When athletic director Barry Alvarez went searching for a new men’s hockey head coach, Ton Granato was not even a though. A conversation or two later and Granato had put together an all-star staff and was set to become the new head coach.
There was just one hurdle — Granato never got his bachelor’s degree.
Just over one year later and Granato will walk across the stage at Camp Randall Stadium this weekend as a graduate of the University of Wisconsin. It will be the culmination of a 33-year journey to a degree.
That journey took him from UW to the NHL before his degree could be earned back in the 1980’s. Granato spent the next 14 years as a star player in the NHL and working at his craft as a coach as well.
It led to two separate stints as the head coach of the Colorado Avalanche before getting assistant coaching gigs with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Detroit Redwings.
As Granato walks across the stage to receive his degree, he will become the last in his immediate family to do so. That’s because his youngest daughter will graduate the day before from the University of Colorado and all the rest of his children have gotten their degrees.
It is something he reflected on while talking to the Wisconsin State Journal.
“I’m thinking for me, just sitting in there wearing a gown and sitting and watching this ceremony will be pretty emotional from the standpoint that it’s been a long journey to get there,” Granato said. “I’ve watched my kids, all four of them, work really hard to get theirs. It’ll probably be more of a reflection on the importance of the education and mostly how proud I was of my kids on how they did it.”
Granato isn’t just fulfilling a life-long goal, he is also fulfilling a requirement of his contract. UW chancellor Rebecca Black made sure to write in a provision that required the coach to complete his degree within the first year or be fired.
It took Granato taking two courses in the summer, two more this fall and two more in his final semester to get the degree completed. Granato won’t walk at graduation alone, he’ll have four of his players that he coached this past season with him.
Grant Besse, Aidan Cavallini, Corbin McGuire and Jedd Soleway will all get their degrees on Saturday.
Not too shabby for someone who hasn’t seen the inside of an academic classroom since the mid 1980’s and has this thing called a head coaching job to worry about. That was where his all-star bench of coaches came in handy.
Having his brother Don and long-time friend Mark Osiecki in the fold allowed him the ability to more easily juggle classes, study sessions and exams. Granato trusted them to get practice plans and game planning done as much as possible when he was gone.
That combined effort led to Granato being named the Big Ten Coach of the Year, and honor he chose to deflect towards his other coaches.
Some believe that this first-year experience will only help Granato as a coach, and they may be right. It certainly is an experience few, if any, men’s hockey head coaches have ever experienced.
Granato can better relate to the time demands and time management skills needed to succeed today as a student-athlete. It certainly will help make practices count and to be able to better sell the program on the recruiting trail as well.
Oh, and as for the rest of the hockey guys that never completed their degrees? Expect a phone call from the head coach one of these days.
“If it’s something that you’ve been thinking about, I’m going to push you to try to get in here and get it done,” Granato said, via the Wisconsin State Journal. “And I’ll tell them it’s been fun. It is challenging. You do have to work. But there’s a pretty big carrot at the end. You’ll feel really good that you went back and were able to do it.”
Before that happens, Granato gets to cap off one of the craziest turnaround seasons in UW hockey history by walking at graduation.