Ground Floor: Three Hockey Coaches with Austin Roots now at the Top of the College Game

Air Force Falcons head coach Frank Serratore looked remarkably relaxed as he entered the expansive loading dock area on the lower concourse of the Denny Sanford Premier Center last Saturday evening. His team was just over an hour away from playing the University of Minnesota-Duluth in the NCAA Western Regional Final in Sioux Falls, S.D., with the winner getting a spot in the Frozen Four NCAA Championship in St. Paul April 4-6. Nearby the four man officiating crew were going through their own pregame warm up exercises before hitting the ice, stretching and jumping rope feverishly. As he walked past, Serratore exhorted them, “Don’t leave it all out here, guys. We’re going to need you in the third period.”

By the luck of the NCAA draw, this tournament had a distinctly Austin flavor to it. Three of the head coaches — Serratore at Air Force, Bob Motzko at St. Cloud State and Mike Hastings at Minnesota State — plus one assistant (Mike Gibbons, Motzko’s assistant, a former Austin Mavericks player on the very first team) spent considerable time living and working there, having experiences with people which shaped their personal lives and careers.

Once upon a time, he was the up-and-comer, looking up to three-time NCAA champion North Dakota coach Gino Gasparini. Now, at 60, completing his 21st season at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Serratore sits at the top of the totem pole with the younger guys chasing him. Not only is the competition formidable, he often finds himself coaching against guys he hired as assistants or who used to play for him.

Tonight’s game isn’t quite what he had hoped. Minnesota State, coached by Hastings, one of his guys whom he brought to Austin to play for the Mavericks many years ago, lost in overtime the night before to the UMD, last year’s runner-up to the national champions (Denver University). In the first game Serratore’s squad, the 16th seed of the tourney, pulled the biggest upset so far, beating the No. 1 overall seed St. Cloud State coached by his dear friends and former employees Motzko and Gibbons. Not all is lost. Tonight he can look down the bench and see Jason Herter, an assistant at UMD, whom he recruited to play at North Dakota when he worked there.

Small world this hockey business. And it just keeps on spinning.

Earlier in the week Don Lucia announced that after 19 seasons he was stepping down from his post as head coach of the Minnesota Gophers. During Serratore’s first three years in Austin, Lucia, his friend from his days growing up in Northern Minnesota, was an assistant coach at Alaska Fairbanks. On his long recruiting trips he would crash after games at his apartment just two blocks down the street from the A&W. They’d kick back at Frank’s place with a couple cold ones and discuss their aspirations for being college coaches someday.

Within a week, another coach who’d crashed at his pad, with whom he coached and hung with at summer hockey camps in Brainerd, was named to replace Lucia — Bob Motzko.

Ken Martel moved to Austin from Los Angeles to play for Serratore in his first year, graduated from Austin High, played on a national championship hockey team (Lake Superior State) and now has a cool job of his own in hockey: Technical Director of USA Hockey’s American Development Model at the federation headquarters in Colorado Springs. “Look at all the guys who either played for him or coached with him who have done well in the business,” Martell said. “There aren’t many coaches can’t who can make any claim like that.”

And it all started in Austin.

Frank Serratore

Serratore knew Austin’s Riverside Arena well. He’s played against the Austin Mavericks as a goalie for their rivals, the St. Paul Vulcans. In fact, he had a front row seat for the 1976 National Junior Finals in Austin. His netminding partner Mark Mazzoleni (later the head coach at Miami of Ohio and Harvard) started in goal in a loss the eventual champion Mavericks.

In 1982 he came as young coach looking for an opportunity. Coaches weren’t paid anything like they are now in the U.S. Hockey League, yet they were often expected to do everything from coaching to scouting to you name it. Serratore supplemented his income by substitute teaching in and around Austin.

Serratore turned the team in a perennial USHL contender. First in Austin, then continuing in 1985 when the franchise changed owners and became the Rochester Mustangs. After leaving Austin/Rochester, except for the time he was an assistant at North Dakota, he has always been a head coach.

His big break come in 1990 when he was named coach at Denver University. He hired Gibbon as an assistant and later he hired Motzko away from his buddy Mazzoleni at Miami of Ohio. Then after his fourth season, the unthinkable happened — he was fired. He never got the chance to finish the turnaround job.

He returned to Minnesota to be the general manager and coach of the Minnesota Moose, an American Hockey League team that played in downtown St. Paul at the Civic Center after the North Stars left. He got a chance at pro hockey and to add to the Serratore Coaching Tree. One of his players was a guy named Dave Hakstol, now the head coach of the National Hockey League’s Philadelphia Flyers.

In 1997 through a connection with his friend Lucia, he learned the job at the Air Force Academy was opening up. The Academy. Great reputation for discipline and academics, but when Serratore got the job they had a hard time defeating Div. III college teams let alone compete against their neighborhood rivals Colorado College and Denver University. Always known as a recruiter, he would have to use his skills to find just the right breed of bird who could fit in, to  balance the academic rigors with an ability to skate and shoot and pass a puck.

“Air Force has a number of recruiting challenges other schools don’t have,” explained Brad Schlossman, for 13 years the North Dakota hockey beat writer at the Grand Forks Herald.

“They can’t recruit Canadians which can limit your pool severely. You have to find kids who excel at academics. And you have to find kids who are willing to make a post-graduate commitment.”

The No. 1 ranked cadet for the 2019 class, Kyle Haak, plays among the top six forwards on the Falcons. His major is Physics with a minor in nuclear weapons and strategy. Not many pros in the NHL (or any other sport) have that on their resume.

