EAST LANSING - Danton Cole was introduced as Michigan State hockey's seventh head coach in a press conference on Tuesday at Munn Ice Arena.
Press Conference Transcript
THE MODERATOR: I'd like to thank everyone for coming today on what is on exciting day in the Michigan State hockey program. Appreciate all the VIPs, certainly appreciate all the athletic department staff that's taken time out of their day to welcome our newest addition to the Spartan family. With that, we'll go ahead and get started. First speaker, a member of our board of trustees, Melanie Foster.
MELANIE FOSTER: Thank you. On behalf of the board of trustees, welcome. Hockey is a hallowed tradition here at Michigan State University, and along with football and basketball, those three programs represent our marquee sports programs. No one understands how hallowed that tradition is better than Danton Cole. As a member of the 1986 National Championship team and making three Frozen Four appearances during his tenure here as a student athlete, he understands the greatness of MSU hockey. We so look forward under his leadership to building MSU hockey back into a program of national presence.
I'd like to take just a moment and reflect on how proud his former coach Ron Mason would be today. Also, I'd like to thank our leader in President Simon. Not only is she our leader of team MSU, she's a great president. She has a board that fully supports her, and she's also a very avid hockey fan that on any given Friday or Saturday, her and Dr. Roy Simon are here as fans of MSU hockey.
And it's more than the Simons and the board of trustees. It's all these fine young men here, our student-athletes. It's the support people that are here in Munn Arena. It's our faculty, and it's our administration that all do so much to support Spartan athletics that I'm so proud of.
Today represents a new era in MSU hockey, and I'm so looking forward to it. Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Trustee Foster. You already gave a great introduction of our next speaker, Dr. Lou Anna K. Simon.
LOU ANNA SIMON: Thank you. Roy and I are really privileged to be a part of Spartan hockey and MSU for a very long time, and our seats are right over there, and we do stare down at the bench, but there are no signals that we send so you're going to be on your own in that regard.
I want to commend Mark Hollis. I know for some of you, it always takes us a little bit longer than you'd think in terms of making these decisions. I know he listened very carefully to the team, to a full range of alumni, people around the country who have a passion for hockey and the importance of Big Ten hockey as a symbol moving forward of what's the best about hockey.
He had many factors, many pieces of analysis, as only Mark can do.
This is a decision that reflects his head and his heart in terms of his commitment to the program, our collective commitment to the program, and also the fact that we are confident that this will be a new era of success for Spartan hockey.
So we're very pleased, Danton, for you to come home because you've always been a part of the Spartan family wherever you've been in the world and represented us so well, and now that you've come home and you're here every day to enjoy the campus and to be part of that spirit with you and your family, we're just so delighted to have you here. And again, I want to commend Mark for all the work he's done. I know you all have been speculating for a very long time.
And not to put any pressure on this, but to add some pressure, Roy and I are so interested in hockey that we watched the NCAA championship without having a team of interest in the game, and it was, I think, a good omen for us that the Denver coach who won his championship played on a National Championship team for that school. And as a part of that tradition and history believed that he could bring that spirit back to Denver, part of his comments in the postgame. And also instill in the young men of the Denver program the fact of the importance of tradition, the importance of academics, and the importance of being another champion, and I know that's your spirit, and so I thought that was a good omen for your appointment as our next coach of Spartan hockey. So thanks for doing that for us.
MARK HOLLIS: The search for our new hockey coach has been going on for 21 days. I'd like to thank the many people that helped the process both here on campus and across the country. Coaching transitions impact many people, many lives, staff, donors, families, and yes, even the media. But 21 days ago, I started this process by standing with the team, our student-athletes. My priority, I told them that my office door was always open, and they responded.
I asked them what it was that they sought in a head coach. These are some words that they responded with: A players' coach, approachable, NHL experience, the ability to develop players, a communicator, solid schemes, detail oriented, knows what's going on in our personal lives, a proven winner, straightforward, demanding, a hockey coach. That's what I heard from day one. That was the path that we used in our process to search for a coach, to name a coach, and the president is right, I probably submitted Danton's name seven, eight times as a recommendation for a hire, and then I'd come back and say, I need just a little bit more time. I need to look at a few more things. And she gave me that time.
Over the course of the past 21 days, I talked to Spartans, coaches at all levels, and coaches from many different sports that knew the individuals that we were looking at.
I talked to players in the NHL, USHL executives, people that love Michigan State University, and people that love the sport of hockey. It was true a national search was taking place at every step over the past 21 days with input coming from a number of different people about some great, great candidates that had interest in being the head coach at Michigan State.
