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Toot Cahoon Era Ends At UMass

First up, the facts.

Coach Toot Cahoon stepped down today as head coach of the Massachusetts hockey program in what I’ve been told was a mutual decision between him and Athletic Director John McCutcheon.  No reasons were given in this release from the school and Cahoon at this time has not commented.  However, let’s remember this comes less than a week after the school named the WEEI affiliate in Springfield as the new flagship station for UMass radio broadcasts but not the new home for UMass hockey broadcasts.  In fact we’re still waiting for a new home for UMass hockey broadcasts.  That’s not a coincidence.  As I wrote last week, this was further evidence of the athletic department’s lack of commitment to the program.  Two stories on Cahoon’s decision, citing unnamed sources, specifically mention McCutcheon not focusing on  hockey successful as what ultimately what led to the two sides parting ways.  Here’s a telling quote from Harry Plummer’s story on Masslive:

“In the circumstances that surround the hockey program and this league, and how it’s perceived and viewed in and around the community vis a vis the interest and general support … there’s a broad perception that this program has second-tier status when that shouldn’t be the case,” the source said. “When you play in the best conference, you expect a certain investment financially, man power wise, et cetera.”

Michael King’s story for College Hockey News also cites lack of support as part of the reasoning behind this move.  McCutcheon denies such a thing in both reports.

Whatever the reason, the fact is UMass, which was already looking for an Assistant Coach with Blaise MacDonald leaving and a Director of Hockey Operations (more on that later), is now looking for a new face to lead the program as well.  And frankly, the timing of this sucks.  Having to go out and replace key parts to a staff in the middle of June puts the school at a disadvantage.  The coaching carousel stopped months ago.  Potential candidates have already committed to schools and are knee deep into planning for next year.  If the school had any doubts about whether Toot was the right person to lead the program they should’ve had the guts to make the decision sooner.  We know that Toot had made his decision and in Mid-March he told Dick Baker that he planned to stay this season and possibly longer.  Toot meant what he said back then and when I talked to him within the last two weeks he was enthusiastically talking about next season and the players coming back.  So what happened in the meantime?  Oh yeah, the athletic department publicly announced that hockey would not be broadcast on UMass’ flagship radio station with basketball and football.  I love the work the administration has done with athletics, especially in regards to the football upgrade and the hiring of Derek Kellogg as basketball coach, but they completely blew how the radio announcement was handled.  Especially coming right when UMass hockey was in the national news as a result of Jon Quick’s Conn Smythe performance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Total blunder.  The perception it created was poor and, in my opinion, likely created a rift between Cahoon and McCutcheon that couldn’t be repaired.

But, that’s now the past.  Now it’s time to get a new coach.  I am hearing the Len Quesnelle will be retained by the school for the upcoming season and therefore can provide some continuity for the current players and committed recruits.  Matt Vautour has reaction from Mike Pereira in his story on the departure and the news that Toot intends to retire from hockey.  With that the question becomes who will be the next UMass coach.  Matt has it right by saying McCutcheon’s first phone call should be to former UMass assistant Mark Dennehy.  However it’s unknown whether he has any interest and he does there still could be significant contractual challenges to successfully lure him away from Merrimack.  For the record, Mike McMahon from the Eagle-Tribune has said that Dennehy is not a candidate.  And frankly, if McMahon is reporting it, it’s probably true (sorry, Dickie Dunn).  CHN’s Joe Meloni tweeted this afternoon that Kyle Wallack, who I wrote about yesterday as a candidate for the assistant position, could be considered for the head job.  I would think former UMass Grad Assistant Darren Yopyk would be a leading candidate, given that he was a finalist for the Northeastern position and had the Princeton job until visa problems derailed the opportunity.   Meloni also mentioned former Maine Black Bear and current USHL coach Jim Montgomery as a possibility.  There are also rumors that Providence coach Nate Leaman may be interested in the position.  I would assume BC assistant Mike Cavanaugh would be in the mix because, well, he’s always a candidate for every head coaching job.  The problem is he never gets them so I’m not sure what that says about his prospects.  I would recommend following Meloni on Twitter because he has been right on top of the early stages of this search and, as a former Collegian reporter, has connections to the UMass program as well as college hockey in general.