The core curriculum classes explain much of the academic challenge. Spread over four years, they contain a heavy dose of engineering and science — Engineering Mechanics, Computer Science, Math, Physics, Chemistry, Calculus, Astronautical Engineering, Astronautical Engineering along with four years of physical education classes. Cadets have three grade point averages, the GPA (grade point average), MPA (military point average: how you perform military drills) and the PPA (physical point average: how you perform on fitness tests throughout the year). These combine into your OPA (overall performance average), otherwise known as your class rank. Cadets get to choose their top six choices for a job when they are done at the Academy. You have to battle the competition to be eligible for your coveted job; your OPA determines where you rank in relation to the competition. It can mean whether you are flying a fighter jet, pushing the envelope like the guys in “The Right Stuff” and “Top Gun,” or sitting inside a missile silo somewhere on the prairie of North Dakota.

Among reporters who cover the Falcons, Serratore is known for his openness said Kate Shefte of the Colorado Springs Gazette. “I’ve never been turned down…His weekly press conferences can be a lot of fun, very relaxed and conversational. All the local TV stations have to do is start talking about the Vikings, and everyone’s laughing.”

Ah, yes, the post-game press conference. Many coaches fidget at the podium like they’ve just been told they’re next in line for a colonoscopy. Especially when they’re on the losing end. Serratore is one of the rare exceptions. Sometimes his pressers are just flat-out entertaining. After his team suffered a blow out 6-0 loss to Denver in which his cadets were whistled for five consecutive penalties to start the second period, he skewed the officiating crew afterwards in a way that resulted in a hit YouTube video: “Hey, there’s three things I’ve never seen in my life. I’ve never seen Bigfoot; I’ve never seen the Easter Bunny, and I’ve never seen a referee say he had a crap game.” The next game two Air Force fans, never known for being a raucous bunch, came dressed as Bigfoot and the Easter Bunny and cheered behind the bench when the Falcons came onto the ice. Seratore saw them, smiled and gave them both two thumbs up.

Under Serratore the Falcons have made the NCAA tournament and won games.The number of players they have available to them is significantly smaller, but every year they are is in the mix. He has found the right sort of player to recruit to the Academy, and the fact none of them are going to be leaving for the NHL makes the job simpler. Explained Serratore, “I’m a one-size fits all kind of guy. Every player here is on the same scholarship. All I promise them is a fair shake.”

Bob Motzko

“So who are my new neighbors?” exclaimed Jim Sack as he barged through the door of the two-story house on Second Avenue Northeast, just one block north of Queen of Angels church. Giles Motzko and his family just moved to Austin. He had three boys at the time, the oldest was his fourth grader, Bob, then Bill and Jerome (and eventually David). Jim had played hockey for the minor league Rochester Mustangs and settled in Austin after playing baseball for the Austin Packers of the Southern Minny League. The first president of the Austin Youth Hockey Association, he had a family of eight, four boys and four girls. Little did Young Bob Motzko realize it was the first recruiting visit of many he would be apart of in his lifetime.

Giles couldn’t have landed his family in a better spot. The East Side of Austin neighborhood brimmed with families with multiple children. It was another time: the mothers stayed at home, the neighbors all knew one another and the kids all played sports. Before you know it, Jim Sack had the Motzko boys signed up and playing hockey. He also had new clientele for his skate sharpening business which he ran out of his garage.

The dads developed a good friendship. Giles frequently visited Jim over at the Sack’s residence. Bob became an extended part of the Sack family, too. The Sacks had four boys — Jerry, Joe, Tony and Ed — and they all played hockey. In the Winters Bob and the Sack brothers would walk over the bridge crossing the railroad tracks to the nearest outdoor rink at East Side Lake, literally a mile-plus round trip walk through the snow and the wind and the freezing cold.

In Austin at the time every team — mites, squirts, peewees, bantams, high school — all played outdoors because there was no indoor rink. In 1973 the 2,500-seat Riverside Arena opened. A year later a group of eight investors, all local Austin businessmen, purchased a franchise in the fledgling Midwest Junior Hockey League (MJHL). They called the team the Mavericks.

Heretofore Austin had been known as a basketball and baseball town. Motzko came to Austin when hockey was on the ground floor but the sport was growing, just in time for his interest in the game to flourish. He went to Austin High, played hockey, and displayed a natural ability for

offense. “When we’d break the puck out our zone, we’d look for Bob. He would hover near center ice, waiting for a pass. He was really fast and if he had space, he was gone. That’s not to say he wasn’t a complete player, but offense was his thing,” said his boyhood friend Tony Sack.

In 1975 the Mavericks hired a new coach, a guy of Italian descent from one of the boroughs of New York City: Lou Vairo from Brooklyn. When Vairo came to Austin, he found the quintessential small-town America he’d heard about. He was the perfect guy for the job. He talked with people on the street, he taught a cooking class and he put a winning team on the ice. Motzko described him as an “unbelievable personality.” In time he was pulled into Vairo’s vortex. Vairo was an early proponent of off-ice training, having travelled to the Soviet Union to study their methods. Motzko got a chance to do some off-ice training with the Mavericks and even skated with the team on occasion. Vairo remembers he “was never out of place even though he was much younger than the team members.”

Years later, in 1987, after playing in Austin, Waterloo/Dubuque and St. Cloud State, Motzko was in Vairo’s shoes, taking the helm of a junior hockey team in Mason City, Iowa. He was the coach/general manager/chief scout/head recruiter/jersey washer/program salesman of the North Iowa Huskies in the U.S. Hockey League (USHL), a reconstituted version of the MJHL which had gone all junior (ages 17-20) since the 1979-80 season. At times it didn’t seem like it was so great; it was downright hard work. “I loved it,” Motzko said. “I was in hockey! And the hockey was really good. Most people didn’t realize what we were doing then and the impact it had. We were under the radar.”

