Recently, ESPN.com college basketball blogger Eamonn Brennan opined on the top 10 men’s basketball coaching positions in the NCAA.
It was perhaps most intriguing for the schools that didn’t make it in the top 10 — Michigan State, UConn and Florida couldn’t crack the list? Really? — and it, combined with the latest coaching news on this side of the border, got me to thinking about what jobs are the most coveted in Canada. And rather than just rating the top 10 basketball jobs, like Brennan did for his blog, why not open it up to consideration for four prime sports on Canadian campuses: Basketball, football, hockey and volleyball.
Now, it’s not like Canadian university coaching salaries are locked in a safe and buried in the ocean, never to be seen, but for the most part the wages paid to head coaches are fairly guarded. In basketball, former Ottawa Gee Gees coach Dave DeAveiro left Capital City to take a job at McGill, where the salary is rumoured to be six figures. Last month Greg Francis took a job at Waterloo where, again, the salary was said to be over the 100K mark. In football, Western University’s salary disclosure list showed head coach Greg Marshall was earning over $132,000 for his position. Meanwhile, a posting two years ago for York University’s vacancy revealed the Toronto school’s salary range for the post was $71,000-80,000 with a max of 98-and-change. Conversely, there are entry-level positions that pay much more modest salaries, further emphasizing the divide between elite and middling in the CIS power structure.
Yet without surefire and thorough sources for salaries and because any talk from me about the wages would be based on speculation, I’ve left them out of the criteria and we’ll just try to pretend that $$$ doesn’t matter.
Still, there’s rules to be applied. In no particular order:
• If the job opened, how many already-employed Canadian, CIS or CCAA coaches would think long and hard about applying?
• Tradition and success matters. Is there alumni support? What is the program’s track record for winning?
• The entire athletics department matters. When a school has multiple teams and programs winning consistently — that’s not a fluke.
• Location, location, location.
• What the guy/gal currently (or most recently) in the position did matters. Some programs have flourished under a certain coach and, because of that, their jobs are all the more coveted.
So, with that in mind, let’s see 10 gigs in Canada a coach would be foolish to pass up:
10. MEN’S HOCKEY: Alberta Golden Bears
Interesting we find this job in the list considering U of A just filled this vacancy a couple of weeks ago. And if you need proof of the lure of the position, you need look no further than the fact the school plucked Ian Herbers out of the AHL to take over in time for the team’s 100th season. Winners of
12 13 national championships, the Golden Bears boast alumni that includes longtime NHLers Randy Gregg, Cory Cross and others who played at the highest level. Alberta has won national titles in every decade the CIAU/CIS has handed out the thing and its only four years separated from its run of three-titles-in-four-years. Clare Drake Arena isn’t the multimillion dollar shrine that some newer facilities are, but it is a rink steeped in history and provides a solid home-ice advantage for the local team. Plus, with U of A’s successful track record throughout its athletics department, a coach doesn’t need a shiny new building to aid in the recruiting wars — the shine from the trophies does that just fine.
9. MEN’S HOCKEY: UNB Varsity Reds
Gardiner MacDougall has turned UNB into the CIS’ latest dynasty with three titles in the last six years and has a current NHLer (Blue Jacket Darryl Boyce) among its alumni. There are a couple of things that play into this job not being a little higher up, where you might expect a dynastical group to be: 1) Location. Fredericton and New Brunswick are beautiful, but a somewhat isolated city with a population of 55,000 can be seen as a drawback. 2) The competitive nature of the AUS. There are certainly no freebies out of the Atlantic into the University Cup. The flip side to those, of course, is some people prefer a smaller environment and thrive on the nothing-comes-easy challenge. But it’s harder to convince others to join you in that thinking.
8. WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Simon Fraser Clan
Nope, not a CIS school anymore, but no reason why the Burnaby job can’t make it in this list. It is, after all, still a job in Canada. When SFU decided to go to NCAA Division II prior to the 2010 season, many followers north of the border turned their attentions away from a team that had been the most dominant CIS women’s squad in 20-some years. The jump into the NCAA is not one you take without missing a stride and SFU has, quite understandably, taken some time to get acclimated in the Great Northwest Atlantic Conference. This year the Clan lost in conference GNAC playoffs to Alaska-Anchorage, which went to the Division II Elite Eight. So, with the Simon job, a coach taking over for Bruce Langford would get NCAA status, a chance to work and recruit in the Lower Mainland and, if you were an upwardly mobile type, a much more feasible route to coaching at the Division I level than someone doing the same job in the CIS.
7. FOOTBALL: Laval Rouge et Or
This is a tricky one because the successful candidate would have to be French-speaking to take over the Rouge et Or, but if you can talk the talk in French and English, you’d be wise to put your name in on this. Blessed with tremendous financial and corporate support, the Rouge et Or didn’t take long to find success. Established in 1996, three years later the football program won its first of six Vanier Cups. An added boost is the popularity of football in the province of Quebec and around Quebec City, which is almost Texan (OK, maybe not) in its passion.
