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New BU hockey coach Albie O'Connell expects 'seamless' transition (and other notes from his introduction)

Scott McLaughlin
June 06, 2018 - 5:06 pm
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One of the biggest positives of Boston University tabbing Albie O'Connell as its next men's hockey coach is that he'll bring continuity and familiarity to the current team and recruits. The Terriers have made the NCAA tournament each of the last four years and are coming off a Hockey East tournament title. The program doesn't need an overhaul, so why give it one?

That was a theme during O'Connell's introductory press conference Wednesday afternoon, with the former BU associate head coach saying he expects the transition from David Quinn, who left two and a half weeks ago to become the head coach of the New York Rangers, to himself to be "seamless."

"I think it will be seamless," O'Connell said. "I think, fortunately, Quinny built a good foundation, on top of what Coach (Jack) Parker’s done. If you have the foundation, you have the house. You might pick different paint colors. I think we’re going to do things systematically about the same. Try to keep the culture and have guys do things at a really high level, the academic piece, the social piece, obviously the training. I think it’s going to be seamless. I think I’ll do some things a little bit different, but the structure is there and it’s not broke."

BU athletic director Drew Marrochello concurred, saying that as he went through the process of searching for a new coach, he realized more and more that it just made too much sense to hire O'Connell rather than shake things up with someone who isn't currently associated with the program.

"I remind people that the state of our program is good," Marrochello said. "Our student-athletes are part of the fabric of the school. We have a great team culture. We’ve been to four NCAA tournaments in a row. That’s certainly a credit to David Quinn and his leadership, but he couldn’t have done it without Albie’s help and influence. As we talked to more and more people, one sentiment was consistent, and indeed overwhelming: ‘You have to keep Albie.’ When we talked to candidates about their staff composition … every candidate said, ‘To succeed, I have to keep Albie. Albie’s key. Albie’s my No. 1 recruit.’ And it dawned on me somewhere during that process that we’re the ones who should be keeping Albie."

Below are some more takeaways from O'Connell's introduction Wednesday. For more background on O'Connell, his career and some of the other names who were considered candidates, click here.

-- If there was a knock on O'Connell as a candidate during this process, it was that he doesn't have any head coaching experience. He's been a college assistant at five different schools over a decade-plus run during which he's made a name for himself as one of the best recruiters in the country. But was he head coaching material? Was he instead just a career assistant and recruiter? Both O'Connell and Marrochello addressed those questions.

"I actually interviewed for a few jobs in the past, but nothing that ever really worked out," O'Connell said. "But those were good experiences. I think working at BU for the past four years, and playing for Coach Parker, and the expectations and the culture of the program now, I think with my journey through coaching and learning from a lot of different people and different styles, I think I have a really good base of how I want to do things. I’m very confident in that."

"Albie had, as he alluded to, some other chances, some other interviews," Marochello said. "I won’t go into the details of where he looked and so forth, but he learned from those experiences. When the ADs would call me to ask me about him, I would say, ‘Of course he’s a head coaching candidate.’ If you’re looking at assistant coaches around the country, you should absolutely be looking at Albie O’Connell, based upon his body of work. If you take the names off the resumes and just look at the experiences and the accomplishments, that’s quite a resume. And I had known just being around him after games, during the year, at dinner, just how deep that hockey knowledge was. And I think he’s grown really being exposed to David, being exposed to Len Quesnelle, working with other guys, Scotty Young. I think his knowledge of all facets of being a head coach has certainly improved, but I thought he was head coaching material really for the last couple of years."

-- Marrochello shared an amusing story to illustrate just how many people he heard from during this search.

"I started to keep track of how many people I talked to, seeking their counsel and opinions. And I know I certainly lost track of how many I heard from, offering their counsel and opinions. I told somebody at one point I thought I had heard from everybody in the hockey world except for Scotty Bowman. Two days later, a mutual acquaintance asked if I would take a call from Scotty Bowman. Just to dispel any rumors, he was not offering himself up as a candidate. We had a delightful 20-minute conversation, but he was recommending somebody."

