Assistant coaches Ty Eigner and Barry Schutte have played major roles in helping head coach Chris Bergeron rebuild the Falcon program over the last five-plus seasons. The BG staff is one of just five nationally that has been intact during that time. The others are Ferris State, Miami, Notre Dame and RIT.
BGSUHockey.com’s Kevin Gordon sat down with Eigner and Schutte to discuss their roles as assistant coaches. The interview will be posted in four parts. Today is Part I.
GORDON: What led each of you to leave a stable job for the challenge of rebuilding the BG program, which had won an NCAA championship in 1984, but had become one of the worst in college hockey and had been targeted for elimination just a year earlier?
EIGNER: The one thing we have in common is Berg. Both of us wanted to get into college hockey. Thankfully for us, Berg was the guy who gave us the opportunity.
For me to come back here, it wasn’t a hard sell in terms of me wanting to come back to Bowling Green, based on being an alum and my experience here.
Doing the history on this place (Bowling Green), not having the knowledge Ty had, to see how great it once was, there could be a pretty neat opportunity here to turn it around and why not take a chance?
SCHUTTE: I still had the itch to coach, even though I walked away from it once. But it was about people to me. I wasn’t going to coach just to coach. It was about the right people, the right opportunity, the right community for my family, the right people I’d be working with. I’ve known Berg a long time. I knew Ty’s brother, but I really didn’t know Ty. We had met a few times. I had enough confidence in my relationship with Berg that the other guy, not knowing the other guy would be Ty, would be a good guy at the very least. Hopefully, we would get along because I trusted Berg with that.
I felt like it would be a cool experience personally. Professionally, it would be a great experience to coach college hockey because no one had given me the benefit of the doubt, to grant me that opportunity. Doing the history on this place, not having the knowledge Ty had, to see how great it once was, there could be a pretty neat opportunity here to turn it around and why not take a chance?
GORDON: Was it an easy decision to join the BG program?
EIGNER: Speaking for me and my family, it was an easy decision. My wife and I lived together during my final season of minor pro. The only job I’d ever had in our marriage is I was coaching. That’s all she knew. That’s the other part of it, you have to have a wife who is willing to make sacrifices on the other end, whether it’s moving or not working, or whatever it is. It’s not a typical career, but my wife was supportive of making this move, if I felt it was a good move for me professionally and us as a family.
SCHUTTE: At first, it didn’t appear to be an easy decision, when you’re talking about young families, and my wife and I both graduated from Miami, and we lived in Oxford.
When I got out of coaching, I thought I was out of coaching and we’d work in Oxford for 30 years and retire. It was very obvious once I started to talk about the opportunity with Berg, that coaching was way more of a priority for me than I gave it credit for at the time. You put it on the backburner because you’re not doing it and if you think about it, it’s going to frustrate you even more because you’re not doing it and you find a way to be OK with it.
Once it became a legitimate opportunity with good people and this program got all of the answers Berg needed, we were going to have resources we needed, it was an easy decision.
I had a very supportive wife with three kids under age 5, the community was a huge part of the decision, too. It started out being what I thought would be the hardest decision of my life, but ultimately once you do some digging and get some questions answered, it became pretty easy.
GORDON: What was it about Coach Bergeron that made you want to be a part of the BG program?
…I believed in Chris (Bergeron) as a person and when he came to Bowling Green, whether Barry and I were here or it was someone else, I believed he was going to do the right things. -Ty Eigner
…I believed in Chris (Bergeron) as a person and when he came to Bowling Green, whether Barry and I were here or it was someone else, I believed he was going to do the right things.
SCHUTTE: The quality of person he is, his morals, his values, his beliefs. To me, Berg has a passion for the game and a passion for his players that is unmatched. He shows up every day with a fire in his belly to continue to raise expectations, challenges. That’s contagious. Some things in myself that by being around him brings out some more in me. Maybe I’m not that way all of the time, but being around him, is being healthy for me. I had a lot of trust and respect for him from the perspective of his emotions and heart are on his sleeve. You know exactly where he stands in all situations and I respect that a lot.
