TROY -- Seth Appert has long considered the head hockey coaching position at the University of Denver a “dream job.” Same could be said about the same position at Ferris State, Appert’s alma mater, it should be added.
Appert, though, interviewed for the open job at Denver earlier this week.
Being named head coach at Denver to replace his mentor, George Gwozdecky, after Gwozdecky retired is one thing. Replacing Gwozdecky after he was summarily fired by Denver’s athletic director (Vice Chancellor for Athletics and Recreation) Peg Bradley-Doppes could be quite another matter.
Appert was an assistant under Gwozdecky at Denver for nine years and recruited many of the players who helped the Pioneers win back-to-back NCAA championships in 2004 and 2005.
Knowing Appert as I have over the past seven years, I’d suspect he wouldn’t take the job under theses circumstances unless Gwozdecky personally gave him his blessing.
The 59-year old Gwozdecky certainly had plenty of chances to do so earlier this week when Appert was in town for his interview with Bradley-Doppes and other UD officials.
Some sources list Appert and former Denver assistant Derek Lalonde -- who actually replaced Appert when Appert took the RPI job -- as co-favorites to fill the vacancy. Others suggest Lalonde is the leading candidate.
Lalonde currently coaches Green Bay of the United States Hockey League, one of the top junior leagues on the continent, where he led the Gamblers to the league championship in his first season (2012) and the team lost only nine of its 60 regular-season games.
Lalonde is a Denver alumnus, while Appert, as mentioned, is not. The 38-year old Appert has been unavailable all week.
Speculation on the reasons for Gwozdecky’s firing abound (Bradley-Doppes has declined to discuss the matter): Recent postseason failures, numerous early departures to pro hockey by top UD players, which of course, plays to the first reason.
Most who are close to the Denver situation, though, believe that when Gwozdecky, who had one year remaining on his contract at $221,000 per year, sought a contract extension two years ago with three years remaining at the time, and Bradley-Doppes tabled the matter, the relationship between coach and AD went beyond strained.
That, of course, is hardly a reason to fire a coach who turned around a struggling Denver program 19 years ago, made the Pioneers a national power again, won two national championships reached the NCAA Tournament eight times in the past 12 seasons, had 12 straight 20-win seasons and a trio of 25-win campaigns among the past five. Apparently, however, that’s what Bradley-Doppes did.
And that, it would seem, is something that Appert would consider at great length if he’s offered the position; as a boss, Bradley-Doppes’ is said to be tough to work for/with.
Appert’s relationship with Rensselaer AD Col. Jim Knowlton is ideal.
(Knowlton’s son Chris is a graduating senior on the Denver team and was second on the squad in goals (13) and points (29) this past season Also, ironically, Denver will play two games at RPI early next season).
It’s assumed that Denver would not offer Appert the same salary Gwozdecky was being paid.
Rensselaer does not divulge what its coaches’ salaries but it’s widely believed Appert’s does not approach Gwozdecky’s. He has five years remaining on his contract.
Again, as mentioned, I highly expect Appert will question himself long and hard if he wants to replace his mentor under these circumstances.
Back to the early postseason exits. The Pioneers lost their NCAA Tournament opener in five of the past six years. This year, after being upset by rival Colorado College in the first round of the WCHA playoffs, the Pioneers lost to New Hampshire, 5-2.
In 2010, at Albany's Times Union Center -- with Appert looking on -- the Pioneers lost their NCAA tourney opener to heavy underdog Rochester Institute of Technology, 2-1.
Still, the Pioneers were 443-267-64 under Gwozdecky and won four WCHA playoffs championships and three regular-season titles. He’s still young. Denver players and fans love him.
Appert knows quite well about postseason exits, more so in the ECAC Hockey playoffs than the NCAA tourney. Three times in the past four years, higher-seeded RPI teams have lost to lower seeds at home; to a No. 11 seed as a 6 seed, to a 12 seed as a 5 and last month, the 2nd-seeded Engineers lost in the quarterfinals to 7th-seeded Brown.
Appert’s record at RPI is 99-136-31 but the Engineers have enjoyed three winning seasons among the past four after losing a total of 50 games in 2007-08 and 2008-09. Their NCAA Tournament appearance in 2011 was the school's first since 1994.
Another factor for Appert is Denver assistant coach Steve Miller, who’s one of Appert’s “best friends.”
Gwozdecky says he “will coach again” and would Miller wait to remain on Gwozdecky’s staff elsewhere, or would he remain at Denver under head coach Appert?
What will former Denver assistant Bryan Vines, who joined Appert’s RPI staff in 2009 do, stay at Rensselaer, or -- more likely -- return to Denver with Appert?
The speculation -- and the angst of RPI fans -- will end soon. The University of Denver has said it will fill the position quickly, by early next week at the latest.
Will Appert accept the position if it’s offered? That depends on quite a lot -- and his decision will be long thought-out.