tournament before similarly flaming out short of the Frozen Four, I'm cool.