Motzko proved he had the mettle to be a coach there when his team won the national junior championship in 1989. From Mason City Motzko moved into college hockey, getting an assistant job with Mark Mazzoleni at Miami of Ohio. In between two stints with “Mazz” at Miami, Serratore lured him out to Denver. He lasted one season before Serratore and his whole staff was shown the door. “I owe him forever, by bringing him out to Denver and then getting fired,” Serratore said.

“I’ll take it,” Motzko laughs.

In their one year together, everything that could go wrong went wrong culminating in their last game, a playoff game against Minnesota at Mariucci Arena, when their team was so decimated by injuries they could dress only 17 skaters. “Looking back, it was just a speed bump in our careers. We all went onto bigger and better things. But I learned how hard it is on families. I was single. I could pack up and leave. It’s much more difficult to uproot a family.”

Motzko spent another two years back in the grown up version of the USHL around the turn of the century. This time in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, as head coach of the Stampede. One of his toughest opponents was a member of the Serratore Coaching Tree located down Highway 29: Mike Hastings and his team, the Omaha Lancers. Hastings built a mini dynasty in his 14 seasons in Omaha, a place where all victories for Motzko seemed more like moral ones. “If we got out with a win, I was never happy, just relieved. Mike’s teams were so well prepared. Nothing ever caught them by surprise.”

Mike Hastings

His Mavericks teammates quickly took to calling him Barney, the character from the “Flintstones” cartoon. By hockey standards, Mike Hastings was undersized for defenseman. Five-foot-six… maybe. But he could play. A rink rat from Crookston, Minn., he instinctively knew how to play offense and run a power play. A smart fellow, too. Smart enough to earn an appointment to the United States Military Academy, otherwise known as West Point. He remembers his official visit: His dad was so proud. His mom was shedding tears as he got on the plane. They weren’t prepared for the news he gave them when he returned — I’m not going West Point. That’s not me.

“I wasn’t mature enough at 18 years of age to make a nine-year commitment,” Hastings said. “It’s four years of college plus a five-year military commitment. It seemed like too long a time for me.”

Hastings was content to go to college and play Div. III hockey when fate intervened. He got a call from Serratore that summer asking him to play in a hockey camp in Brainerd. Serratore recruited from hockey camps he worked there for Chuck Grillo, for years a scout in professional hockey. At the camp were several of the guys who’d played for him with the Mavericks the previous season. “Mike was a known commodity because he put up offensive numbers in high school,” Serratore said, “but he was raw defensively. You could tell he loved playing though.”

The camp was an eye-opening experience for Hastings: “I met the scariest human being in my life — Mike Castellano.” “Casto” they called him for short. A Rochester John Marshall grad, at 5-foot-11 he wasn’t terribly physically imposing, but he had a monster of a shot from the point, a gregarious personality and played with a steely-eyed meanness. His appearance contributed to his reputation. He wore black-rimmed glasses with tape around the edges. He could’ve easily passed for the long lost Hanson brother from the movie Slap Shot.

From West Point to Frank Serratore, Mike Castellano and the Austin Mavericks. Quite a change in plans. His parents bought in but on one condition — he had to continue his education. No taking time off just to play hockey. Hastings agreed to their terms. Off to Austin he went.

In late summer of 1984 the shaggy-haired kid showed up on the front stoop of the home Jed and Nancy Dudycha, big hockey fans living on the East Side with their young family. From the moment he arrived at his billeted family’s house, he fit right in. It was a perfect match. Nancy washed his clothes and cooked for him, effectively becoming a second mom. Hastings reciprocated. When he wasn’t busy doing his schoolwork at Austin Community College (now Riverland) and playing for the Mavericks, instead of going out with teammates he often hang out with the Dudychas. “If it weren’t for them, I don’t know if I would’ve made it,” Hastings said. “I was kind of a momma’s boy. They helped me get by and grow up.”

On the ice he started to flourish. When started with the Mavericks, he didn’t know how to play a one-on-one. That changed. He got to be devastating good hip checker, making the proper read and using the leverage he came by naturally to tee off on puck carriers coming through the neutral zone. “Mike was great at it. He could get a line on guys and flip them just like you’d see the pros do,” remembered Castellano.

The Mavericks won the regular season league title, lost to the St. Paul Vulcans in the play-offs, but still made it to the national tournament in Chicago. The following year Hastings returned. This time to Rochester after the Mavericks became Mustangs. Once again the team made it to the national tournament, and Hastings got an offer to play at St. Cloud State.

Hastings decision to get into the coaching profession came wrapped in a rather abrupt ending. On a road trip out East early in his sophomore year, he fractured two vertebrae in his lower back. Career over. The coach, Craig Dahl, let him keep his scholarship money on the condition he start to help the coaching staff. Thus a coach was born.

Through the lobbying efforts of Serratore and Mike Guentzel, both of whom coached the Omaha, Hastings got his big break as a head coach in 1994. He took the reigns of one of the league’s most robust franchises, winning three championships and never having a losing season in 14 seasons.

He ran into Motzko when he made a return to the USHL in Sioux Falls. Motzko’s style of team’s style of play in distinguishable, Hastings says. “Bobby’s teams have always allowed creativity; he allows them to make plays. He provides an atmosphere where talented players can flourish, but not at the expense of taking care of things defensively.”

