Monday, March 21, 2016

It's Complicated

Now that all of us Badgers fans have calmed down from the Bronson Koenig Show last night, let's talk about another coaching vacancy at UW-Madison.  Last week, after a precipitous drop in talent and a depressing lack of wins the last two seasons, Men's Hockey Coach Mike Eaves was relieved his duties.  Just like when Bo Ryan "retired" in mid-season from the Men's Basketball team, there is a more-than-qualified replacement already on campus who could be named the new head coach in a minute.

Mark Johnson is the son of "Badger Bob" Johnson--who built the Wisconsin Hockey program into a national power in the 1970's.  He was a member of the gold medal winning Miracle On Ice 1980 Olympic Hockey team (and had TWO goals in the historic win over the Soviets--Mike Eruzione only had one, yet he's the guy who's made an entire career from that one game) and he's already won three National Championships as a coach.  The only catch is that Johnson is the Women's Hockey coach at Madison--and to "promote" him to Men's Coach creates a campus conversation that Barry Alvarez probably doesn't want to have.

Right there, I stepped into the controversy by using the term "promotion".  Under Title IX, the position of Women's Hockey Coach is to be considered "on par" with that of Men's Hockey Coach.  Except everyone in the Athletic Department and who works off of campus knows that not to be true.  The Frozen Four for Men's Hockey will be on ESPN for the nation to watch.  I had to watch the Women's Frozen Four on an internet stream carried only by the NCAA itself.  Had the Badgers won the title this weekend, there would have been little celebration on campus--whereas a men's title would have filled State Street with revelers again.  The men play at the Kohl Center--the women at the much-smaller LeBahn Arena.

It seems like that when a male coach finds great success in coaching women's sports, they almost feel the need to never leave that side of the game out of fear of "offending" those associated with the game.  Connecticut Women's Basketball Coach Geno Auriemma is the prime example of that.  Auriemma has built UConn into such a power that they are looking at their fourth NCAA title in a row this season--and they haven't come close to losing a game this year.  Yet when the men's coaching position opened up at UConn a few years ago, Auriemma went out of his way to say he had no interest at all in the position.  It helps that coaches like Auriemma and Johnson have far fewer other quality programs to compete against to get top players and to rack up wins and championships.  That's another factor that nobody wants to talk about, either.

So as not to "offend" defenders of women's sports, Athletic Director Barry Alvarez will have to put on a national search for a new Men's Hockey Coach--even though he already has the best candidate behind another bench.  Fortunately, former Badgers player George Gwozdecky is available.  He won two men's titles at the University of Denver--and he'd probably like the chance to revive his alma mater.  It's a good thing he never decided to coach the ladies first.

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