Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Steve Johnson Hire at UNO Implies Blais Longevity

UNO hired St. Cloud State assistant coach Steve Johnson to replace Mike Hastings on Tuesday. Johnson brings a resume similar to Hastings' to UNO.  He's the fourth winningest coach in USHL history (Hastings is the winningest), and Johnson has two years experience as a college assistant. Hastings only had one season at Minnesota before returning to Omaha to join the Mavs staff.

Johnson has a history with Dean Blais; Blais was a North Dakota assistant during Johnson's playing career, and later was a graduate assistant during Blais' first season as head coach of the Sioux. And Johnson replaced Blais as head coach of the Fargo Force when Blais took the UNO job.  So it makes sense that Blais hired Johnson.

What doesn't make sense is that this hire took seven weeks to make. I still believe that some of that delay can be attributed to Penticton's Fred Harbinson.  Penticton's season stretched into mid-May with the Vees run to the Canadian national championship.  But even that was three weeks ago.  So I tend to believe that Johnson wasn't Blais' first choice. That doesn't make him a bad choice to be a UNO assistant coach.

What excited me about the hire isn't Johnson's background.  He's got a nice record with Lincoln, and I'm sure he'll do fine.  He might even shore up the Mavs power play, which was dismal last season.  What excites me is his job title.

Assistant Coach.

Not "Associate Head Coach"...and certainly not "Heir Apparent."  That's great news in my mind.  I never understood the infatuation by some Mike Hastings' supporters that he was "associate head coach" and the "heir apparent."  Qualified to be the lead UNO assistant coach?  Yes.  Qualified to be associate head coach?  Probably, if Dean Blais felt so.

The "head coach in waiting"?  Nope. Not with only one year of experience as a college assistant, when this first came up.  And more importantly, I wanted to concentrate on where Dean Blais was going to take this program...not on who was going to take over for him.  The rumors about Blais' retiring kept springing up in recent years, and I think that's somewhat unsettling to the program.

Now Hastings is in Mankato, and there is no designate.  Some rumors had Blais retiring in two years and handing the reigns to Johnson.  Well, Blais is holding out a new title for Johnson in a couple of years...but it's not head coach.  As Blais told the World-Herald:
“That (associate head coach) could be out there in a couple of years, depending on our success."
Music to my ears.  We can now stop worrying about how long Blais is going to coach.  Blais isn't worried about a successor right now; he's concerned about winning hockey games.  And that's something I expect to start happening a lot, starting this season.  Blais' first real recruiting class will be juniors this season; I expect they'll be ready to bounce back this season and contend this year.  I think Blais wants to see this thing through as well.  Yeah, he could get run over by a Zamboni or fall out of a bass boat this summer...but I think Blais is sending a message that he's not in the retiring mode yet.

And that's the best news of all with this hire.

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