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Izzo best coach in Michigan History? Try John MacInnes…

Posted in General Hockey, General Thoughts with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on 04/01/2010 by Ben Gilbert

In the interest of full disclosure on this one, I am a proud Michigan Wolverine so everything that follows in this post should probably be taken with that in mind…but I digress.

Jemele Hill recently posted this very, shall we say, provoking piece on ESPN.

In this piece she claims that Tom Izzo is the greatest sports coach in Michigan history.  Without dredging up too many stats and other general figures, I thought I would offer a brief response to Jemele.

Michigan is a hockey state.  In my opinion four coaches that have to be considered some of the best to ever teach and lead teams in this state are the Wings own Scotty Bowman, Michigan’s Red Berenson, MSU’s Ron Mason and Tech’s John MacInnes.

Allegiances aside, therefore taking out Berenson who I love and Mason who I dislike but have the utmost respect for, I think it can be argued that John MacInnes is the greatest Michigan coach there ever was.

As Wings fans it is certainly fair to argue for Scotty.  No Scotty means No Hockeytown.  No Hockeytown means no established culture of winning.  This means no cups, no 19 straight playoff runs etc.  I understand all this, but I want to counter Jemele on her level.  We’ll exclude Bowman because he was already “Great” before he got to Detroit.

John MacInnes played in goal for U of M during his college career and then in the 1950’s took the one and only coaching job he would ever have, Head hockey coach at Michigan Tech.

For those of you unaware, Michigan Tech is located in Houghton, MI.  That’s in the Keewenaw area of the Upper Peninsula, approximately 10 hours from the metro Detroit region.  It’s isolated, and there is not much of a recruiting base up there.  Yet, despite the remoteness and lack of resources on both an institutional and local level, MacInnes coached MTU to 3 NCAA titles from 1956-1982.  He took the team to countless other WCHA championships and NCAA tournament appearances. Given the location of the school and the academic quality expected from the players (top-notch engineering students) it can be argued that no coach in Michigan history did more with less.  Sure Tony Esposito came through the school, but honestly, almost no other NHL talent came through during MacInnes’ run.  He took more or less no-name recruits and turned a school with a student body of roughly 5,000-6,000 students into a national powerhouse year-in and year-out.

To put in perspective what a great coach John MacInnes was, USA hockey offered him the coaching job for the 1980 olympic team.  He turned them down because of his health.  It was only after MacInnes’ withdrew his name from consideration that the committee went with Herb Brooks. (And we all know the outcome of that decision…)

In summary, I can respect Tom Izzo for the great coach that he is.  He’s easily top 5 in the state, maybe even top 3 once all is said and done.  However, Michigan is a hockey state.  In regards to a “Michigan man” who lived in Michigan, played for Michigan, did more with less and preached a true all-in team style, there is no greater coach in the history of our fine state than John MacInnes.

Feel free to comment/dispute/offer your ideas.  Also, I know this post has been a relatively big aside from all things Wings, but where do you think Scotty and/or even Uncle Mike should rank when considering “Michigan” coaches?