In the end, on Saturday night and Sunday morning, I reflected on what I was told by our student-athletes on day one. I thought about the passion to be here and the impact that an individual can have on so many different individuals while building a great team. I thought about gold medals and hoisting the Stanley Cup. I thought about coaching more than 80 guys that went on to play in the NHL, and many, many more that an individual can have a positive impact beyond the sport of hockey.
I thought about making the most of what you have in any situation that you're given, any position that you hold. How do you make the best of that moment in time in your life? I thought about the commitment to academics. I thought about the commitment to excellence, a phrase that Coach Mason used throughout his tenure at Michigan State. Someone that's demanding, someone that's caring, someone that pushes to the extreme to get the most out of every individual, but also cares about what's going on in their lives.
It took us 21 days, but honestly, it could have just taken one. Please allow me to introduce your Spartan head ice hockey coach, Danton Cole.
DANTON COLE: Wow, that's a lot of nice things and I really appreciate it. A few people to thank for sure, President Simon and Dr. Roy, I've gotten to know them a little bit over the years and they're just tremendous people and great Spartans. As you said, it's good to be coming back home again.
Mark Hollis and Shelley Appelbaum and the athletic director's office, we spent a fair amount of time here in the last couple weeks and discussing a lot of different things, and it's just been enlightening and makes me proud to be a Spartan to see how things are run around here and the family atmosphere.
Thanks to them very much, the board of trustees and especially Melanie for coming out and the kind words, as well. Like I said, it's just nice to be around these kind of people, and I always found, whether it was when I was playing or coaching that it's the people that you're around. The money, the city, things really don't matter. If you're around good people, everything works, and it just ends up being a great experience and certainly that's something that I'm finding here. The staff has been unbelievable today and the other coaches coming up to me, and you can see the family type atmosphere it is with them stopping by and meeting the players. A lot of emotions stepping back in the MSU locker room and it was all I could do not to bust out into the fight song in the middle of the room there, but it's always on my mind.
I did want to thank everyone at USA Hockey and all the things I just said about the people here is equally true there. David Ogrean, our director; and Jim Johannson and Scott Monaghan, who I worked with daily for seven years, just the people are outstanding there. It is a wonderful place to work. It's a wonderful place to be and grow as a coach, and just learn a lot about life. But their wisdom, their advice, and especially their friendship just means an awful lot to me. Just great, great people.
It was going to take a really, really special place for me to leave a really, really special place, and that's what I'm looking at here, obviously.
A few years after I was done playing hockey, I was coaching in Grand Rapids, and I don't know if George is here, he was sitting across the desk from me, and we had a good team, and we were a little over 100 points. I think we were in the Western Conference Finals, and he was talking about it, and I think in the minors most guys want to end up coaching in the NHL, and I was in my third or fourth year of coaching, and George asked me about that, if hey, maybe you'll coach the Red Wings someday, and I remember saying it, and I've said it to a lot of people since, that would be nice, but I really, really would love to go back, and Coach Mason was always, not trying to push him out, but I would love to go back there someday, and it's been on my mind, and certainly the timing has to be right for these things, and sometimes in life it works out, sometimes it doesn't. That's a lesson, and that's things that young men have to learn, and you go through it.
But when great things happen, it's a wonderful thing, and again, I can't be more thankful for that.
I'd like to, some of the coaches that have been here before me, I knew Amo. I was here long enough ago and used to skate at Dem Hall and got a chance to meet him, and he didn't come around much when I was playing but he'd pop up from Florida and visit his brother Pete every once in a while, and just a tremendous man, and then obviously fortunate to play for Coach Mason, and what an influence he had on all of our lives, all the guys that played for him, and other people, obviously, around the community.
He didn't, man he didn't talk to us a lot when we played here. It was interesting, he coached a lot, we learned a lot, but when he left and you moved on, there was no bigger advocate or mentor, and just staying in contact with him over the years, and again, like Amo down in Florida, that must be where coaches go when they're done at Michigan State is down to Florida, but just calling him on a Tuesday night and he'd let you -- he'd start talking about the power play and just hit go and it would be 40 minutes later and he'd be giving you all kinds of different ideas.
Yeah, certainly a special man in a lot of our lives. Coach Comley came in with our third national title and did great things, and Rick is still scouting and I get to see him a lot. I'd be remiss, too, if I didn't thank Coach Anastos and what he's done. A great Spartan and did a lot of great things, and I texted with him earlier today and look forward to spending some time with him and keeping him involved as we go through.