So those are the facts.  Here’s my opinion.  I have mixed feelings about Toot no longer being coach of UMass hockey.  Obviously the last few years have been disappointing and it hasn’t been the easiest of times to be a fan of the program.  With the exception of 2010-2011 when the team was full of freshmen you couldn’t help but feel UMass underachieved in recent years.  The team would’ve had to have a very successful year, at least a bubble team for the NCAA tournament, for me to support a contract extension for Toot following next season.  In the end, that point is moot.

What’s important is that we can celebrate all that Toot did for UMass hockey.  If one became a fan from around 2003 to 2007 it’s easy to say that in recent years Toot didn’t live up to the expectations he himself set for the program with the success during that time.  However if you became a fan in 1993 Toot will forever be remember as finally bringing UMass to the promised land.  UMass hockey was god awful when he took over for Joe Mallen in 2000.  The program was so historically bad the fans should’ve been wearing paper bags on their heads.  But that would’ve required fans.  But he came in and was, for us oldtimers at least, a miracle worker.  This team had never sniffed a Hockey East playoff win (play-in game against BC notwithstanding) and within three years he had UMass making their semifinal debut at the FleetCenter.  The next year UMass went all the way to the finals and were a Jimmy Howard glove save and a Kevin Jarman toe away from being Hockey East Champions.  Three years after that UMass fans gathered from near and far to watch the team take the ice in its first NCAA tournament in Rochester, NY and come one win away from the Frozen Four.  In recent years a lot of UMass fans have called for a change of coaches so UMass could return to the tourney and get back to competing for Hockey East titles.  And I don’t blame them for that.  But the fact is they only want to return there and experience the feeling of a successful hockey program again because Toot got the team there first.

That’s what Toot did for the hockey program on the ice.  A top five ranking.  A Lightning College Classic Championship.  Three Hockey East Semifinal appearances.  One Hockey East Final appearance.  One NCAA appearance.  One NCAA win. Toot’s biggest victories though, were off the ice.  Wins and losses are important, but in the end this is college athletics.  Equally important is what kind of young men come out of the program.  When it comes to this Toot’s success is indisputable.  I have always been impressed by the type of men that leave Amherst under Toot’s tutelage.  Nearly all the former players I’ve been lucky enough to interact with have been intelligent, represent the school well, and many go on to great success on or off the ice after leaving campus.  I always think about someone like Martin Nolet, an Academic All-American as a pre-med major.  Brett Watson and Paul Dainton took time away from their studies and hockey at UMass to immerse themselves in local charities and got their teammates involved too.  Peter Trovato has done tremendous work in founding and operating the Massachusetts Soldiers Legacy Fund and just recently graduated from Harvard Business School.  Toot brought some great hockey talent to campus.  But he also brought in some tremendous young men to represent the team and the university.  And they graduated (nearly all of them) as better people than when they came in thanks in large part to Toot’s guidance.  I’ve had a number of parents talk to me in the past about how thankful they were that they sent away their sons to learn and grow under Toot at UMass.

Lastly, as a fan, I was very happy to have Toot out there as the face of the program.  I’ve been around UMass coaches who want absolutely nothing to do with the fans and just want to go out, coach their players, and go home.  I’ve been around coaches who will stick around for a couple minutes and make small talk, act polite, and then quickly escape when they have the first opportunity.  That wasn’t Toot.  He seems to genuinely enjoy talking to fans and other supporters of the program and he especially loves to just talk hockey.  I remember being worried when I started Fear The Triangle because I knew I would do my best to be honest and criticize the power play or lines when I felt necessary but I didn’t know how Toot would react to that criticism.  He reacted by publicly thanking me for the effort I put into the blog and giving other fans a place to go to follow the team. If he ever felt insulted by the fact that I, some dude who never played the game, second guessed his decisions on a semi-regular basis he never showed it and did nothing but encourage me to keep this blog going.