Marrochello didn't say whom Bowman was recommending, but the guess here would be Shawn McEachern, who was believed to be one of the final three candidates for the job and who played for Bowman with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the early 90s.

-- O'Connell said his coaching career nearly came to an end 11 years ago after he had spent two years as an assistant coach at Niagara University and one at Holy Cross. He wasn't making enough money to make a living doing it, but then he got an offer to go to Merrimack College that was good enough to keep him going.

"I was almost out of coaching. I really couldn’t afford to pay the bills. Long story short, I interviewed about a month later and Mark Dennehy offered me the job at the coaches convention (in Florida). My wife and her sister went down. We thought it was going to be the last vacation before I got, not a real job, but a job not in hockey. But Mark gave me an opportunity."

-- During his introduction of O'Connell, Marrochello made a point to note that he considers the college hockey and pro hockey experiences very different.

"I will say that I consider the college and professional games, and more specifically the college and professional experiences, to be very different. So college experience was definitely desired. The reason it’s so desirable is because you have to know how to truly exist, thrive and fit on a college campus, how to interact with and support other coaches, how to manage a roster and scholarship allotment. You need to know about the student-athlete advisory committee. You need to be concerned with grades and graduation rates. And you need to be concerned with these while also trying to field a competitive team, and in our case a nationally prominent team. You need to understand student-athletes."

Looking at the reported pool of candidates, it's easy to see, then, why O'Connell and Union College head coach Rick Bennett would've ended up on Marrochello's short list, and it makes you wonder if a lack of college experience worked against candidates like Bruins assistant coaches Jay Pandolfo and Joe Sacco.

-- In a one-on-one interview with WEEI.com, Marrochello addressed a few other questions that arose during the coaching search.

On looking for a coach who will be at BU long-term vs. one who might jump to the NHL, especially given the fact more NHL teams are looking to the college ranks: "When Dave Hakstol left North Dakota, I’m not saying we were rooting against Philadelphia at that point, but a lot of us had our eyes open to, this is going to start a cascade. It really could. If he succeeds there, people will be more inclined to dip into the college ranks as opposed to the American League for coaches to jump right into the NHL.

"It caused us to look at our program to say, as other ADs have done, ‘Are we a training ground for the NHL?’ That’s clearly not our design. We’re probably not in the position that we’re going to have someone here for 40 years (like Jack Parker), because that’s a real anomaly. If they leave for the NHL, it’s certainly after success. But our design is for somebody to be here and to stay here. As I told candidates and told people, with all due respect, if you get to two Frozen Fours and you do what you’re supposed to do on campus and you get to a regional final and you have success and the NHL comes calling, then by all means. That’s a great opportunity for you. But if you’re going to take the job with the design of getting an NHL job, that’s a different thing. So we certainly wanted someone who understands, as I alluded to, the college experience, someone who’s not just using us as a training ground. This is too special a job to do that. And David (Quinn) didn’t do that, I want to be clear. He didn’t do that. It was just a byproduct of his success."

On the role that feedback from fans, donors and alumni played, given that many donors seem to really like O'Connell and didn't like some other candidates, most notably Rick Bennett: "I interact with our donors and our alumni on a daily basis. I think it’s important that they have a voice and that they have people who hear them. They care about the university. The worst thing in life is apathy. If people aren’t expressing their opinion, that’s not good. People expressing their opinion is a good thing. I’m not familiar with the names they were really bandying about. I hear what’s going on but I don’t get involved in the details of it. The decision was not driven by that base. The decision was made after careful and thorough inspection of the best candidates we could come up with. And we ended up with a BU guy. That is a good thing, it really is."

On what he would need to see to seriously consider a non-BU guy: "I’m well aware that someone who is a non-BU person may not understand the history, the fan base, the city. They have to be a special person in terms of their accomplishments. They really do. People talk about other assistant coaches, are they looking at the job? Well frankly, we have an assistant coach here. If you’re a head coach, I’m aware of who we could present and who we couldn’t present. I’m not going to confirm who we talked to, but just talking about generic resumes, you’d have to have some special accomplishments to be presented for the BU job."

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