And to build on some of the things that they got started here. There's some great things here, some places that we want to get to, and what needs to be done is going to take a little bit of time. Might not be the least painful thing but nothing worth achieving never is, and it's a lot of hard work, and I thank Tom for the blood, sweat and tears that he's put into this program since he was a student athlete here until and into the future.
Two things: Our plan, it's important to have a plan and moving forward for the next 12 months, and it starts with maintaining and building on the culture, on the type of program that we want to have here, about excellence. I know I like Mark's comment that he has on his thing of energy and excitement, and that's what MSU hockey should be. It should bring that to the University and it should be something that is one of the front porches, something that people want to be a part of. Everybody wants to be a part of something great, and that's what Michigan State hockey is.
Secondly, we'll identify, recruit and sign elite players to come here and to join the guys that are already here, and the pressure will be on them to get that momentum going and teach those young guys when they come in so they can take over for them.
That excellence on and off the ice is very important.
Third, we've got to engage the community, the students, the fans. Munn Ice Arena was a snake pit, and that's how it's got to be. It's got to be a hard place to come in and win. You want it to be on the other team's pre-scout, that when they come and play at Munn Ice Arena, they'd better be ready. The crowd is going to be on them. It's going to be loud. If you put my picture up there like it is now, it's not very intimidating, but that board can be intimidating. That's way too big and way too much. Hopefully that's the last time that happens.
And that's how Munn was. I think Shelley and Mark and I were talking earlier, when I was coming through here, there was 320 sellouts, and that's a goal. That's a vision. That's the plan that we have to implement.
And fourth and last but not least, Munn is -- I love coming here and walking around, and whenever the kids and I would visit walking through and year over year seeing the changes that have been made on the concourse level, and like I said, the screen and the lighting, I played on these old boards, and they were old and they were wood and they were separated shoulder boards. AC can probably tell you, thank God that new boards, new ice system. There's a lot there, and MSU has put a lot into this and they'll continue to put a lot into it.
I was talking with Chuck Sleeper today, and the Spartan fund project to keep Munn world class and keep building forward is really, really important, and that's on the vision of what we need to get done.
It's an unbelievable situation. I'm incredibly honored. I do want to mention, I never try and go through a speech without a mention of my family; my mom and dad and sister are all MSU graduates. They're in different parts of the country, couldn't make it here today, but great Spartans and really happy.
My wife and two of my three daughters, my one daughter has a job interview down in Atlanta today so she couldn't make it, but Ashton and Payton are here, and my lovely wife Debbie, and I'll steal a joke from Judd. We've been married 26 years. I've been married happily for 26. I think Deb has been married happily for about 15. (Laughter.)
But I'm not always the smartest guy in the room, but the smartest thing I did was tricking Deb into marrying me and she's been a great partner, and she's a coach's wife with everything that entails and moving and picking up and taking care of the girls and all the business when I'm gone. We have great kids, and that's a direct reflection on her.
And last but not least, I'm just really, really truly looking forward to moving ahead with these guys that are standing over there, everyone on campus, and getting Spartan hockey moving ahead. I can't say enough and can't thank enough people. Appreciate it, and let's get to work.
Q. Danton, you're in a unique position in the fact that you get to now coach guys that you coached against. What was your thoughts because you were a Spartan when you watched these guys on film and prepped for them?
DANTON COLE: You know, one thing I talked to the guys in the locker room, I really thought the main thing you can't get off of square one as a coach if there's not effort, if there's not hard work, if there's not pride and passion. I was able to DVR games and Coach Luongo and myself working together with Michigan State guys so we can pull the games up, but I liked the battle. I thought they kept fighting. I thought there was tons of good stuff there.
If you have to try and instill that into a team, boy, that's a long project. That's something that you need to have. So I was real impressed with that. They're young, and hey, we'll just keep working at it. Hockey, some of the intangibles, stuff that you can't coach, toughness, hard work and all that and hustle, all that stuff has to be there to start with, and these guys got it.
Q. I want to confirm that you won't live in a dorm this time.
DANTON COLE: I won't, no. One year was enough. That was plenty. I saw on TV they were doing the -- like MTV Cribs or whatever that thing is and following the guys around. It hasn't really changed a heck of a lot, so no.
Q. On a more serious note, when this job came up, you've been quoted as saying this was your dream job. When it came open again three weeks ago, how long did it take for you to tell your family, your wife, yourself, that this is the job and now is the time?
