Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Head Coach Candidate: Casey Jones

Eleventh 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, Notre Dame assistant Paul Pooley.

With the new wave of names I suddenly had at my disposal for this series as of last week, I decided to approach things this way: get the people with Ohio State ties over with as quickly as possible, then take about six showers. On that note, I present current Cornell and former OSU assistant Casey Jones. Let's hope Chandler Bing there is a better coach than photograph subject.

It seems like the coaches I've profiled generally fall into two distinct age categories, with George Gwozdecky (graduated from college in 1978), Mark Johnson (1980), Don Lucia (1981) and Paul Pooley (1984) falling into the more-experienced group, with Greg Carvel (1993), Derek Schooley (1994) and Brent Brekke (1994) representing the up-and-comers. Jones (Cornell, 1990) is in the latter group as well. Stats:

Season   Team                     Lge    GP    G    A  Pts  PIM
1986-87  Cornell University       ECAC   27    6   12   18   38
1987-88  Cornell University       ECAC   27   10   22   32   26
1988-89  Cornell University       ECAC   29    8   27   35   22
1989-90  Cornell University       ECAC   27    6   21   27   22

A pro playing career wasn't in the cards, so after a year of teaching high school, he jumped right into coaching at his alma mater, as Brian McCutcheon's assistant from 1991-1993. The Big Red weren't particularly good in these seasons (20-30-5), but courtesy of one official bio standby of rationalizing bad records, we get this information:
During his initial time at Cornell, Jones recruited many of the players who would ultimately capture the 1995-96 and 1996-97 ECAC Hockey Championships, the first two seasons of Mike Schafer's coaching tenure at Cornell.
Recruiting. Despite my (completely valid, you know you've seen that one before) crack just above, it's a recurring theme with Jones almost anywhere you look for information. And he didn't need the rationalization in his next stop, two years of 43-19-9 as a Clarkson assistant from 1993-1995, including the 1995 ECAC regular season championship and an NCAA tournament berth.

From there, it's on to Ohio State with new head coach John Markell, where Jones finally decided to buy instead of rent, staying for 13 years. With the Buckeyes, he served as recruiting coordinator, in addition to his defense and special teams responsibilities. Let's not lose sight of the fact that he's still only five years out of college at this point. I spent my first five years out of college dropping out of law school, then working in retail and as a telemarketer before finally getting it together. Lesson for soon-to-be college graduates reading this: stay the hell away from Cleveland.

Like I said about Notre Dame not too long ago, those only familiar with college football and basketball probably don't realize that OSU isn't one of the major players in college hockey history. So it was a little bit of a stunner when, in Jones' third season in Columbus, the Buckeyes went from 12-25-2 to 27-13-2 and their first-ever NCAA tournament appearance in 1998. They even added to the surprise by cashing in with a Frozen Four trip. The follow-up was another appearance the next season, then after retooling, three more from 2003-2005. The 2004 bid came courtesy of winning the CCHA tournament.

I don't mean to brush past 13 seasons of team accomplishments in one paragraph, but I want to give Jones' run as recruiting coordinator its due. Look at what was passing through the program in those years.
  • Hugo Boisvert - Only two-time All-American in school history (1998, 1999).
  • Jeff Manud - 1999 All-American.
  • Eric Meloche - He's still playing believe it or not, in Germany. His inclusion here is mostly so I can reminisce about the Cleveland Barons site I worked on in college (sorry, can't find any remnants on the internet) about as much as this blog. Because this guy is his father:

Okay, now for the lumber:
  • RJ Umberger - NHL first-round draft pick (VAN, 2001). The current Blue Jacket has 273 points in 471 career NHL games as of this writing. Oh, and he's a Pittsburgh native.
  • Dave Steckel - NHL first-round draft pick (LA, 2001). The defensive and faceoff specialist was a key piece of some of the pretty good recent Caps teams, but was traded to the Devils at the deadline this season.
  • Ryan Kesler - NHL first-round draft pick (VAN, 2003). If you need me to tell you about him, get out more. One of the emerging stars in the NHL and probably, along with Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk, the best defensive forwards in the game who also provide legitimate scoring.
  • Tom Fritsche - NHL second-round draft pick (COL, 2005). Doesn't quite have the resume of the guys above him, but I'll give Parma, OH some love. Just don't try to look for a job there (I'm serious about that).
Ohio State started to slide backwards after the 2005 NCAA appearance, and perhaps sensing Markell's end was near (it was, despite a brief resurgence), Jones went back to Cornell in 2008. Still, OSU thought enough of Jones to give him serious consideration for the head coaching job once Markell was fired after last season. Adam Wodon of College Hockey News gave Jones a pretty strong endorsement around that time:
Jones, a Cornell alumnus, left Clarkson to join Markell's staff as an assistant in the mid-'90s. Jones is largely credited with being the main Xs and Os guy there, as well as a great recruiter. The talent level OSU brought in clearly skyrocketed in his time, and he helped Ohio State to five NCAA appearances in his time there, and left the program in good hands when he left two seasons ago. The talent he left them with won 23 games and made the NCAAs last season, but this season, the team's play tailed off dramatically, finishing with 12 regular-season wins until its three playoff victories.
Ultimately, the job went to Mark Osiecki, and Jones is still at Cornell, where he and head coach Mike Schafer have done pretty good work, including the 2010 ECAC tournament championship, and NCAA tournament appearances in 2009 and 2010. But as Wodon points out in praising Jones, he's not just sitting around waiting for Schafer to leave town - he will jump at the chance to be a head coach at a major program. Even a new one.
Casey Jones told me that he would apply for the PSU job if it ever went varsity. He also laughed and said that PSU would incur a "beatdown".
The other half of the story, of course, is Penn State's interest level, which might be there as well. We'll know for sure soon enough.


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