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Cahoon’s Contract Renewed: Why That’s Good For UMass Hockey

Aside from the early defections to the pros, the other big topic of discussion for the offseason has been Coach Toot Cahoon and his future with the UMass program.  Within the comments of Fear The Triangle and over on the message board at UMasshoops.com people have made the case as to why Cahoon should or should not coach the Minutemen after this coming season when his contract was up.  Before I share my thoughts on why I think he should be given a chance to coach beyond this season, let me tell you that he will be regardless.  I have learned from sources close to the program that over the summer Coach Cahoon and the athletic department agreed to a contract extension that will keep him in Amherst through the end of the 2012-2013 season.

Personally, I think that’s a good thing for UMass hockey.

Now this time last year I wrote a post about Toot being on the hot seat going into the season and that he would have to show that he was capable of taking the program to the next level and contend for home ice and beyond on a consistent basis. So what happened?  The team got out to another great start, hit an all too familiar late season swoon, finished tied for 6th and got swept out of the Hockey East quarters.  Not exactly what I was hoping for.  So how then can I say that he should remain head of the hockey program?  Well there are a number of aspects of the program that strengthen his case.

First, history.  He is the one responsible for taking the program to its pinnacle.  It’s a lot easier to make the case to fire a Tim Army or a Blaise McDonald because they aren’t the ones responsible for their respective programs’ glory days.  In fact, neither has even gotten their team to the NCAAs.  Cahoon has and he was at the helm for the Garden trips and other accolades to which the UMass program measures itself.  It’s tough to get rid of someone who was a pioneer for the program.

Second, academics.  Last year UMass led the league in number of players on the all-academic team.  It’s not the first time under Cahoon’s tenure that that has been the case.  Martin Nolet, who graduated pre-med, was an academic all-american, chosen from all the college athletes across the nation.  Brett Watson was one of the top scholar athletes at UMass.  Scott Crowder graduated from Isenberg early and is now running an annual pond hockey tournament that he created.  Peter Trovato is still running his charity and will soon be starting at Harvard Business School.  Too often we forget that these players are not only on campus to lace up the skates and entertain us.  They’re there to get an education and represent the campus community, and under Cahoon’s watch they’ve excelled at both.

Third, attendance.  Despite their ups and downs in the standings, UMass hockey has continually gained in popularity on campus.  When I attended games in the late 90s I would regularly share Section W with about two dozen other people.  I’m not exaggerating.  Now the Mullins is good for a couple 8,000+ crowds a season and sellouts are no longer unheard of.  Last season UMass drew 5,300 on average, up from about 5,000 in the two years previous.  That puts them in or near the Top 10 (sorry, USCHO wiped their attendance figures from last year).  Of course a large part of those crowds are students.  Hockey is the most popular sports among the students by far.  Sure they show up to football but most seem more interested in tailgating and disappear from McGuirk by halftime.  And the student crowd at basketball continues to be sparse at best.  But for hockey, they’re there (usually early), they’re excited, and they’re loud.  What has really amazed me in the past couple years are the number of students now showing up for road games.  Quite a difference to when it used to just be me and some friends and the players’ parents fending off Wildcat fans in Durham.  What has Cahoon specifically done for this increase?  Well, I can’t picture him knocking on doors in the dorms like John Calipari did when he first got to campus.  But the increase in attendance and excitement for the program has grown by leaps and bounds under his watch.

Fourth, he runs a clean program.  Have there been some off ice incidents?  Yes.  Have they seemed to be any worse than what is occurring across other college campuses.  Not in my opinion.  Has Toot dealt with these incidents and those involved?  You bet he has.  If there’s one thing I’ve noticed is that he doesn’t hesitate to suspend players who deserve it.  The public may not always know that a player is being punished because Cahoon will rarely address it and it may not be found in the limited media coverage.  But over the years you can bet a lot of those mysterious healthy scratches were Cahoon laying down the law.  And I’ve never heard of kids being admitted that shouldn’t or anything academically suspect surrounding the hockey program.  Ever.  And that’s something important to me because it affects the reputation of the school, a place where I have two degrees from and have close associations with.  If the school looks bad, I look bad.

