Minutes after I wrote in my weekend recap that there should be a coaching change in the coming days news broke that UMass coach John Micheletto has been fired by the university. Matt Vautour was the first to break the news:
This should come as a surprise to no one, even Micheletto. The reasons supporting a coaching change are numerous. Micheletto went 39-88-13 in his four seasons, never winning more than 12 games in a season and unable to even match the 13 wins the team had the season before he took over. The team finished last in Hockey East the past two seasons and the two conference wins in 2015-16 are the fewest in the history of the program.
While he inherited a number of NHL caliber players like Conor Allen and Conor Sheary when he arrived in Amherst he seemed unable to translate talent into wins. Stubbornly trying to fit the players to his aggressive system only resulted in lopsided scores and unhappiness in the locker room. While recruiting improved under his watch even stars like Frank Vatrano and Brandon Montour did not result in competitive hockey in Amherst.
The losing translated into many empty seats in the Mullins Center with the most recent two years’ attendance being the lowest for the program since the late 90s. Fundraising for the program also took a hit with the Pond Club seemingly inactive for this entire season and its members scarcely found at games.
What doomed the Micheletto era at UMass? It wasn’t helped that he was not the top choice for coach after the school parted ways with Toot Cahoon. Former Athletic Director John McCutcheon made blunder after blunder in the resulting coaching search and finally settled on the career assistant at Vermont after being turned down from multiple other candidates. I think once he arrived Micheletto misread the talent on the team he inherited and decided to blow it all up and try to build from scratch despite the fact that the team seemed to be trending in the right direction before he took over. He implemented an insane system that seemingly did not require defense while making poor roster decisions like cutting Kevin Boyle who may end up winning Hockey East Goaltender of the Year for rival Lowell.
At the same time Micheletto made no attempt to engage the fanbase or the greater Amherst community. Cahoon always got the benefit of the doubt, perhaps a bit too much, from the fans because he was so personable and was constantly accessible. Micheletto was neither. By my count he hosted just two meet and greets with fans/season ticket holders during his time at UMass with both coming in his first year. After struggling to turn around the program fans were quick to turn on the coach since he had done little to build any kind of relationship with them.
The Micheletto era was an unfortunate one for UMass hockey. He was brought in by the inattentive and some (me) would say incompetent McCutcheon who seemed to put very little thought or effort into the last coaching search. Micheletto seems smart and was praised as an assistant but it didn’t take long to see that he wasn’t cut out to be a head coach. His teams too often played sloppy and uninspired, his game strategies were flat out disasters, and his in game management resulted in a lot of second guessing. Off the ice he seemed uninterested in the relationship-building that’s needed to be a head coach in the top league in Division I hockey.
UMass Athletic Director Ryan Bamford will now start a search to look for someone with all the above. A complete hockey coach who motivates and teaches players, can find success on the ice, and can get fans in the stands and buying merchandise. I’ve already put together my wish list of who I hope he reaches out to in this process. The search may take some time as some candidates, be they head or assistant coaches, may still be active with their current teams. The conference playoffs have only started and there are many weeks until college hockey ends with the Frozen Four in April. But given his moves so far, especially with how quickly he took action following the season ending last night, UMass hockey fans should feel hopeful that Bamford will take this process seriously and will find a qualified leader for our beloved hockey program. Today isn’t an end. It’s a beginning.