And he added one more thing. “It’s amazing how his teams play best at the most important times. That’s a gift.”

The respect is mutual, however. “Mike is one of the premier coaches in the college game,” believes Motzko.


It’s amazing how prescient good coaches are. At the press conference after his team’s defeat by Air Force, Moztko said the only one way to the next opponent to beat Air Force’s was to score early, “get pucks behind their goalie” Billy Christopoulos, aka Billy the Greek, who stoned St. Cloud and made the all-tournament team. UMD did just that. They got a 2-0 lead in the first period, got an empty net goal late and hung on to win, 3-1.

Motzko didn’t see much into his own future that night; twenty-four hours later he was prepping for his interview with the University of Minnesota search committee to be the Gophers next coach. Don Lucia stepped down just a week earlier, by his own volition, he said. It was time for the next guy. Better a year early than running out of gas, having to get one more win or one more tournament appearance to keep your job. At the press conference announcing his departure, Lucia quoted his good friend “old Frank Serratore” from an earlier conversation they’d had at Serratore’s house about how it could be possible to leave Minnesota: “He (Frank) says they got a lot of blank-you money and at some point in time if they don’t want you, they say ‘blank-you,’ write you a check and you’re outta there.”

In the next Minnesota presser announcing the new guy’s arrival, Motzko told the assembled crowd Serratore’s thoughts on his qualifications for the Gophers job: “Frank said nobody deserves this job more than Bob Motzko since Brad Beutow cut you twice.”

Motzko assured everyone he wouldn’t be at Minnesota as long as Lucia. Most coaches don’t the choice to end things on their own terms. Hastings’s formula for when to stay and when to go comes down to a few honest questions: Are you still relevant to your players? Are you still passionate? Do you can about it like you did when you started?

Serratore refuses to put on expiration date on his own coaching career. “If it gets to the point where I’m not enjoying it or my school doesn’t want me anymore, I’m done.”




A lot more for Oliver: How social media savvy helped one show go on

Herald Cover 1_edited-1After a 14-year hiatus, my mom went back to teaching at Pacelli Catholic Schools in Austin, Minn. While most of her contemporaries have either long since retired or are dead, my mom, now in the second year of a two-year contract at the ripe young age of 75, teaches music everyday to kids from first grade through seniors in high school. This past Fall she added another duty at the school: the music director for the school’s production of the musical “Oliver.”

For months prior to the play in November, on more than one occasion she expressed concern to me the play could be a financial sinkhole for the school. There are a couple factors I was unaware of that contributed to her anxiety. Number one, it costs several thousand dollars upfront to secure the rights from a publishing house just to get the scores and scripts in order to do a play. Number two, attendance for Pacelli’s plays for the past several years had been lousy. According to the director, a young attorney with a Thespian bent named Cameron Davis, there were times when there were more people on stage than sitting in the audience. To pay for “Oliver,” they were going to need a successful box office, i.e., lots of paying customers.

Like many private schools, Pacelli is a small school with a dedicated faculty who work long and hard but don’t get paid a lot of money. Given my experience and expertise, I offered my help to the administrators at Pacelli with the PR and marketing for the play. I told them I’ll do anything they want me to do and I’ll keep them 100% in the loop as to what I was doing. I submitted a plan for their approval. They were all in. In fact, I took it over.

My strategy combined some old school PR with some “new school” media, including social media.

First, we utilized te most obvious audience for a Catholic school — the three Catholic parishes in Austin. We made sure the church bulletins on Sundays had information on the play. Moreover, I gave the parish priests two talking points to recite during their “announcements” at the end of mass. The second line read, “Check out the Pacelli Facebook page for some cool video.”

Head Shots 7

That’s where new media came into play. I shot video not just of the dress rehearsals but produced interviews with the directors and actors. Armed with extra video, I approached the editor of the town’s newspaper, the Austin Daily Herald, with an offer: If I put a Herald slate on a video piece, would they run it on their web site accompanying the story on the play? “Consider it B-roll for newspaper,” I said, which, although it’s done ALL the time on TV newscasts, is kind of a new concept for newspapers. The editor thought that was a great idea. Not only did they post the video, they ran their feature on the play right on the top-of-fold front page!

Combined with a great show done by the Pacelli students, our efforts produced results. They did four performances (Nov. 20-23). Two were sell outs (Friday and Saturday) and the other two were well attended. The bottom line wasn’t frightening at all. They made enough money to pay for the entire production of the play — the rights, the set, the musicians, etc. And my mom was pleased!

“I’d been doing plays at Pacelli since I was in seventh grade,” Sarah Kahle, a senior who played Widow Corney, told me. “I’d never seen such a turnout. It was absolutly amazing. I’m really glad I got that opportunity to perform in front of such a group.”


Why Michael Floyd Will Succeed

After returning from the NFL Draft in New York City, I ran across a piece on Yahoo! Sports about Rashaan Salaam, the 1994 Heisman Trophy winner at Colorado who was drafted in the first round by the Chicago Bears 17 years ago. Four years later his football career was finished. The piece takes its quotes mostly from a recent Chicago Tribune story on Salaam. To use the popular sports vernacular, he was a “bust.” According to the story, he partied a lot and used marijuana, which led to his downfall. “I had no discipline. I had all the talent in the world,” he said. How did the Chicago Bears miss so badly in their evaluation? How can anyone think they can treat their body like that and excel at their profession?