Now, are the things listed above enough to warrant a contract extension in the face of three very disappointing seasons?  Probably not.  But let me explain two things that happened towards the end of last season that persuaded me to think keeping Cahoon on was the right decision.

First, the recruiting.  Now you’re not going to see this class ranked as one of the best in the country and not one of the incoming players is an NHL draftee.  However, I like this incoming class a lot.  I like the makeup of the players, I like the talent, I like how they seem to complement one another, and I like the fact that top to bottom it is a deep class in terms of skill.  Say what you will about Cahoon, but you can’t say he hasn’t brought some top notch players to UMass.  As much as it stings, players like Jon Quick, Casey Wellman, James Marcou, and Greg Mauldin leaving early to play in the NHL is a testament to his and his staff’s recruiting abilities.  From Mike Pereira, to Jeff Teglia, and on down I really like this incoming class and I’m interested to see what Toot can accomplish with them.  Not this year mind you.  A team this young will have a tough time getting footing this season, especially with such an ambitious schedule.  But next year and the year after is when I really want to see what these freshmen can do.  And I think since Toot brought them in, he deserves to be the one to coach them and accomplish something with them.

One side note to recruiting that I think is important to mention is that without this extension, it would’ve been very difficult for Cahoon to recruit during the course of this year.  How can a kid commit to a program when the coach he wants to play for doesn’t have a contract beyond the current season?  Recruiting with a  lame duck status doesn’t work.

The other thing that got my attention this past spring was his now infamous “Navy Seal” speech from his coach’s show towards the end of the season.  As a fan watching some of the players on the team just go through the motions for a couple months, this was exactly what I wanted, no, needed to hear at the time.  And from everything I’ve heard since, Toot is going to follow through with his promise to make it the hardest program to play in and stay in, as he put it.  We’ve already heard in the article on Sean Saunders that even the offseason lifting program was harder than usual.  It’s very likely that the players can expect more of that when the season starts.

So it is really those last two things, the continued quality recruiting, highlighted by this potentially impactful class coming in, and Toot’s change of how he plans to run the team that made me think he should see this through.  Given his contributions to the program, building it to where we as fans actually have expectations, I think he deserves that much.  Also keep in mind that there’s a chance this will be Cahoon’s last contract as he’ll be 64 when it ends.

I know that despite everything I’ve covered above there will be people unhappy that Cahoon will be at the helm of the team for the next three seasons.  But hopefully that will not prevent them from supporting the team and seeing what he can accomplish over that period.  Because he’ll be be behind the bench working hard to bring UMass back to the NCAAs regardless.

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6 Comments

  1. Glad to hear it as well. I wanted Toot out originally but that coach’s show speech couldn’t have been better. Now that we’ve all calmed down from the long and painful collapse, I think we can all agree that he was the best option available.

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  2. Justin

     /  September 9, 2010

    Excellent opinion piece, just how they should be done. Once again I’m glad you started this blog, and am looking forward to owing you some more beer.

    ” Recruiting with a lame duck status doesn’t work.”

    To me, this is the best reason for the extension. There doesn’t appear to be anyone out there that we could get, whose skills as a coach would be be worth starting the program over. Cahoon has put us into a solid hockey situation, has certainly never embarrassed the university, and graduates his players. As much as I may doubt his ability to take us beyond that, I think you’re correct and he deserves the chance to see what he can do with the next few years of his recruits.

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    • You had me at beer.

      The emails we exchanged on the subject was the basis for this piece. I was just waiting for confirmation on the contract news.

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  3. I was looking over the USCHO board today about the users’ hockey east predictions…. lets just say UMASS is a prime candidate for most for last place or not making playoffs.

    My thoughts: if toot can get this team up to par and make hockey east playoffs then we have had a great season with great coaching.

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    • Usually the underestimate UMass over there. Probably not the case this year. Not sure if I’m picking them ninth but certainly in that neighborhood.

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    • jjmc85

       /  September 10, 2010

      The last two or three seasons everyone at USCHO always predicts UMass to not make the playoffs.

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