Legendary coaches hard to replace

The recent announcement that Calumet High School hockey coach Jim Crawford would be retiring after this coming season reminded me that replacing a legendary coach is one of the toughest assignments in any sports circle.

Make no mistake. Crawford’s successor will be asked to fill some mighty big shoes.

Any coach who wins 522 games and has six state championships to his credit deserves the label of legend. He has to be a slam dunk pick for the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame as soon as he’s nominated.

One only has to look at three former local coaching legends (John MacInnes, Ed Helakoski and Nancy Osier) to see how difficult it is to duplicate their success.

The late MacInnes came to Michigan Tech in 1957 and built one of the greatest programs in college hockey history.

He won 555 games, numerous WCHA titles and three NCAA championships in his tenure, not to mention the enduring respect of the national college hockey world.

His name graces trophies and tournaments and is on the front of the MTU Student Ice Arena.

But when it came time to find his successor after the 1982 season, Tech found the task was a monumental one.

No less than eight head coaches have come and gone in the last 32 years, and the results have not been positive. The Huskies haven’t won a league title in that period and have posted just two winning seasons.

Helakoski guided Chassell High basketball teams to everlasting glory in his 10-plus years at the school. That included three state championships between 1956-58 and a 65-game winning streak that stands to this day.

Helakoski, like MacInnes, was a tough tactician who knew how to get the very best from his players. He left CHS in 1960 to take over the principal’s job at newly formed White Pine High School.

But he proved he still had a winning touch when he led White Pine to the regionals in the 1962-63 season.

Chassell wouldn’t win another district title until the 1984-85 season.

Osier – the winningest coach in U.P. prep girls basketball history – posted 582 wins at Bergland and Ewen-Trout Creek High School. Numerous league and postseason titles were also achieved.

Osier, like MacInnes and Helakoski, produced many outstanding players in her 33 years on the job. Shana DeCremer and Allison Bailey ranked among the very best hoopsters ever in the U.P., and went on to gain All-American laurels at Northern Michigan University and Michigan Tech respectively.

The Lady Panthers have struggled for the most part since Osier’s departure in 2008, not winning a single district crown.

Still, there have been local cases of new coaches who have succeeded after replacing legends.

Corey Markham at Houghton and Dan Rouleau at Hancock, are two good examples.

Markham replaced the late Don Miller and Rouleau took over for Rick Miller. It did help that both were former players and proteges of their skippers and knew the system well.

But the majority of cases aren’t nearly as seamless.

Calumet can only hope to duplicate the formula their two league rivals found.