When he was hired Toot brought with him a wealth of hockey knowledge and instant credibility for the program.  But he also brought in a great attitude.  He dedicated himself to trying to establish UMass hockey as a force locally and nationally and did everything he could to make that happen.  Dedication to UMass.  He came in from Princeton as a former National Champion for the Boston University Terriers.  He leaves a Minuteman.  Just in the last month I spoke with him and he mentioned that while he maintains connections with BU and has great memories there, he considers himself completely affiliated with the University of Massachusetts.  And that doesn’t surprise me.  He put a lot of himself into this school and especially this program and whatever UMass hockey is right now it’s that because of him.

Toot, thanks for bringing the program to heights never reached before.  Thanks for developing outstanding hockey players on the ice, in the classroom, and in the community.  And thanks for representing the University of Massachusetts, my alma mater which I hold so very dear, with the utmost class in every way, shape, and form.

I’ll do my best to relay whatever news I can during this time period so keep checking back.  Also be sure to follow Fear The Triangle on Twitter, as I can’t always post news immediately but I can almost always tweet.  Also make sure to check out the FTT Facebook page as it’s another place to keep up to date but right now it has some nice words about Toot from and fans and former players, some of whom didn’t even play for him.

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42 Comments

  1. Well said with regards to saluting the work that Don Cahoon did at our alma mater. I may not have always been his biggest fan, but I will be eternally grateful for his energy, effort, and enthusiasm. And as we discussed many times, he never did a thing to make the school look bad and usually got the most out of his players offs the ice.

    No Dean Stork rumors? Leaman would be such a steal I would probably feel bad.

    Like

  2. Anonymous

     /  June 20, 2012

    your best write up – the umass love is powerful – go umass!

    Like

  3. Pat

     /  June 20, 2012

    Completely agree w/ burlinwhite. Some of his in-game management and line pairings may have been frustrating, but he was a real class-act and represented UMass well. The “Cahoonaville” sign should be retired to The Harp and hung up around the other UMass memorobilia. Dennehy would be a great replacement, but it would be difficult to negotiate an opt-out w/ Merrimack. I guess we hope for the best and hope that McCutcheon has more of a commitment to the program than he has displayed lately. The Athletic Department really has to keep in mind that B-ball may have been the main reason for the building of the Mullins Center, but hockey has sustained it. I never had to wait over an hour in a line wrapping the building to get into the Bill for regular season basketball, only for hockey.

    Like

  4. Anonymous

     /  June 20, 2012

    Agree completely, Toot was a class act on and off the ice, and always represented the university the best way possible. I like many others questioned some of his decisions on the ice, however I question alot of coaches. More importantly the character of the kids on the teams over the years have been unparalleled. Hopefully the upperclassmen can rally together and put it together this year, they definitely have the talent.

    I really hope this gets resolved quickly so we can go back to speculating about lines and who is in net. I would hope the AD is smart enough to at least hold on to Q to keep a little bit of stability going into this year.

    Like

  5. Anonymous

     /  June 20, 2012

    Why isnt Dick Baker on the beat anymore? I would really like to hear his take on this. I agree with the other poster about Red, would he ever be considered?

    Like

  6. Anonymous

     /  June 20, 2012

    umass is the sleeping giant of hockey east – any top coach should jump at this opportunity-
    rabid fans – great rink for speed – great rink for viewing etc..thank you coach cahoon for your class act representing umass athletics

    Like

  7. BLong

     /  June 20, 2012

    Well said, Rocks.

