Fifth in a series taking uninformed, uneducated guesses at the candidates to become the first head coach of Penn State's NCAA men's team. Previously: Current Icers coach Scott Balboni, Denver coach George Gwozdecky, Pittsburgh Penguins assistant Tony Granato, Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley.
Where do you start with Mark Johnson? Do you go where most go - his status as one of the legends of amateur hockey in the United States, thanks largely to his two goals against the Soviets in 1980? Do you talk about his lineage, as the son of the legendary "Badger Bob" Johnson? Or do you go straight to the nuts and bolts of what's rather quickly become a great coaching career of his own? Why decide when you have a well-produced video with syrupy music in the background encapsulating all three things at your disposal?
Following an honor-studded career playing for his father at Wisconsin (national champion, two-time All-American) and the Miracle on Ice, Johnson played for the Penguins, Whalers, Blues and Devils, then finished off his playing career in Italy in 1992. He was a better NHL player than people may remember, scoring at least 50 points in five of his 10 full seasons, including a high of 87 with Hartford in 1983-1984, a season that earned him a trip to the 1984 All-Star Game. Johnson also wore the C just beneath his Pucky the Whale patch from 1983-1985.
After quick stints coaching at the high school level and with the Madison Monsters of the old Colonial Hockey League in 1995-1996, he moved on to his alma mater, as an assistant for the Badger men under Jeff Sauer, the man who succeeded his father and a legend in his own right. Wisconsin was an up-and-down program during Johnson's six-year run as an assistant - the highs of two WCHA championships (one regular season, one tournament) and two NCAA tournament appearances were balanced with three losing seasons. When Sauer retired following the 2001-2002 season, Johnson was passed over for the head job in favor of former Wisconsin teammate Mike Eaves.
Perhaps taking to heart that famous Herb Brooks line "great moments are born from great opportunities," Johnson accepted a head coaching job with the fledgling Wisconsin women's program rather that leave Madison. The record since then is staggering: national championships in 2006, 2007 and 2009. A 210-39-22 record going into this season. A three-time AHCA Coach of the Year winner. Two Patty Kazmaier (the women's Hobey Baker) winners. A 100 percent GSR according to the latest data. Never more than nine losses when he's coached a full season. That qualification is required because he left the Badgers in 2009-2010 to coach the US women's national team to a silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Predictably, the program struggled without Johnson last year, but looks to be back on track this year.
The catch: would the iconic figure in Wisconsin sports actually leave to (presumably) coach against his alma mater at Penn State? If Johnson's words in this 2007 article is any indication, it might not be an easy sell.
“There have been other opportunities, a few in the college ranks and a couple with the NHL. As I like stability with my team, I like stability for my family, as well. My dad did that with our family. He didn’t get involved with the NHL or moving to that next position until everybody was out of the house.”Johnson's youngest child is 13, so if he sticks to his father's rule, that pretty much takes him out of the running. Still, the rumors persist.
"I heard the deal was done a few weeks ago. The guy that sold East Resources to Shell wrote a check for somewhere near $100M. 6,300 seat arena. The coach will be hired a year in advance of play starting. Mark Johnson is an early candidate. Indiana will also allegedly start a D1 program and the Big 10 will be a hockey conference with content for the Big 10 network."Or, if you prefer, there's this one, although I have yet to figure out how Johnson's name was a part of that rumor, it seems shoehorned in there by the author. Plus, the guy I believe to be his "anonymous" source says he's not the guy:
Penn State D1 Hockey Coach short list does not include Mark Johnson.Oh, ok. Nothing to see here. Whether he would come or not, whether he's even under consideration or not, there's little doubt that Johnson is an exciting candidate that would bring instant credibility to our program.