Madison, Wis. — Tony Granato started out giving advice to Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez about the men’s hockey coaching vacancy at the school and ended up getting the job.
The chance to return to his alma mater was too enticing to Granato, even worth leaving his gig as an assistant coach for the Detroit Red Wings.
Granato was introduced Wednesday as Wisconsin’s next coach, charged with reviving a tradition-rich program that finished well below .500 the past couple of seasons.
“There was no hesitation,” Granato said. “I get to be a Badger again.”
Granato returns to Madison after 27 years in the NHL as a player, assistant or head coach. He was in his second season as a Red Wings assistant.
Wisconsin also hired Granato’s brother, Don Granato, and Mark Osiecki as associate head coaches. The new assistants also played at Wisconsin.
Don Granato comes to Madison after nearly five seasons directing the U.S. National Team Development Program. Osiecki was an associate head coach at Rockford in the AHL.
Don Granato will oversee day-to-day operations in the immediate future while his brother and Osiecki finish their current obligations with the NHL and AHL seasons winding down.
“I love my job in Detroit … We’re in a battle for our playoff lives, one game out,” Tony Granato said. “My focus and my attention from now until the end of our season will be with” the Red Wings.
But he sounds even more satisfied with his next job.
The new coach said he got a call from Alvarez a couple of weeks ago seeking advice on the direction of the program. The Badgers have won six NCAA titles, but have struggled of late in the new Big Ten hockey league.
The Badgers’ last NCAA title came in 2006 under predecessor Mike Eaves. He was fired this month after 14 seasons as coach.
Alvarez said Don Granato and Osiecki were on his short list of prospective head-coaching candidates, but he was told by others that Tony Granato may not be interested because of his NHL pedigree. He had two stints as a head coach with the Colorado Avalanche, and played 13 years in the NHL, skating for the New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks.
“Somehow in that conversation he hinted, ‘Would you ever be interested in becoming UW head coach,’” Granato recalled about the phone call. “Absolutely.”
On social media, Alvarez said “This hire will knock your socks off.” The phrase was printed on paper along with a picture of a pair of red-and-white Wisconsin socks.
Granato made it a point to thank Eaves, another former Badger, in comments that drew warm applause from the crowd.
Granato was a two-time All-American at Wisconsin, and a finalist for the 1987 Hobey Baker Memorial Award. He was a four-time, 30-goal scorer in the NHL.
Don Granato was also an assistant with the St. Louis Blues in 2005-06.
Osiecki was head coach at Ohio State from 2010-13 following a six-year stint as an assistant coach at Wisconsin. He played parts of two seasons in the NHL.