Mel Pearson is Michigan's hockey coach now, and that's fine. Your author started stumping for Pearson shortly after he arrived at Michigan Tech and their program took off. This was year one, pre-realignment WCHA:
Pearson won 16 games with a Tech team that won 4 games the previous year, got them within a goal of a WCHA semifinal in 2012.
— Joe Meloni (@JoeMeloni) April 24, 2017
Tech won 13 games the next year and 14 in 2013-14, the first year of college hockey's new landscape. This alone is impressive in the modern context of Tech hockey; that's the first time Tech had won double-digit games since Bob Mancini did it from 1993 to 1996.
That alone would not be impressive enough to grab the Michigan job, but then Pearson had the following three seasons:
- 29-10-2, at-large bid to tourney as #2 seed, #5 ES Corsi*
- 23-9-5, WCHA regular season champs, #3 ES Corsi
- 23-15-7, WCHA playoff champs, NCAA bid, #3 ES Corsi
It's likely that 2016-17 Tech would have had close to the same winning percentage Pearson's previous two teams did except for the fact that they spent about 8 games playing two goalies with .883 and .857 save percentages before freshman Angus Redmond emerged as the clear starter.
Schedule strength is a concern for WCHA schools so Dave broke down Pearson's "relevant" Corsi outings from the last three years. We defined relevant teams as Big Ten, NCHC, and HE schools plus Yale, an at-large bid from the ECAC in 2016. Red are clear Corsi losses, yellow tie-ish games, and green are clear wins. Keep in mind that some of these MSU and Wisconsin teams are very bad teams, as is this year's Michigan outfit. Nonetheless this is very impressive for a guy working at a severe talent disadvantage to most of these schools:
Dave helpfully exclaimed about the 72-29 and 63-33 hamblastings of your Michigan Wolverines this year.
The modern WCHA is a mid-major conference but given what Tech was before Pearson arrived this is very close to hiring Lavall Jordan if he has a six-year tenure at Wisconsin-Milwaukee that includes two tourney bids and a regular season title. IE, the kind of hire major schools make all the time. Mel's deep roots with the program are certainly a bonus, but if Pearson's name was Neverheardof Annarbor he would still be a strong candidate.
There is an undercurrent of discontent from Demand Excellence sorts. I do know that Michigan reached out to both Jeff Blashill and Mike Babcock at various points over the last few years and was unsurprisingly turned down by a pair of sitting NHL coaches. I have not heard that Michigan made overtures to any of the three slam-dunk college coaches (Nate Leaman, Norm Bazin, and Jim Montgomery) but I would not be surprised if anyone contacted offered a polite thanks-but-no-thanks. All three of those guys have essentially infinite job security at programs that are competing at a national title level. Taking over for a legend who left behind a very bad team is a recipe for a quick exit, pursued by a mob. Rich Rodriguez is nodding vigorously for reasons that are mysterious to him at this very moment. Michigan could have come in with a big offer and it might not do much other than get the coach in question a nice bump.
Mel's only a fallback because there's an unprecedented number of college hockey coaches who kind of look like Urban Meyer at Utah. In most circumstances the guy who took Tech to the tourney for the first time in 34 years—as an at large—would be one of or the top guy on the market.
Pearson's age is a downside. Michigan just experienced a long slide into darkness because of a not-uncommon phenomenon where legends go very, very gradually and then suddenly. But Pearson's status as an obviously very good coach right now should make for some productive years as he inherits Michigan's still-top-five recruiting and pairs him with whatever crazy Corsi mojo he's got. Pearson is the best clearly-available coach right now, and this is a team with ten NHL draft picks and a first-rounder inbound. Right now is good enough.
*["ES Corsi" == your percentage of all shot attempts at even strength. Not SOS adjusted, admittedly. There is also a "Fenwick" which is your percentage of all unblocked shot attempts; Tech was #2, #3 and #2 in that stat. Here is a helpful intro to these kind of stats:
Unadjusted college Corsi is a very rough measure but as a teamwide stat over three seasons it strongly implies that Pearson's teams are excellent at puck possession. This is something my eyes have confirmed over the last few years of Michigan-Tech matchups, FWIW.]