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Should Fridgen Go? No Way

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, April 8, 2002

TROY - Several letters from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute season ticket holders and other fans have found their way into this writer's mail slot over the past few weeks, each calling for the removal of Dan Fridgen as RPI's head hockey coach.

Though each was unsigned, each solicited my alliance in that regard.

Aside from the fact that I would find it peculiar to want to fire a coach after three 20-win seasons among the past four, terminating Dan Fridgen - even discussing such a move - would be a colossal mistake for RPI.

For the reasons contained within this space last time - concerning Fridgen's selfless aid to a young player who lost his father and to his grieving mother - I wouldn't even consider a move for RPI to change coaches.

Dan Fridgen is a quality person as well as a quality coach. Any school fortunate enough to acquire a coach with Fridgen's character should keep him.

He genuinely cares for his players and cares about the growth of their character as much as their growth as hockey players.

Were the 2001-02 Engineers a disappointment to RPI followers?

Any objective observation would have to conclude 'yes,' though Fridgen doesn't agree.

And don't forget RPI came within a disallowed goal against Cornell of obtaining the No. 3 seed in the ECAC playoffs. Their postseason could have been more successful from that position.

Too many nights, though, the Engineers lost tight games because of a lack of motivation, lack of focus, breakdowns in defensive zone coverage and/or in communication, or any combination of the above. All of that has been well-chronicled.

Should Fridgen be held accountable for that? Certainly. But one could argue until next season how much a head coach is responsible when his players often don't play to their full potential.

Steve Munn, RPI's captain over the past two seasons, who recently joined the Elmira Jackals of the United Hockey League, shook his head in disbelief when told there are those who want Fridgen removed.

"Oh, wow," Munn said. "He's really been good to me and I really respect him both professionally and personally. I think he's an outstanding man and a great coach and the program has been blessed to have him."

Those who want Fridgen replaced charge that he's not a strong motivator.

Well, they totally lose me, here, too. I'll never agree that coaches - at any level - should be required to motivate players to be at their best on a nightly basis.

I don't care if it's everyday baseball, once-a-week football or two-three games per week hockey and basketball. Players should get themselves mentally and emotionally ready to perform at their best.

Some coaches are able to do that but, think, big-time coaches in college football, basketball, hockey; how many? They are rare indeed.

"To an extent (a coach needs to motivate)," Munn said, "but by the same token, it's important to recruit self-motivators. And a coach can only motivate to a certain extent. Players have to have that inner drive, that desire, that passion to succeed, and they have to be able to dig down when things aren't going well, or the schedule is rough, or whatever."

That drive was lacking, sometimes for long stretches during this past season, and Munn takes some of that responsibility himself.

"Yeah, that's part of my job (as captain) in the (locker) room, to make sure guys are focused and giving it their best," Munn said. "And I'm pretty hard on myself. There were nights I lay awake all night wishing I had done this or said that, but you know, the thing is, you can't dwell on those things. Yeah, there were times I wish I had done things different but you can't focus on the negative. You move on and try to become a better player and a better leader from it."

As for Fridgen, Munn said, "ultimately, it's the players' responsibility to perform."

"It's our job to win, not the coaches' " said defenseman Hamish Cunning. "That's the bottom line."


Some say Fridgen has little, but they are way off. He's acted quickly and firmly when problems have developed.

His practices are demanding and structured.

Could he be more forceful and more strict?

Probably. But every coach - every teacher, every boss - must seek his own comfort level in those matters.

'Fridgen is a weak recruiter,' his detractors charge. Well, gee, it's too bad he hasn't been able to get four lines of forwards with a Marc Cavosie and a Matt Murley on each one.

Fridgen has proven himself to be an effective recruiter as both an assistant and a head coach.

As far as team depth is concerned, virtually every ECAC team faces noticeable disadvantages to the other big three conferences in recruiting the continent's top players.

Dan Fridgen can chain together clich├ęs like Curt Schilling strings together strikeouts. Sometimes he'll be evasive on the most basic - and innocuous - of questions, and he and I will no doubt continue in our little battle with his unwillingness to be forthright concerning RPI injuries.

All of that can be somewhat annoying. But none of that has any bearing on his coaching abilities.

I readily admit that I'm as disappointed as most that the Engineers were not among the 12 teams in the NCAA Tournament this season.

They should have been. Same with 2000.

But to single out Dan Fridgen to the point of dismissal would be both foolish and inaccurate. Fridgen is as fine a quality individual as I've seen in 25 years of covering college hockey.

Fire him?

You'll get no second from this corner.