EIGNER: Berg and I had a little bit of a professional relationship over his coaching time. We played together for a year and we played against each other for four years, so I knew Berg really well from what kind of hockey player he was. We got along really well, even though we played at different schools because my brother played with Berg at Miami.
We were legitimate friends. There was a real relationship there. From the hockey piece, from afar, I saw what happened at Miami. I played against Miami and saw what it was in terms of a Division I program at a national level. To see what they did when he was there for 10 years, but I believed in Chris as a person and when he came to Bowling Green, whether Barry and I were here or it was someone else, I believed he was going to do the right things.
I can remember having conversations with alums about Chris. Barry and I both knew Chris was going through the process of getting the job before the public did because he called us throughout the process.
Alums were calling, asking me who do you think is going to get it and I said I know one of the guys. I didn’t say Chris’ name, but I said if he gets it, he’s doing to do a good job because he’s done a good job everywhere he’s gone and he’s going to do it the right way, bring in the right people, regardless of where he’s from. I knew Chris, knowing the way I know him, that he was going to do a good job, regardless of whether it was Barry and I. He was going to bring in the right people and do things the right way.
GORDON: At what point, did you know the rebuilding program was going to be a success?
I knew Chris, knowing the way I know him, that he was going to do a good job, regardless of whether it was Barry and I. He was going to bring in the right people and do things the right way. -Ty Eigner
I knew Chris, knowing the way I know him, that he was going to do a good job, regardless of whether it was Barry and I. He was going to bring in the right people and do things the right way.
SCHUTTE: I don’t know if we’re there yet. None of us are satisfied and none of us have accomplished anything yet, as far as what our expectations are for this program. We talk about it endlessly among ourselves and with our wives. When Bowling Green is winning 20-plus games, year in and year out, and we’re in the conversation annually and that sustains itself for a period of time, three, four, five years, then, as a staff, we’ll probably start to feel like we accomplished what we set out to do.
Having said that, we could see improvement when we were out on the road recruiting that first year. Before that, no one wanted to talk to Bowling Green’s assistant coaches. No coaches in junior hockey or the college game were saying anything positive about Bowling Green.
When you start to have players that you coached, but didn’t recruit like Andrew Hammond, starting to move on and say maybe you had a little part in that, and then you have kids like Ryan Carpenter come in and commit to the plan and succeed in that plan and go onto accomplish things secondary. When we were able to have success in the postseason … our postseason success since we’ve been here has solidified the thought that the plan is working.
We’d probably say we weren’t good enough. We didn’t have all of players at the time to compete with this team or that team, but yet we tried to coach them as hard as we could go get the best out of each player. That allowed us to win games maybe we were supposed to win along that way.
There were moments along the way that would say the plan is working in all facets. Our team grade-point average going from here to there and improving is another sign the plan is working. Our kids’ behavior in downtown Bowling Green and us getting feed back from the community and on campus about the players, that shows the plan is working.
There were things were going on and the plan was working, even through the wins and losses weren’t what we wanted. We’re all excited about what happened last year, but at the end of the day, we finished third in the league and we didn’t win a championship and we didn’t play in the national tournament. That’s what we’re here for. It’s a work in progress, but there are been some moments along the way.
EIGNER: Compared to year one, when you inherit a team that won five games the year prior and was potentially not going to be around, it was a program no one wanted to get close to. It was a tough situation. Winning 10 games and then to win in the playoffs (in our second year) showed us we weren’t going backwards in terms of from start to finish that year.
We’ve been continuing to make that step every year. It’s not like we started out like a house of fire that first year and then went backwards. Now, we’re trying to build it back up. It’s been very slow, steady progress towards improvement in all facets of the program. It starts and ends with the example Berg sets every day and goes on down the players. You have to have players.