One guy you wouldn’t have to worry about is Michael Floyd, the Notre Dame grad from St. Paul, Minn., whom the Phoenix Cardinals selected with the 13th pick in the first round. Yes, he had brushes with the law during his college career over drinking, but I know the guy so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. I believe he’s gotten his wake up call and won’t wind up like Salaam. Move past that and you realize this is a guy who works at his craft. Moreover, he loves playing ball and doesn’t mind the training it takes to be an elite athlete. Blessed with natural talent, he’s worked hard to become a first round draft choice. Work ethic isn’t something you can easily measure though. It takes doing homework.

The NFL Combine, which happens in the dead of winter at the end of February, has become it’s own TV event. It’s kind of a cross between an old ABC-TV “Superstars competiton” and a job fair for prospective on-the-field NFL employees. And it serves its purpose: It’s a way management and scouts can get a last look at players before the draft and get last-minute information on players. The physical tests — 40 yard dash time, bench press test, etc. — serve as a way for NFL GMs to collect as much tangible information on the physical qualifications of their prospective employees. And, in a round about way, to justify their picks. Peter Lynch, the money manager who ran the Fidelity Magellan mutual fund  in the ’80s, explained why so many on Wall Street invest in the big familiar names (IBM, GM, etc.) as opposed to the smaller, more unknown growth companies. The reasoning is simple. If IBM goes down, people will ask, “What’s wrong with IBM?” If you invest in a small regional auto parts retailer like Pep Boys and it goes down, people will wonder, “What’s wrong with you?!” Relating it to the draft, the Kansas City Chiefs took Dontari Poe with the 11th pick even though he didn’t have a great deal of production on the field during his career at Memphis. The guy proved to be an athletic freak at the combine, so if he doesn’t pan out the Chiefs can at least offer the excuse that the guy had all the physical tools but he couldn’t pick up the pro game. Ironically, that’s what you’re looking for — players!

Unfortunately, having great “measureables” doesn’t mean a guy can play let alone if they’d make an ideal team mate. What exactly does a work out in shorts and a t-shirt at the NFL Combine prove? Shouldn’t a concrete evaluation of every prospect’s talents already be in the hand by this time? Personal interviews are part of the combine, too, and there’s a benefit to a face-to-face conversation. However, in my experience if you want to find out about a player’s work ethic, one group of people you want to talk to are the equipment managers. They deal with the athletes every day on a personal level and will give you an unbiased evaluation. Unlike a coach, they have no ego invested in a player. But that’s where the effort on the part of the scout comes into play. You can’t just show up at the games and expect to get that sort of information. It takes more work than that. I seriously wonder how many scouts put it in that sort of effort.

Great talents like Michael Floyd in football are like great talents in other walks of life — they make things look easy. But it’s not. James Kaplan, the author of a recently-published biography on Frank Sinatra, “Frank: The Voice,” told Fox News he was struck by Sinatra’s work ethic. While Sinatra knew he was a gifted singer, he didn’t just rely on his talent to make it. “One of the big surprises working on this book for me was to learn how incredibly hard he worked on his singing, on the lyrics, on his breath control, on every part of his craft,” Kaplan said. “He made it look easy. It was not easy!”

Take from the Chairman of the Board. If you want to make it in New York, New York, or the NFL or anywhere else, work ethic can’t be replaced.


Money Monday: The Revolution is Here!

Rick Santelli Converts Pickup to Run on Natural Gas: From Start to Finish.

One of my passions is investing. I rarely watch ESPN; instead CNBC is constantly on my TV. While I do enjoy some of the morning radio guys in the Twin Cities, I’ve been around sports enough if I really want to know something I can just call a contact and find out. Sports is a business. While I respect the athletic abilities of those I watch — and some are truly amazing — there’s no fascination left for me.

If you’re tired of paying close to four bucks a gallon — or if you’re in California $5 per gallon — good news. Competition to gasoline is close at hand: liquid natural gas. I learned this last summer, and the momentum has increased since. The reason is simple: With the price of oil hovering around $100 a barrel and the fact that it comes from countries who are hostile to the West (and lots of other parts of the world), it only makes sense to look at alternatives. Europe is further ahead than we are in North America at adapting to natural gas. In Europe, natural gas cars made by the likes of General Motors are on the road.  Our side of the Atlantic we may be catching up.

The game changer will be what’s know as surface fleet fleet vehicles — your Fed Ex trucks, UPS trucks, the garbage trucks, trucking companies, etc. They want a fuel that is cheaper than diesel. Natural gas fits the bill because it’s cheaper and just as dependable as the fuels derived from oil. Plus, if you’re into the green thing, they it has less carbon emissions. Waste Management (WM) now has 1,400 trucks that run on natural gas. Of course, there are those who raise the question, “Well, what happens if natural gas up in price?” Natural gas has a natural price hedge that oil doesn’t have: your local garbage dump. That stuff can be burned and turned into methane which, in turn, can be converted into natural gas.

Rick Santelli just converted his truck into a LNG (liquid natural gas)-powered vehicle for CNBC. The conversion cost him, but once the surface vehicles start using natural gas en masse the passenger cars will become more prevelent as well. Where would one gas up? The gas station. Pilot Flying J truck stops, in cooperation with a company called Clean Energy Fuels Energy (CLNE), is building LNG pumps at their stations across the country. By the end of 2013, you’ll be able to go coast-to-coast and fill up at a Flying J. And that’s just the beginning.

We are still in the infancy in this, but unless Washington screws it up, bet on it happening. Can’t wait to pay less than two bucks a gallon to fill up.