DANTON COLE: You know, not long. We certainly follow the program, and really, like I said, I hadn't really been looking for anything. I figured if something special would come up, it would come up. My youngest is a senior this year in high school, so we've moved our kids around an awful lot, and Ashton, who is here, moved before her senior year, and that's not an easy thing. We always kind of timeline wise said we'll start looking when Payton is finishing up her senior year, and hey, the timing was right, and you go after it. If it's something you want, you go after it. You work for it, and like I said earlier, sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't, but that doesn't mean you don't put the effort and the battle into it, and this time it did, and like I said, the family and I couldn't be happier.
Q. Obviously you wanted this six years ago. The experience with USA Hockey, how much did that -- how different a coach are you now? How much more prepared are you for this opportunity?
DANTON COLE: Yeah, the NTDP is an interesting place. It's amazing it's still a bit of a secret I think how good it is for players. It's amazing how little people in hockey know about it and what the guys go through and the benefits.
I think maybe more underestimated is what a great place it is to coach. It is a candy score for coaches. You get to -- the challenge every day there, the year change from the 17 year, which is tremendously hard on the young men, you're trying to motivate them and figure out you play 55 games and really probably 10 to 15 are games that you probably should win. The rest, if you're in them you're kind of lucky. The motivation factor, the teaching, having a two-year plan, just a lot of us guys that have coached there before and moved on, Mike Eaves was at Wisconsin and Jeff Jackson who started the program at Notre Dame and John Hynes who's coaching in Jersey, Ronnie Rolston, just some really great guys, and all the stories are the same. It feels like three years of coaching every year you're there. If you're not learning and getting better, I don't care where you're at, if you're not -- Mike Babcock always used to say, R&D is rob and do; if you're not stealing stuff and implementing it, shame on you. But from a learning standpoint, it's a tremendous place to be, and the talent you have and the opportunity to teach and learn and spend two years with men there is truly outstanding.
Like I said, I just try and squeeze as much out of it as I can, every opportunity I have, wherever I'm at coaching, and again, if you're not learning, you're not getting better, you're getting worse.
Q. Looking at where this program is right now with the guys that Tom had committed, what's your plan with those guys? Do you plan on honoring those commitments, or is it something that you need to reevaluate? And also, I guess, from that talent standpoint, how critical is having that USHL experience with the national program the past year to identify guys maybe that are off the national radar?
DANTON COLE: Yeah, going through the recruits and all that, that'll take some time. I talked with Coach Newton and spend a little time and see where they're all at. There's publications. I'd like to know exactly who's where or who's offered what.
The current guys I know, the incoming guys I know, but after that I'd like to get a little better read on where all that's at.
But coaching in the USHL, being part of the national program, it's a fascinating thing. Like we start tracking guys, our staff, we've got about 10 guys that work for us, start tracking guys at 13 or 14. Unfortunately I don't think it's anything anybody in the game likes, or basketball and football, everything is getting younger, but it is a good process. It's good to know who the players are and who the guys that have a good feel for what's going on and the connections. It used to be midget and junior coaches. You're starting a lot younger now, so now it's bantam coaches and people running those organizations.
It's good to be part of that process, being at the festivals, seeing where the good players are coming from and knowing what they're attracted to. So I think it gives us a good head start. Certainly those are the level players that we're going to be recruiting, and there's a lot of guys like Patrick Khodorenko that are darn good players that need to be Spartans, and we'll just continue on with that.
But it's a good base of knowledge, and it's invaluable being there knowing how things work, I think.
Q. Your staff, have you assembled who you're going to bring in with you yet or do you have a time frame when you plan to do that?
DANTON COLE: I hope to have things settled down here fairly soon, within the next week and a half or so, and certainly I've got to spend some time with the guys that are on staff now and kind of go through some things. I don't think it'll be real long, but we'll move through it. I don't want to be in a rush to fail on anything. I think it's important to get things right and do them in the right process. We're moving forward, and it might not be as quick right now, but we'll get there.
Q. What do you think will be your biggest challenge coming into a job like this, not only for yourself but also for your eventual staff?
DANTON COLE: Yeah, how do I phrase it. I want to say this the right way. The time frame that the NCAA has. I don't want to say the NCAA is the biggest challenge. Actually that wouldn't sound right. Just the time frame that you have, so you're limited in the time you can spend with the student-athletes until they go home in three weeks and then over the summer if they're not here, and then when you get back, really it's a one-week real good ramp-up to the first game. There's going to be some changes structurally in how we play and how we attack the game, and the trick of implementing that will be interesting. That's probably the hardest part, getting that there.