    Like

  8. Monty

     /  June 20, 2012

    If I’m a UMass fan and Leaman is seriously interested, I’d be scared and run the other way. If this were real, this would be his third job in three years … and he’d obviously just consistently be looking to move on, not what UMass needs (or should get). Just my $0.02, from a Lowell and HE fan’s perspective.

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    • I was surprised by that rumor as well. Don’t know how there is behind it.

      Like

    • I think what you’re saying makes sense, but I think the difference is that UMass is a bit more of a destination than the other two jobs he’s had. PC may have a great history, but it lacks the amenities, support, and probably the paycheck (although that’s speculation) that Coach Leaman could get at UMass.

      I think coach Leaman leaving PC is pretty unlikely though, and would be a bit of a screw job.

      Like

  9. J.W.

     /  June 20, 2012

    What about Jack Arena of Amherst College? Coming off a NESCAC Championship year, and a National Coach of the Year award, plus the fact that he wouldn’t have to uproot his family should be very appealing to the school.

    Like

    • Certainly an interesting suggestion considering the season he just had. However I think UMass will look to someone with DI experience. Plus Arena is an Amherst alum and has been there since 1983, I doubt he’s looking to leave.

      Like

      • J.W.

         /  June 20, 2012

        Well don’t you think it would be in the program’s best interest to at least offer it to him? Or ask if he might be interested?

        Like

        • Amherst is a small enough community I’m sure if he’s interested he’ll be able to get the word to McCutcheon.

          Like

  10. Anonymous

     /  June 20, 2012

    Way to think outside the box JW, that would be an interesting choice.

    I do think a coach with some strong USHL connections would be beneficial to the progam also.

    Like

  11. J. Walker

     /  June 20, 2012

    Weren’t Toot and Dennehy really close? Why would Dennehy leave MC to take over the school that just forced his mentor out of the picture? Doesn’t really make too much sense to me.

    Like

    • Just to clarify I’m told the decision was mutual and Cahoon and McCutcheon are still on good terms.

      But Dennehy will not be a candidate.

      Like

  12. Gregg Anderson

     /  June 20, 2012

    I can’t improve on Rocks’ take- all the potential names are Eastern- is there any chance of MN assistant Mike Guentzel? The Gophers run of suckitude prior to this year was all after Guentzel left the program- the Rodents went to the FF this year after he came back.

    Like

  13. Anon

     /  June 20, 2012

    what about a guy like red gendron? it is shown through the past years he wants a head coaching job and it seemed as if him and toot did not see eye to eye —- he is familiar with the umass program and knows the team from a coaching stand point — he could just have his own input now.

    Like

  14. John Smallberries

     /  June 20, 2012

    Being on the North Shore I have heard rumblings about this for a while. I know Cahoon told you he wanted to keep going beyond this year but if you remember at the end of the season there was some doubt about that. He is ready to retire, he’s been working on his place in Marblehead gettign ready to move back, this has been in the works for a while now. I think he stayed on for recruiting purposes and that’s why the timing of the announcement now.

    Like

  15. Anonymous

     /  June 20, 2012

    Are you saying he stayed on and lied to recruits saying he was gonna be there for a while?

    Like

    • John Smallberries

       /  June 20, 2012

      Welcome to college athletics. I’m saying he probably looked them in the eye and told them he was planning on being here just as he did our favorite blogger. But every recruit knew his contract status and knew he might only be here for one more year. That same thing goes for almost every sport at every college. Which is why most coaches sell the school even more than they sell themselves.

      Like

  16. Will

     /  June 20, 2012

    Rocks, great piece. It is no surprise to any of us that so many people seemed to flock to your site for a respected analysis. I loved hearing your thoughts on the news, and I would be even more interested in how you think this will affect the team. One question in particular I am interested in is whether or not it is possible that we could lose recruits or players.

    Like

  17. Anonymous

     /  June 20, 2012

    I think I speak for the rest of us when I say we are dying to find out more about this. I am firmly in the hire Gendron camp. The players absolutely loved him, and he was a pretty solid recruiter from what I have heard.