Union College Hits the Jackpot

Union College hit the jackpot on its way to Tampa to play in the Frozen Four ice hockey championship. Matt Futterman, a Union College grad who now scribes for one of the top newspapers in the free world, the Wall Street Journal, wrote an op ed apology describing how wrong he was when he vehemently campaigned against the college’s reinstatement of the hockey program when he was an undergrad there 21 years ago. As a college senior, Futterman feared hockey was not a worthwhile pursuit for a college with the academic standards of Union. He describes his story HERE on the Journal’s web site.

Good thing he has had a change of heart. Head Coach Rick Bennett has done a great job picking up where Nate Leaman, now at Providence College, left off. Winning at Union can’t be easy. I’d liken it to recruiting for sports at Stanford. There are only so many males out there who are really good athletes who can also score well enough on the ACAT/SAT in order to get in. And who are diligent enough students in the classroom who can stay in. In short, you’re looking for a special breed of cat. Apparently, they found enough of them to win at Union. My eyes were opened to Union when they played here in Minnesota during the Mariucci Classic tournament during the Christmas-New Years break in 2010. They beat the Golden Gophers in the tourney’s first game, 3-2 in OT. Understand something: The Minnesota fan base does not think their team should EVER lose to someplace called Union College.  If we must lose sometime, we lose to brand names — North Dakota, Wisconsin, Boston College. Not Union. It was a big time wake up call for the Gophers, but more so for the rest of college hockey. Union may have it going, people.

Having the Wall Street Journal run Mr. Futterman’s piece in the paper plus doing a video with him is icing on the public relations cake. First, dumb people do not read the Wall Street Journal. Opinion leaders do. Smart people, people in leadership, people who can donate financially and maybe even afford to send their kids to Union read the Journal. Secondly, everyone except the most callas of people like a Prodigal Son story. Instead of pleading insanity for being the son of a psychotherapist and a lawyer, Mr. Futterman takes full responsibility for being wrong, even going so far as to apologize in person and on camera to the past president, Roger Hull, who spearheaded the drive to get a hockey program back at Union. Generally speaking, people don’t like to admit they are wrong, let alone do it publicly. Watching the video on the Journal’s site, it’s hard not to like Mr. Futterman.

Alas, he does have a vociferous critic in Zach Pearce, a contributor to — you guessed it — the Union College Hockey Blog. In a rant on his blog, Mr. Pearce doesn’t buy Futterman’s mea culpa and thinks he belittled Union’s history because he referred to it as “slightly-less-than-illustrious.”

“The troubling part of Mr. Futterman’s article is that it reads dangerously as a misinformed personal attack on the school,” Pearces asserts. Really? Union has its cadre of distinguished alumni to be sure, but lest’s be realistic: It’s not Harvard. In athletics it won’t remind you of Stanford either. The Wikipedia list maintained by Union itself is a little short on famous graduates since, say, 1960. It doesn’t mean Union isn’t a terrific school with wonderful people. However, as a contributing alum, Matt Futterman has done more to elevate the visibility of the school than President Chester A. Arthur has done lately. To use Mr. Futterman’s description of himself as a Union student, Mr. Pearce comes across as much of an “obnoxious punk” as Mr. Futterman was 21 years ago. Funny how history repeats itself.

If I were Rick Bennett, I’d welcome back Matt Futterman with open arms. In fact, I’d give him a jersey and have him write a piece on the program for the team’s web site. After all, he just did your program a favor by acknowldging his youthful stupidity to about three million Wall Street Journal readers. A lot of those people never knew about Union College. Now they do. Way to go, Dutchmen!


When Ivy League Diplomacy Failed…

I’d be remiss if I failed to mention what I think was one of the more odd moments from my hockey season.

During the Winnipeg Jets-Minnesota Wild game back in February, the Jets’ Tanner Glass got into it with the Wild’s Darroll Powe. A fight during an NHL game isn’t unusual. What made it unusual was that the combatants are supposed to be bright human beings, at least brighter than your average dolt on the street. Besides the fact they are both from the providence of Saskatchewan in Canada — surprise! — they also have another thing in common: They both attended Ivy League colleges. Glass went to Dartmouth and Powe went to Princeton.  And they spent all four years there, which means it’s likely they are Ivy League graduates! You won’t know that by reading their bio info on their respective team’s web sites because it’s not mentioned. A missed opportunity to get a story line out there, but that’s a subject for another blog post.

Nevertheless, I don’t think either one of them majored in any sort of government relations/diplomacy field of study. If they did, they’d probably get peace-loving Canada into a war with another country. Seriously, who doesn’t like Canada? Than, again, hockey doesn’t lend itself to on-ice diplomacy.


Muzik’s Best Hockey Photos from this Year’s State of Hockey

There’s no playoff hockey here in Minnesota (again) this year, so we are confined to watching the Stanley Cup playoffs on TV (once again). All I’m left with now are souvenir photos. And more time to complete my taxes and let my sore lower back heal up.

Along with my co-editor (my dad), I put together my best hockey photos from thirty-three NHL games and a bunch of Minnesota Gopher games. While I live in St. Paul, Minn., judging by the photos you’d think I lived in Edmonton, Alberta. That’s because we saw the Oilers four times four times  (one preseason game, three regular season) by the first of the year. Please let me know what you think. You leave a comment on my blog or friend me on Facebook and leave a comment there. (To go to Facebook, please chick HERE.)


Meet the Next Lawrence Taylor

I hated the way ESPN overhyped USC running back Reggie Bush when he was in college. They actually did a segment comparing him to Chicago Bears great — and NFL Hall of Famer — Gale Sayers. Comparing a college kid to an NFL legend was ridiculous. College football and the pros are not the same game. Bush was taken second overall by the New Orleans Saints in 2006, and I think Bush is more famous for dating Kim Kardashian than for what he has done on the field.