6. MEN’S VOLLEYBALL: Manitoba Bisons
You could probably throw Alberta in here as well and get no argument from me. I slide Garth Pischke‘s position in, however, based on the foundation he’s laid over more than three decades that has turned Manitoba into a program synonymous with national success. Pischke surely has lofted the U of M job into a league of coveted jobs, having won 23 medals at the nationals, including nine gold, while also producing numerous national-team players over the years. At U of M, a hopeful coach would step into a program that comes custom made for success: A natural recruiting pipeline — one of the best in the country — in your own backyard, a history of championships and all-Canadians, and a campus where your team is easily a top-three program.
5. WOMEN’S HOCKEY: Alberta Pandas
Back to Edmonton. McGill may have a ton of Olympians and Calgary may have the latest bragging rights, but it is Alberta that has owned the national scene since the CIS first instituted a national championship in 1997-98. In that time, the Pandas have won seven national championships and have essentially owned the Canada West conference, which has only in the past two years started to see a tad more parity. A vacancy in this job would bring out all kinds of applications from coaches in the CIS and elsewhere.
4. MEN’S BASKETBALL: UBC Thunderbirds
Ask around: When coaches talk about the jobs in Canada that would make them move in a heartbeat, UBC is invariably in that list. Location, pay (I’m breaking my rule here momentarily), administrative/alumni support, history, success and a foundation to keep it going all exist at Point Grey. When Kevin Hanson does decide to step away from the job he’s held for 11 seasons, expect a feeding frenzy of coaches who will see UBC as their career gig.
3. WOMEN’S VOLLEYBALL: UBC Thunderbirds
There’s two major things at play here: 1) The Thunderbirds simply don’t lose national championships anymore, having now won five in a row under former Winnipeg Wesmen coach Doug Reimer. The T-Birds surely don’t have a historical monopoly on greatness in the CIS, but we’re not filling this job in 1987, either. Speaking right now, if Reimer were to pack up shop and the job were to come open, every CIS coach with a clue would be salivating over the chance to take the job. When you add in UBC’s stature, the chance to work and live in one of Canada’s finest cities and the Thunderbirds’ recent success in attracting national-team quality players, you can see why it is on the list.
2. FOOTBALL: Western Mustangs
It has been almost 20 years since the Mustangs won a Vanier Cup, but — and it pains me to say this as a Brock alumnus — Western is actually (bracing myself) not a bad destination. OK, it’s a very good destination with an athletics department that cares about its teams and coaches, and a stadium that is one of the tops in the country (McGill, and soon Winnipeg, will lay claim to the top spots). Marshall has guided the Mustangs to three Yates Cups as OUA champions, took them to the 2008 Vanier Cup and to a 31-9 record in his five-year tenure. The Mustangs have had only seven coaches in their history and only two in the past 28 years, with Larry Haylor leading them from 1984 to 2006. That lack of turnover in the head job also adds to the mystique of a job that coaches would clamor for on the open market.
1. MEN’S BASKETBALL: Carleton Ravens
This was the easiest decision one could make aside from “open my eyes in the morning.” And it’s almost entirely because of the man in charge.
Dave Smart has turned Carleton into one of the most untouchable programs in CIS history. The Victoria juggernauts of the 1970s and 80s (unprecedented seven national titles in a row) are the only teams that could possibly throw down in an argument with Carleton for best ever. One could make the case that maintaining the level Carleton has is even tougher in this day and age given the drastic differences in recruiting that now exist. It’s a lot harder to scoop a diamond in the rough for the simple fact that every coach knows about every player out there. Within that landscape, Smart has routinely gotten the cream of the crop to the point the environment has been created wherein Carleton now gets, essentially, any player it wants. It seems like ancient history now (and probably is) that the OUA went through a drought of not having a men’s basketball champion after Brock won it in 1992. Ten times in row the W.P. McGhee trophy was handed out after that Brock win with nary an Ontario team on the receiving end before Carleton ended that string in 2003 with the first of five in a row. Now, eight of the last 10 CIS titles have gone to Carleton.
Add in a high-quality local recruiting scene, a budget for a coach to do almost anything they want, and the perks of yearly contests with NCAA Division I schools on both sides of the border, and it’s a no-brainer — this is the job that absolutely any coach in the country would want above all.
Honourable mentions: Regina women’s basketball; St. Francis Xavier men’s basketball; Saint Mary’s football; Alberta men’s basketball; McGill women’s hockey; Alberta men’s volleyball; Windsor men’s basketball; Manitoba women’s volleyball; Saskatchewan football.