And then year over year it's a little easier. You do change stuff to fit the team and fit the athletes you have, what's best for them. But if you have 15 or 16 guys coming back, now the five or six freshmen come in and there's 15 coaches on the ice, hey, they know what's going on, they can help them get through the drills, and the pattern of learning rises exponentially in that way. We're going to be a lot like NTDP where everyone is starting from square one and we're all learning, which also can be a strength. I mean, that's exciting, that's learning. If your mind is in that right area, hey, I'm open and I'm learning and I'm working and things are moving forward, you can accomplish an awful lot. Strengths can be weaknesses, weaknesses can be strengths, but we'll make some strengths.
Q. How would you describe your style of play as far as what you want to bring and implement into this system?
DANTON COLE: You know, I think as a coach, and some of the better advice you get when you talk to guys like Scotty Bowman and Coach Mason and guys like that, you have to be yourself, and the team kind of takes an extension of that, and I'm not a heck of a lot different than I was as a player. I mean, I'm aggressive. I'm ornery. I want to impose my will physically and mentally on the other team, and that's what our team has to be.
But you have to have that attitude that you're not giving up an inch out there, and you never lose, you either win or you learn a lesson, and then you move on from there and you pick yourself up, you pick your teammates up. I just believe -- if you look up, go on Google and say what are the Spartan attributes or look at what Vince Lombardi said in terms of defense and pride and Spartanism, I loved that he used that phrase, that's how I think you have to go at the game of hockey. It's an aggressive game offensively and defensively, and it's exciting when it's played that way. It can be 2-1, it can be 10-9, although I don't like 10-9 games as a coach, but the game can be exciting if it's played the right way, and that's what it's up to. And these guys want to go on and play at the next level, they want to be NHL players, there's a lot they have to learn, and playing it that way and being a pro and playing it that way every day. Kind of a long answer, but I believe there's a certain way the game should be played.
Q. One of the things obviously with college hockey right now is the debate, older guys versus younger guys. You've obviously been on the other end of the spectrum with the younger guys. How do you view recruiting right now for what you're envisioning on the ice for you guys?
DANTON COLE: Yeah, I think a decent mix of that. If you look through some of the teams, there's going to be guys -- I was talking about some of the guys that I've coached over the years who were at BU, Clayton Keller and Jack Eichel, that they're in for a year and they're out. That's the state of the game. The guys are one-, two- and three-year players quite a bit right now. There's also guys that are a little bit older and might take a little longer to percolate and may be four-year guys. I think any combination -- I think if you go too far at one end, you get whip sod where you end up with an empty bench and you don't have enough guys. I think a competitive balance in there.
But there's certainly room. We want guys to come here, and if they're here like Dylan Larkin was up the road at U of M, who's a good friend of mine and a fabulous young man, if he's here for a year and that's what it is, that's good, and we'll find another guy to come in and take that spot. And the same thing for the guys.
But I think a good mix is essential, and if you look at the teams that have won the National Championship the past few years, President Simon was talking about Denver, I mean, look at their mix. They've got Will Butcher, who won the Hobey-Baker Award winner, who played for us at the program, won a gold medal with him a long time ago. He's a fourth-year senior, wins the Hobey-Baker and is a draft pick. There are guys like that, and then there's other guys -- they've got a few that are probably going to be gone after one year. But you want that mix, you want that intangible, and you also want to be a place where elite guys are going to come and know they can develop and move on when the time is right.
Q. Three years from now, what do you hope people are saying about this Michigan State program? DANTON COLE: That was a hell of a first-round win in the Big Ten and they won the Big Ten title and made a heck of a dent in the NCAAs. I'm not big on saying, hey, this year this, this year that, this year that. I'm more impressed and influenced by systems, but let's put a system in place here of excellence, put a system in place that the guys have the opportunity to excel, have a system in place that we're always moving forward, and if there's a little bump, it doesn't matter. You look past that. It's going forward.
And that's culture. That's program. I think that's what the University believes in, and that's what we have to have.
But hey, at the end of the day, that's where we want to be, and I'd even say, hey, we want to start winning Big Ten playoff rounds, we want to start winning Big Ten championships, and you get in the NCAA, you're four wins away. You get a hot goalie, and you can ride it out, and that's where we want to be in that conversation every year, and then finally have a team that the people and the student body and look at it and say, man, they're good academically, they're good off the ice, and they're really good on the ice. That's the trifecta, but that's where we need to be.