Friday, April 29, 2011

Commitment. Passion. Integrity.

We really are lucky to have a guy like Mark Johnson around. Let's not fool ourselves.

"He was always very transparent when he talked to people"

I know that we would like to think that that would be a given: that a coach would be honest and transparent with his employer when he's being courted by another program. But I have my doubts that it works that way very often, and I think you can tell that Alvarez speaks with such respect for Coach Johnson because he knows that Johnson treats him with that same respect.

It reminded me of something I read in a book that I highly recommend to all of you: The Boys of Winter by Wayne Coffey. It's a book about the 1980 "Miracle On Ice" olympic hockey team. It frames the story of that team around the famous medal round game against the Soviets, and it also includes many long passages telling the stories of every player on the team.

The passage about Mark Johnson (about 1/4 of the way into the book) goes on for about 13 pages, and it goes on at length about some issues that are pretty relevant in the light of Coach Johnson's courtship by Penn State. Some sporadic excerpts (emphasis added) follow. I'd like to include more, but I'd much rather not incur the wrath of a published author. Lord knows what he could have his publishing company do to a little old Blogger page if he thought I was posting too much. Here goes:

Johnson has been the Badgers' head women's coach since June 2002, a career move he neither expected nor contemplated. Six weeks after the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team lit the caultdron to open the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, Johnson was passed over for the Wisconsin men's job, a position most people assumed would be his. ... But athletic director Pat Richter opted to go with Mike Eaves, Johnson's teammate on the Badgers' 1977 national championship team.

Across four decades of a charmed hockey life, Mark Johnson had always been a star. ... Rejection was something altogether new. ... This was different, personal, for the first time Mark Johnson had in effect been told, "We like the other guy better." Richter delivered the news to Johnson in Sauer's office. Later Johnson cried.

"Did it hurt? Oh yeah, it hurt," Johnson said. "But life teaches you that you have to move on, and you try to do it in a fashion that you can walk away with your head held high."


Johnson assured [the UW Women's Hockey] team when he took over that this was not just a stopover until he could get a men's job. Six months later, his words were put to the test. Tony Granato ... asked Johnson if he would be interested in joining his staff as an assistant. ... After a few days, Johnson called Granato, expressed his gratitude, and said no thanks.

"I don't think I would've had the courage to walk into the locker room and tell those players I was leaving," Johnson said. "I've got signs on the wall that say, 'Commitment, Passion, Integrity.' If I am going to be a good coach and people are going to listen and respect me, I have to walk the walk, as they say."

That is the man coaching our women's team. Just like with the Granato job, I would not be shocked to hear that Coach Johnson gave Penn State his ear out of respect. And, also like the Granato job, it doesn't surprise me that he would refuse it on principle. This man loves Madison, loves coaching some of the best women's hockey players the world has to offer, and he does it with Commitment, Passion, and Integrity.

There are still a lot of people who think he should be coaching our men's program instead of Coach Eaves, but I think those people should just step back and think of what a remarkable thing we have with Coach Johnson and the Women's Program. We really are lucky.