    Like

  18. Anonymous

     /  June 20, 2012

    Jack Arena would be a solid hire for the program. Coach of the Year and knows the area and program well. Norm Bazin sure turned around Lowell and he came from a small Nescac school

    Like

    • meff

       /  June 20, 2012

      Norm Bazin also had 11 years as an assistant in D1. But don’t let that stop you from posting as anonymous.

      Like

  19. Anonymous

     /  June 20, 2012

    Jack Arena perfect hire

    Like

    • Is it necessary to just post the same thing over and over? We get it.

      Like

      • Anonymous

         /  June 20, 2012

        Wow a blogger upset for people commenting on his blog. That’s a first.

        Like

        • I love when people comment. I just don’t see why the same person has to spam the comment section by posting the same thing twice in a minute’s time.

          Like

        • J.W.

           /  June 21, 2012

          those posts weren’t me if that is what you’re getting at…

          Like

  20. George

     /  June 20, 2012

    Jack Arena won’t be coaching at UMass. I’ll save you the post.

    Like

  21. Tiger Holland

     /  June 21, 2012

    Wow, I never knew how bad the 1993-1997 team was regarded in the Umass hockey community. Here I thought being a part of bringing hockey back to Umass after many years was something that would be more appreciated. Quick few facts in defense of my fellow “old timers” – first year in Hockey East knocking out Boston College for playoff win, knocking off Maine – #1 in the country at the time, many 7.2k attendance for BC BU games. Granted not to many of those nights in the those four years but certainly that was not expected for a new program. These things go in cycles – remember the days of standing room only at basketball games in that era – little different now, right. That being said I along with other former players from that era am a huge Toot fan and what he accomplished was great for the team, program, and school. When Toot did take over in 2000 the program was a mess – you could dedicate a whole blog on why it was a mess at that time – and brought instant credibility to the program.

    Heck – when the 90’s era players don’t get respect in their own “Pond Club” why should we get it anywhere on the outside. Still one of the closest groups ever to come out of Umass hockey – that is way more important than any win, loss, or “fake” friends group. We in that era wouldn’t have it any other way.

    T Holland
    1993-1997

    Like

    • Tiger, I’m very sorry that I made it sound like I don’t respect what the early players of the program accomplished. That wasn’t my intent and couldn’t be further from the truth. I became a fan of the game by sitting in the Mullins and watching guys like yourself, Rob Bonneau, Warren Norris, and the rest of those teams. I have the utmost respect for what you guys were doing. To be thrown into the toughest league in the country one year removed from not having a program was an impossible task. But you guys worked your asses off, represented the school well, and laid the foundation for everything that has happened since.

      I have great memories of sitting in the Mullins watching those early teams, even if there were more losses than wins. The blog is named Fear The Triangle in tribute to those memories and those early teams. I do my best to make sure people know that UMass hockey did not start in 2003. That there have been plenty of players like yourself that proudly wore the maroon and white for decades before.

      Again, apologies if you took offense to what I wrote. I definitely could’ve worded it better.

      Like

  22. Anonymous

     /  June 21, 2012

    Who is John Dingleberries?
    Toot is updating his home and that means he lied to recruits?
    What a joke…

    Like

    • John Smallberries

       /  June 22, 2012

      Smallberries, my friend, Smallberries. Evidently your reading comprehesion is pretty low as I didn’t say he lied to recruits, someone else asked if he lied to recruits. I said I’m sure he told them what every college coach in every sport says, you are committing to UMass not UCahoon. What I am saying is people who know him have told me retirement has been on his mind for a while now, he’s been updating his home with the intention of a full time move back and this is not a big surprise. I honestly think he was 50/50 and that feeling as well as the obvious fact of being in the last year of his contract was certainly not going to help his ongoing recruiting efforts, for kids or Asst. Coaches.

      Like

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