New hockey coach Pearson on UM return: 'I love it here'

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Mel Pearson is coming home.

Pearson, a longtime assistant under Red Berenson, was officially named Monday the next Michigan hockey coach.

Mel Pearson takes the stage as Michigan's new hockey coach during a news conference Monday in Ann Arbor.

Berenson retired earlier this month after coaching the Wolverines for the last 33 seasons.

“I’m very honored, privileged and excited to be back at the University of Michigan,” Pearson said.

Pearson, 58, was an assistant for 23 seasons under Berenson before leaving to become head coach at Michigan Tech, where Pearson was a player.

Pearson guided the Huskies to a 118-92-29 record over the last six years  — 75-34-14 over the last three seasons, including two NCAA Tournament appearances.

“I had a hard time leaving here. I love it here, and it was a tough decision at the time, but it was the right decision,” Pearson said of his decision to move to Michigan Tech. “It was always in the back of my mind to come back to the University of Michigan. In my wildest dreams, I didn’t know if that would happen, but I’m thankful for the opportunity.”

Pearson compared taking over for Berenson as getting the keys to a “prized family car” and feels the auto — or, program — is in fine shape.

“Great engine, the body looks fantastic,” Pearson said. “We might have to make some minor repairs, but we’ll get ready to get that car on the road.”

“There’s a lot of good things going on here.”

Pearson wants Berenson to remain close to the program.

“Obviously Warde (Manuel, Michigan's athletic director) wants him to stay around and I’m thrilled about that,” Pearson said. “It’s awesome I have a guy like Red being around so I can pick up the phone and call him.

“I want him to be involved as much as he wants to be, I really do. He has a great mind and understands the game and he and I have a great rapport, and similarities when we talk about the game.”

Pearson admits it wasn’t an easy decision to leave Ann Arbor for Michigan Tech in 2011, just after the Wolverines had reached the Frozen Four.

But having talked to Berenson, and then athletic director Dave Brandon, Pearson felt it was important to gain head coaching experience.

And his alma matter, Michigan Tech, provided that opportunity.

“I had to go, and that was important to go up there and show how to run a program and how to win,” Pearson said. “(But) it was hard to leave and that’s why I initially said no.”

Pearson’s relationships to the UM program were a key, said Manuel.

“In talks to alums, many of them, the majority of them, after 33 years, had played for Red and Mel as an assistant coach,” Manuel said. “The way they talked about him and his leadership was exceptional and very prideful, and what he’s provided to them

“His leadership and the X-and-O’s, you can see what he’s done at Michigan Tech.”

Pearson was on Berenson’s staff, which made 11 Frozen Four appearances and national championships in 1996 and 1998.

Berenson was pleased Monday to see Pearson come full circle and return to Ann Arbor, after making the difficult decision to leave to become a head coach.

“He didn’t leave Michigan with any promises that he’d be back,” Berenson said. “He knew the only way he’d get a head-coach job anywhere and particularly if this was his first choice, he would have to go get experience and that wasn’t an easy decision for Mel.

“But this is a win-win for everybody. He brings experience, he knows how to recruit and he’s going to bring the right kind of people and players to Michigan. He’s a competitor and he’s got a great way with players and a very positive person.”

There was a large contingent of former Michigan players to support Pearson, who always has been popular among the graduated Wolverines.

“I’m excited about what Mel can work toward and the future and Michigan hockey,” said Tyler Motte (2013-16), a forward currently with the Chicago Blackhawks who attended the news conference. “Everybody here is excited about it. He’ll keep the ball rolling in the right direction.

“His personality, the way he likes to interact and recruit and be involved with players, the guys will embrace that and rally around it. His knowledge of the game is similar to Coach Berenson.

“I don’t think you’ll see a beat missed.”