Big Ten rival Ohio State completed one of the more bizarre coaching changes in recent memory Wednesday, naming Steve Rohlik the full-time head coach of the Buckeyes.
Cue the canned quotes:
"We are pleased Steve has accepted our head coaching position," [athletic director Gene] Smith said. "He has made positive impressions within the athletics department, in the hockey community and with the men's hockey student-athletes. He has a well thought-out plan for how to lead our hockey program into the future that is in line with the expectations we have for each of our head coaches."That Rohlik is now a college head coach for the first time is not at all bizarre, as he's more than qualified for the job, and early reports indicate that OSU players and alumni are happy with the move. The 1990 Wisconsin graduate, most notably, was an assistant at Nebraska-Omaha from 1997-2000 as the Mavericks program started up and found quick success, then at Minnesota-Duluth from 2001-2010, helping the Bulldogs to two NCAA tournaments while recruiting much of the team that won the 2011 national championship. Since 2010, he's been the associate coach at Ohio State under Mark Osiecki, with the team going 46-50-16 over the last three seasons.
"I am honored and humbled by this opportunity to become the next coach at Ohio State," Rohlik said. "I want to thank Gene Smith, [associate athletic director] Chris Schneider and the administration for giving me this chance. I look forward to leading this program into the Big Ten."
It's that last part that makes this whole thing pretty strange. Osiecki, a former Wisconsin player and assistant considered a rising star in the coaching world and himself in charge of an NCAA program for the first time, was shockingly fired on April 15th despite a general feeling that he had the long-underachieving program pointed in the right direction. Many immediately speculated that OSU made the move to pursue George Gwozdecky - who had famously felt out the position three years ago before Osiecki was hired - as the man who won two national championships as Denver's head coach also hit the unemployment line this offseason. But...
Oh, okay. So Smith and the administration were happy enough with the state of the program to hire from within, but unhappy enough to fire the last guy. Got it, makes perfect sense. Here's the plan, as articulated by FoTYT Deadly Nuts:
That blog is incredible, and yes, I'm going to keep plugging it any time something happens involving Ohio State.
In an odd twist, Penn State never directly faced Osiecki, but has already faced Rohlik. On December 29, 2012 at the Three Rivers Classic in Pittsburgh, Rohlik guided the Buckeyes during their 5-4 loss to the Nittany Lions in the tournament's third place game. Osiecki was absent because he was named an assistant coach for Team USA at the simultaneous World Junior Championships - an honor you don't get if you suck at being a coach - eventually winning gold in Ufa, Russia. For whatever it may be worth, I was impressed with how Rohlik presented in his postgame press conference after what had to be a pretty disappointing defeat.
At the time of Osiecki's firing, Smith said that there was "a difference of opinion over the management of the program that could not be resolved" and on Wednesday added that "in line with the expectations we have for each of our head coaches" language to the pile of intrigue. Apparently, the nature of the difference was some sort of issue with the head coach, but not with his program. Unless further information leaks out (it might, but it usually doesn't), your guess is as good as mine or anyone else's as to what happened.
Rohlik becomes the third new head coach within the six Big Ten programs since Penn State began its foray into NCAA hockey. The first of the group was Tom Anastos at Michigan State, who was plucked from the CCHA commissioner's chair (literally two days after news of the formation of the conference that would eventually cause the CCHA's demise broke) back in March 2011, 17 years after his last high-level coaching job. Guy Gadowsky, the second and no longer the most recently hired head coach in the league, is now apparently strange due to the relative normalcy of his hiring by PSU after successful tenures at Alaska and Princeton.