But I’m about to jump on a bandwagon of my own making. You must see Daeshon Hall, a junior in high school from Lancaster, Texas, play football. This kid has some special ability. He’ll committed to Texas already, so you’ll see him in Longhorns burnt orange in 2013.

One of my free lance jobs is editing video for national Preps. I spent February watching a lot of high school football from the state of Texas. Young Mr. Hall just stood out. In Lancaster they play him as a defensive end, although I think he’ll project as an outside linebacker in college — and in the NFL. At 6-foot-6, 225 lbs. he has the build of a basketball player, and, in fact, he does play hoops. However, he has the body type of a small forward, unlike Julius Peppers who played basketball at North Carolina and played defensive end in college and the pros. Peppers has the build of a power forward; he’s bigger in the lower body. But Hall has some unbelievable physical ability — and he’s much stronger than you would think.

If Young Mr. Hall is a diligent student and makes wise choices off the field, the sky’s the limit for this fellow. My edited video of Hall runs just under three minutes, so check it out.


How I Helped the Providence College Friars Hockey Team

It’s been a while since I’ve made any new posts to my blog. Well, I’ve ben busy. Let me share what I’ve been doing.

Two years ago I had preliminary talks with Tim Army, then the men’s ice hockey coach for the Providence College Friars, about how I could bring my knowledge of new media to help the program at Providence. Whole it took some time to jump through the hurdles, I eventually got the chance to do consulting work for the Friars. Although it turned out to be Tim’s last year on the job – he’s now an assistant coach with the Colorado Avalanche — I am forever grateful I got a chance to make an impact. And I know I made an impact because some of things I started have been picked by the new coaching staff and the media relations department.

Using the tools of new media – blogs, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc. – is an essential thing in what Seth Godin calls our “sharing economy.” However, in order to share your story it needs to be packaged as interesting content. Yes, being interesting is important. Using your Facebook page to tell the world you had strawberries this morning for breakfast does not qualify as interesting.

Providence College (PC), while it has a huge brand name across the country, is actually a very small school. My first trip to the school was an eye-opener for me. The campus was about as big as Hamline University here in St. Paul. PC’s undergrad enrollment is only 4,000. Given the shrinking numbers of people working in newsrooms in both TV and newspapers, it’s critical for an athletic program to have a structured method to get their message out. New media is the great equalizer a program at Providence has to get their message out to recruits and fans. Recruits first, fans second. If you don’t have the players who can play – even of they are good students in the classroom – you won’t win, fans won’t show up and coaches will get fired. That’s the way it goes.

Here are some things that the Friars have done that have them headed in the right direction. I’ll also discuss some things I think they need to do.

Friar Hockey Blog and Twitter

Having a blog is the most foundational thing you can do in new media. Why? The algorithm Google uses to search the web love blogs. So, I got one started last year and they picked it up. Mine was heavy on opening visuals, as you might imagine. All my copy lead with a photo or photos at the top or an embedded video. I believe strongly in using a compelling photo or video in everything. There’s still a lot of truth in the Chinese proverb “A picture is worth a thousand words.” See mine here.

You can check out the official Friar Hockey Blog on the PC hockey web site HERE. Way to go, Friars.

With the proliferation of smart phones, using Twitter is another absolute essential. I got it started last year, a separate Twitter account just for the men’s hockey team. And I started tweeting from the penalty box when the Friars played at Merrimack. (I was also shooting photos from there, too, which was a challenge.) This season the program fixed up the Twitter page and delved into using it. Come game night there was nothing better this year than getting game updates on my phone. I loved knowing how the Friars were doing and not having to search for any information. There’s still a ways to go, different ways to use Twitter to get the message out about the Friars. But they are off to a great start.

What PC Needs to do Next

1. To get to the next level, PC needs to organize like a newspaper or TV station does. Ever heard of an editorial calendar? From a PR standpoint, you use it to plot important dates on the calendar you want to get your message out. Of course, you have to decide what your message is and by what method you are going to use. Putting out content on a consistent basis is crucial to developing an audience.

2. Use video and audio way more. Technology has made it possible to create and post high quality video quickly. PC isn’t doing much in this realm, and that’s where they must go. Words on a computer screen are OK, but the most powerful communications media are moving pictures with REALLY good sound. In fact, if I had to pick one or the other, I’d take great audio first.

Here’s perfect example of something very well done! It’s the audio podcasts from the U.S. Hockey League’s Sioux Falls Stampede, right from their home page. They keep you updated on the current team as well as their alumni. Simple stuff, but it’s excellent.

Nate Leaman was hired away from Union College to be the new head coach at Providencen last year. Coach Leaman has worked for some great coaches, Shawn Walsh at Maine and Mark Mazzoleni at Harvard. And he worked with one of the legendary college hockey recruiters in Grant Standbrook while at Maine, too. I’d like to hear Coach Leaman talk about what he values, his formative experiences, what he wants in a player, etc. At the very least, he should do his own version of a weekly coaches show. Something short in audio or video format that’s just a few minutes long.

And if PC wants to get really, ambitious they can do a version of Friars 24/7. Tim was very much in support of showing what playing at PC was about and his style as a coach. When you have a coach on board like that, you have the that magic word — access! And that’s what wins awards. Not to mention, it’s the sort of thing that builds on audience. And that’s what we were after. This is the sort of thing that’s worthwhile for a school to do internally because they can control the message. Moreover, they can deliver something an audience can’t get from the local TV or newspaper. The North Dakota fighting Sioux did something similiar this year and got very position comments from it. While I won’t claim mine was anywhere near the HBO version, you can check out my version of Friars 24/7 on YouTube. Just click here.

