This winter, Badger basketball and hockey fans have been given much to gripe about — two teams that underperformed with large expectations.
Traditionally, when a team underperforms, fans point their fingers to the coach and in both cases, they may have an argument.
For the basketball team, their recent success has jolted Badger fans’ views of Head Coach Greg Gard and flipped them upside down. Gard went from a coach who couldn’t recruit in-state players to the “silent assassin,” written on shirts worn by players and now being sold to fans.
For the hockey team, however, their continued lack of success has caused the feelings of fans toward Head Coach Tony Granato to get worse.
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University of Wisconsin alumni and father of four, Coach Granato played in the NHL for 13 years before going on to coach an additional 13 years in the league.
Finishing his collegiate career fourth all-time for the Badgers in points scored with 220 points, Granato was drafted as the 120th pick in the sixth round by the New York Rangers and posted four 30-goal seasons. Granato was also chosen for the 1988-89 NHL Rookie Team, as he set a franchise record for a rookie with 36 goals. After playing for multiple teams and sustaining the typical veteran injuries, Granato retired in 2001 and became a coach immediately.
Owning a 102-78-17 coaching record as a coach for the Colorado Avalanche and owning a winning record as a head or assistant coach for 12 of his 13 years coaching in the league, Granato became the UW men’s hockey coach prior to the 2016-17 season and has remained in the position ever since.
In his first year as the Badger head coach, Granato finished his degree earning a bachelor’s degree in human development and family studies.
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Across just over three seasons, Granato is 61-70-11 including an impressive 20-15-1 record in his first season. With tall highs and even lower lows, Badger fans have built a distrust in the coaching methods of Granato, so much so that over the past few months, a light chatter has been made about whether Granato should remain the Badgers’ head coach following what has been an extremely disappointing season.
Coming off a 14-18-5 season last year, Badger fans looked hopeful due to the strong freshman core, including NHL Draft picks in No. 5 Alex Turcotte and No. 15 Cole Caufield.
Led by Turcotte and Caufield, in addition to fellow draftees in Ryder Donovan, a fourth-round selection to Las Vegas Golden Knights, and Owen Lindmark, drafted in the fifth round by the Florida Panthers, the 2019-20 Badger hockey team looked to take the next step and return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2013-14 season.
After a hot start, the Badgers struggled to stay consistent and the frustration of fans grew. While several players have had terrific individual seasons, the consistency has never been there for this squad and lots of blame is thrown on the coach.
Whether deserving or not, Granato has received lots of criticism about how he lacks the ability to light the fire under his team and get them playing at the level every expert thought they would.
Currently sitting in last place in the Big Ten with a 13-18-1 overall record (6-15-1-1 Big Ten), it is easy to look at the record and think this was yet another waste of a season. But, with the recent hot streak the Badgers are on, it may be time to stop the talk of firing Granato.
By winning three of four games prior to their weekend series with The Ohio State University, the Badgers seem to have found their stride and may be able to turn a lost season into a deep run in the Big Ten Conference Tournament.
This year’s Badger team has proven themselves through small bits and pieces against top-level talent in arguably the best conference in men’s college hockey. The Big Ten this season is the home to three top-20 programs in the nation and is also home to three other teams who received votes to be ranked within the top 20 as well.
In a deep conference mixed with some unfortunate injuries to crucial players, Granato should not be fired following the 2019-20 campaign. Should he be on the hot seat? One could argue he should be following what will now be his third consecutive losing season at the helm, and I would agree. What I will not agree on, however, is that he should be fired without being given a chance to see if he can continue to develop the young core.
A life-long Badger deeply rooted in the city and culture of the school, Granato has earned at least one more season to lead the team. If things start to go further downhill next season, then I can understand a possible change in coaching. But, hopefully this team will carry the momentum from the end of this season into next season, making the Badgers a team to look out for next year.