Yesterday, Minnesota State hired former Omaha Lancer head coach and current UNO assistant coach Mike Hastings as the head coach of the Purple Cows. I'm sure that most Lancer fans are excited for Hastings, while some UNO hockey fans are concerned. Myself, I have mixed opinions on the move. You hate to see coaches leave, but I've also never held Hastings in as high esteem as some fans in Omaha do. Nothing wrong per se' with Hastings; it's more that Hastings resume outside of junior hockey is lighter than many of Hastings proponents want to admit.
It goes back three years when UNO was looking for a head coach to replace Mike Kemp. At that time, many people were ready to hand the job to Hastings - even though Hastings only had one season of college coaching experience. It's not that Hastings was unqualified as much as there were so many other more qualified coaches out there at the time. And UNO went out and hired a qualified coach: Dean Blais. At that time, Blais turned around and hired Hastings as his top assistant and head-coach-in-waiting. I didn't have a problem with hiring Hastings as an assistant; I did have a problem with immediately designating Hastings as the successor.
Now, after three years, Hastings is gone, much like Will Muschamp didn't want to hang to hang around waiting for Mack Brown to retire at Texas. What does this mean? Well, I'll put the most positive spin on this: obviously, the retirement of Blais isn't imminent. When Blais was hired, Blais gave the impression that he would coach at UNO for 4-5 years. Well, this is year four...and Blais hasn't given any indication that he's planning to step aside. And this might be the biggest proof that Blais plans to stick around a while longer...and that's a very good thing. Blais has a young roster stocked with his type of players; we'll find out whether Blais still has that magic touch.
Hastings move to Mankato doesn't preclude him from still being Blais' eventual successor. Coaches leave one job for another all the time. And with a few years of head coaching experience on his resume, Hastings could be even more attractive when it does come time to succeed Blais. That is, if he's a success up there. If Hastings isn't a success in Mankato, UNO will definitely be looking elsewhere when it comes time to name a new head hockey coach.
So who will UNO hire next? One name on the rumor mill is Penticton Vees head coach Fred Harbinson. The Vees went 54-6 this season in the Canadian Junior "A" British Columbia Hockey League. Prior to Penticton, Harbinson spent five years as an assistant with St. Cloud State. In his time in Penticton, over fifty of his players have received division 1 scholarships. He's a believer in the speed game, which would be a good match with Blais. His record of identifying and developing talent speaks for itself. Is he interested in UNO? No way to know if this is just idle, wishful talk from UNO fans or what, but if you were just throwing out names, I doubt Penticton, BC would just randomly come up. If Harbinson is, in fact, a bona fide candidate, nothing is likely to happen until the end of the month. Penticton is playing for the Doyle Cup, and the Vees season won't end until April 25th at the earliest.