In a surprising move, Ohio State announced Monday that men's hockey head coach Mark Osiecki will not return after three seasons in charge.
"We are making a change in our head hockey coaching position," athletic director Gene Smith said in a statement. "There was a difference of opinion over the management of the program that could not be resolved."
Associate athletic director Chris Schneider, who oversees the hockey program, told BSB that the decision was not based on any NCAA rules violations or the team's performance the past three seasons under Osiecki. Instead, he went back to the phrase about differences in the management of the program that appeared in Smith's statement.
"I keep going back to the statement," Schneider said. "It's a difference in the management, so it's an overall management of the program that we had a difference in. We addressed it with Coach this morning."
Schneider would not elaborate on what those differences might be, but Osiecki told BuckeyeSports.com the administration at Ohio State had the decision made before today's 15-minute meeting.
"Obviously it was a surprise," Osiecki said. "Shocked might be a good word. I didn't expect it at all."
Osiecki said all conversation with the administration to that point had been positive and that there had not been any conflict or discussions about the state of the program between himself and the administration before the decision.
"Nothing led up to it," he said. "There weren't any discussions leading up to that. Where we stood as a staff, we felt good about the players. We felt great about the kids that were coming in and the families. The kids were all doing it the right way.
"Obviously we were trying to create a different type of culture here the last couple of years and this was the third year where we were starting to ease off on the culture change. I think most of the kids got it. We couldn't have been more excited with where we were at."
Going forward, Schneider said Ohio State will have more information tomorrow about the future direction of the program because the athletic department was still talking to everyone involved.
As for potential head coaches, the hockey community is already abuzz with the potential that former Denver coach George Gwozdecky could be a target. Gwozdecky, who won the 2004 and '05 national championships at Denver in his 19 seasons, was involved in OSU's 2010 coaching search and was recently let go by the Pioneers program.
Schneider said he is confident Ohio State will be able to hire a strong coach.
"I think this is a great position, it's a great program and we're working with a great university," Schneider said.
There are a number of positives and negatives when it comes to the Ohio State program. The Buckeyes have made just six NCAA tournament appearances in program history, Value City Arena is cavernous when empty, and there is no practice rink available, forcing team members to bus across the Olentangy River to the old OSU Ice Rink for most practices.
However, the university's formidable resources, brand name and large campus have been a recruiting draw for years, and Value City Arena is a modern home facility that can provide a home-ice advantage when filled.
Adding another layer of intrigue is the fact Ohio State will begin Big Ten play next year, joining traditional powers Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Minnesota as well as the nascent, money-rich program at Penn State.
However, Osiecki appeared to have the program on an upward trajectory since taking over for John Markell. The Buckeyes finished fourth in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association in 2012-13, beating Ferris State in a quarterfinal playoff series before losing to Notre Dame in a semifinal. The fourth-place finish and trip to Joe Louis Arena for the CCHA semifinals was OSU's first since 2005, though the squad's final record was only 16-17-7.
In his Ohio State career, Osiecki had a 46-50-16 record. The Buckeyes earned the No. 9 seed in the CCHA playoffs in each of his first two seasons and were swept out of the first round, that despite a hot start to the 2011-12 campaign that moved OSU as high as No. 2 in the national rankings.
Osiecki also recruited strongly, bringing in top players like forwards Ryan Dzingel, Max McCormick and CCHA leading scorer Tanner Fritz as well as first-team All-CCHA goalie Brady Hjelle and rookie team honorable mention defenseman Craig Dalrymple. The Buckeyes had a number of NHL draft picks like forward Zach Stepan and goaltender Matt Tomkins set to arrive next season.
"The one thing I want to stress is very positive," Osiecki said. "We were excited with what we did and where the program was headed. That is the stuff that I was excited about. That's how I want to go out.
"You can say I was surprised. There was a decision made when they walked in. It was 8 to 8:15 and I was out. There wasn't any conversation. There was a decision made. Now I just take the time to enjoy the family, try to comfort my family and my wife and kids, and try to develop a game plan moving forward."
According to Ohio State, associate head coach Steve Rohlik will serve as the primary point person for the program, student-athletes and recruits for the time being.