One opinionated suggestion: Skip doing the media guide in PDF format or any other format. Use the company and their software the Wisconsin Badgers use, ProForma, to do online-style magazine. Why use this? In a world of smart phones and iPads, this format fits perfectly. It allows you to use video, use big pictures and share content. It won’t be long before a major athletic department like Wisconsin will abandon at least partially if not totally printing game day programs for football. Why print thousands of programs that run the risk of going unsold when folks are brining their iPads to games anyway? Customers are already using their smart phones will shopping at Tartget and Best Buy. My bet is it’s only a matter of time the proliferation of the hand-held device leads to this. This is just a way cooler way to do things.  You can catch a sample of Wiscon’s magazine, Varsity Online, here:

3. Use Facebook to connect with recruits and fans.

Why an emphasis on Facebook? Virtually every athlete you’ll recruit from now on is on Facebook. And if you have compelling content, you can be feeding them information all the time about your program. It’s that simple.

Plus, Coach Leaman has shown a genuine interest in reaching out to the student body at PC through his Mission 3000 program. I’d best most of the students who could fill Schneider Arena are on Facebook. Moreover, coaches should be monitoring potential recruits social media use. Many colleges are using software for student recruitment alone, making it possible for admissions offices to capitalize of the role of social media. What students say on social networks offers the most complete picture of their interests, concerns and goals. Knowing that enables you to engage them in ways that are the most relevant to them.

There you have it. There’s a lot more to be done, but I that’s all the free stuff I’ll give out for now. Thanks, again, Providence for letting me be part of your athletic program.


Don Coryell: Communications Genius (1924-2010)

Don Coryell (photo courtesy AP)

Don Coryell was a communications genius, although he wasn’t a professional communicator. He was a football coach, a coach who revolutionized how offenses are run in football. Coryell recently passed away at the age of 85, and Sports Illustrated took the occasion to run a major piece on his contribution to the game in their July 12, 2010 edition. Professional communicators, particularly those who design web sites, could learn a lesson from the man.

What made him so unique? Coryell (the communicator) devised a very effective play-calling method for his players (his audience) when he was the head coach at San Diego State for 12 seasons (1961-72). It enabled his offenses to discern and run very intricate plays with a minimum of information. Football players have very little time between plays to process information. When it’s late in the game and the weather is lousy and the fans are loud, those elements can further complicate the ability to communicate. In order to be successful, each of the 11 guys on the field has to understand their individual assignment on each play. One mental mistake by one guy can be the difference in a play that results in a positive net gain or a loss – or even worse, a turnover!

Here’s what he did. Prior to Coryell, offensive plays were referred to by a formation plus a name for the play. For example, “Power I Maverick.” “Power I” referred to the formation and “Maverick” was the play. You certainly hoped your guys had memorized the playbook! The SI article goes on to describe how Coryell’s system was brilliant and why it has stood the test of time. In football, teams often use two wide outs, in football speak referred to as the X and Z receivers. Another receiver, called the split end because he plays close to the line, is often called the slot receiver and is designated by the letter Y. So, you have the X, Y and Z receivers. With me so far?

Coryell devised a numbering system to identify pass routes for those receivers. Let’s use the example of the play here, the 525 F Post Swing (image left). According to Sports Illustrated, “Routes for the outside receivers in a formation (the X and Z receivers) were assigned single digits, from 1 to 9; routes for an inside (or Y) receiver were assigned multiples of 10, from 10 to 90.” The numbers corresponded to different pass routes. For the X and Z receivers, a 1 route is a curl route, a 2 is a basic out, a 3 is a skinny post, etc. The route list for the Y receivers were assigned multiples of 10. And the route descriptions are precise! All a wide receiver had to memorize, however, was what pass patterns 10 digits corresponded to, not memorize a whole playbook the size of a metropolitan phone book.

Getting back to our example, the play called 525 F Post Swing, the X and Z receivers run a 5 route (a 15-yard comeback) and the Y receiver runs a 20 route, a shallow cross. “F Post” just gives the F position, which in this example is a running back, directions to run a post pattern. “Swing” refers to the formation the team should line up in. Not that hard, right? Every play was built from the foundation of the digits.

The key was Coryell’s system was visual, not cognitive. As quarterback Trent Green said in the article, “It was always a great thing for me… The first thing I do when a play comes into my headset is visualize it. In this system, with every play call, you’re actually telling everybody what to do by what you say. Instead of saying, ‘I Right Omaha,’ you’re saying, ‘R 428 H Stop,’ and that tells everybody what to do, instead of relying on their memorization.”

Simply put, Coryell designed a way to make it easy for his audience to understand his message. He had high respect for them and figured out a way for them to get his message easily, with a minimum of effort. He didn’t leave them to figure it out. In his profession, it enabled his football teams to run very complex plays – and win a lot of games! He was way ahead of his peers. Tony Dungy, winner of Super Bowl XLI as the coach of the Indianapolis Colts, told SI, “Super Bowls count so much now; that’s all anyone talks about. But if you talk about impact on the game, training other coaches – John Madden, Bill Walsh, Joe Gibbs to name a few – and influencing how things are done, Don Coryell is probably right up there with Paul Brown. He was a genius.”

Sadly, Coryell isn’t in the NFL Hall of Fame yet. Two coaches who were once his assistants, Madden and Gibbs, already are. The only thing Coryell lacks on his resume is a championship. His contribution to the game is already legendary.