Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Head Coach Candidate: Paul Pooley

I know Pooley's at Notre Dame now, but I love this logo. It's a crime that PC doesn't use it much anymore.

Tenth 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: Icers coach Scott Balboni, Denver coach George Gwozdecky, Pittsburgh Penguins assistant Tony Granato, Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley, Wisconsin women's coach Mark Johnson, Nebraska-Omaha hockey czar and former coach Mike Kemp, Ottawa Senators assistant Greg Carvel, Minnesota coach Don Lucia, Miami assistant Brent Brekke.

Due to unforeseen events, I'm going to accelerate this series, much like I did with Pegula Center Speculation towards the end of its brief run. I'm thinking every Wednesday at the moment - I have roughly six more people I want to hit (including the guy in this post), and six more of these would take us to May 4th, a reasonable approximation of the hire date. If a hire's not made by then, I'll keep throwing coaches against the wall. Sound good?

Continuing my Notre Dame love-in this week, let's talk about associate coach Paul Pooley, an Exeter, ON native who arrived in South Bend along with head coach Jeff Jackson in 2005.

I had always planned this piece based on Pooley's current status as a top assistant at a top program, as well as the fact that he has prior DI head coaching experience (not to mention one of the players he coached during that time), but the urgency was bumped up some by Mark Horgas last night:
After The Frozen Four, I believe Penn State will also interview Paul Pooley of Notre Dame.
Pooley is an Ohio State grad (wonder when they're going to start a DI program), class of 1984. He was pretty good too - let's go right to the playing stats, which include his junior and pro careers.

Season   Team                     Lge    GP    G    A  Pts  PIM
1977-78  Kingston Canadians       OHA     4    0    0    0    2
1978-79  Kingston Canadians       OHA    60   14   20   34   21
1979-80  Kingston Canadians       OHA    22    8   18   26    8
1979-80  Kitchener Rangers        OHA    43   20   16   36   35
1980-81  Ohio State University    CCHA   38   28   31   59   41
1981-82  Ohio State University    CCHA   34   21   24   45   34
1982-83  Ohio State University    CCHA   36   33   36   69   50
1983-84  Ohio State University    CCHA   41   32   64   96   38
1984-85  Sherbrooke Canadiens     AHL    57   18   17   35   16
1984-85  Winnipeg Jets            NHL    12    0    2    2    0
1985-86  Sherbrooke Canadiens     AHL    70   20   21   41   31
1985-86  Winnipeg Jets            NHL     3    0    1    1    0
1986-87  Fort Wayne Komets        IHL    77   28   44   72   47

The Winnipeg freaking Jets. Much respect from this Whalers fan. doesn't have stats for his senior year, but luckily I was able to fill them in courtesy of OSU's media guide (warning: giant PDF, click at your own risk). Pooley has his own page in it, 27 years after graduation. You tend to get those things when you're the program's all-time scoring leader, the program's only conference player-of-the-year and the program's first player with a retired number.

Let's transition from player Pooley to coach Pooley.

Ouch, sorry about your 80s flow.

After his career, he went into business with his twin brother, who also happened to be an All-American hockey player at Ohio State. Twin brother? I just had a flashback to Jerry and Terry Dunn. Give yourself a few PSU basketball fan points for having survived the Dunn era if you got that. His first coaching job as at the alma mater with his former coach Jerry Welsh from 1988-1991. Not much to write about there with a 31-75-14 record, although it might be worth pointing out that the program got even worse after he left.

"Left" in this case means "coached under Jackson at Lake Superior State from 1991-1994." Which wasn't a horrible time to be a Laker. Here's something that puts it much more succinctly than I would.
Pooley served three seasons as Jackson's top assistant at Lake Superior State. In those three years, the Lakers were a combined 93-27-13, won CCHA tournament titles in 1992 and 1993 and advanced to the NCAA Championship game all three years. In 1992, the Lakers defeated Wisconsin, 5-3, for the NCAA title; in 1993, they lost 5-4 to Maine in the championship game and then they defeated Boston University in 1994, 9-1.
That's the sort of thing that earns a young assistant a "future head coach" label, no? Providence thought so and hired him - and there was a pretty quick payoff in his second season leading the Friars.
In 1995-96, the Friars were one of the biggest surprises in college hockey. Picked to finish seventh in the Preseason Hockey East Coaches' Poll, the Friars registered a 12-9-3 mark in league play and earned a fourth-place finish. Again Pooley led the underdog Friars on a late-season run as they swept Boston College in a Hockey East Quarterfinal series, upset top-ranked Boston University in the Semifinals and defeated Maine in the Finals to earn their first Hockey East title since 1985. With the win, Pooley, the 10th head coach in the history of Providence College, became only the second Friar head coach to lead PC to a Hockey East title and the first to guide the team to two consecutive Hockey East Championship Game appearances. In addition to winning the 1996 Hockey East Championship, Pooley's amazing Friars made their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1991. Although the Friars were defeated, 5-1, in the West Regionals by Minnesota, Pooley's squad finished the year with a 21-15-3 mark.
If you didn't click on the link, that's from Pooley's PC bio page, which still exists in the far reaches of the internet. Could you tell? Also, there's this: Scott Balboni played for that team. It's always a small world when it comes to hockey.

Unfortunately, that was the high water mark of Pooley's 11 seasons leading the Friars. PC was pretty respectable, but never great. There was a 2001 NCAA appearance, but usually the record was within a couple games of .500. That changed for the worse with 2004-2005's 12-21-4 - out goes Pooley, in comes Tim Army. Things only got worse from there, so some credit might be due Pooley's way in sort of a backhanded way. Since Pooley's departure, Providence has gone 0-6 in Hockey East tournament play, and have been outscored 26-3. And they haven't even made the playoffs since 2008 (only the top 8 of the 10 teams get to participate).

My sense is that anyone associated with that program has to fight an uphill battle, both against some of the wealthier programs in Hockey East, and against an administration, student body and alumni base that considers basketball the winter sport of choice. Pooley did a pretty decent job of it, all in all.

Some of the notables to pass through PC under Pooley include Interference Hal Gill, Pro Hockey Player Fernando Pisani and Fomer Cleveland Baron Nolan Schaefer.

This stellar outfit didn't hire me when HMA was still in my recent past. They deserved every drop of that red ink.

Pooley, of course, resurfaced at Notre Dame, and has been pretty successful. I observed ND's distinct lack of hockey tradition on Monday - which included dropping to club status in the 1980s and not a single NCAA appearance or conference championship until 2004. Jackson, with Pooley's help, turned that on its ear. Basically, the Irish have done one of two things in four of six seasons: swept the CCHA regular season and tournament championships (2007 and 2009) or made the Frozen Four (2008 and 2011). Short of adding a national title to that (they'll have a chance next week), resumes really don't get better. Pooley's specific charge is the defense.
At Notre Dame, he has been instrumental in five defensemen - Noah Babin (Carolina), Wes O'Neill (Colorado), Ian Cole (St. Louis), Kyle Lawson (Carolina) and Teddy Ruth (Columbus) - signing NHL contracts while 2008 grad, Brock Sheahan is currently in the ECHL with Cincinnati and 2010 grad Brett Blatchford [was] with Toledo [at the start of the season].
I think the obvious question when evaluating Pooley, especially given the mixed bag of his Providence tenure, is this: how much credit do you give him for the successes of Jackson's programs at both Lake State and Notre Dame? Is there even a "correct" way to solve that one? Maybe you should listen to him coach for 30 seconds before you answer that.

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