DULUTH – Mike Randolph has been coaching boys hockey at Duluth East for a long time with a great deal of success, including 15 trips to the state tournament and two state championships. Last week Randolph recorded his 550th career victory.
But something new and different is happening this season, his 26th as coach of the Greyhounds: Randolph is not on the bench for all the games.
You see, Randolph is being pulled in two directions. One is his team. The other is his son. Jake Randolph is a freshman hockey player at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. So in a wonderfully creative twist, Randolph is missing five or six games this season while watching his son play.
“It kind of shows how much he loves to watch me play,” said Jake. “It’s been pretty special.” (Pictured are Jake with his parents, Ginny and Mike.)
The arrangement was worked out with the blessing of school administrators and parents of the Duluth East players. Mike Randolph, 63, who retired last year as an elementary teacher, was also thinking about retiring from coaching in order to watch Jake play. But nobody wanted that to happen.
“It was brought up at the banquet at the end of last year,” Mike Randolph said. “At that time a lot of the parents knew that Jake was going into college hockey and they knew that I was very interested in seeing him play.
“Basically I just told them, ‘I’m like you. I want to see my kid play. To be honest with you, if our high school team is playing at Andover and Jake’s playing at North Dakota, guess where I’m going to go?’ That kind of dialogue took place and they said, ‘Let’s wait and see what it’s like but we sure don’t want you to quit.’ There was a lot of support from parents.”
After the East and Nebraska-Omaha schedules were finalized, Randolph sat down with activities director Shawn Roed.
“I went to Shawn and laid it out to him,” Randolph said. “I told him what games I would miss and we put it together that way. I’ve never done this before. And to be able to do this, I feel very fortunate that Shawn was understanding, as were the parents.”
When Randolph misses games, assistant coaches Dylan Mills and Brendan Brooks are in charge. They played for Randolph at East are well-versed in what the head coach expects.
“Both of them played for me, they’ve been my assistants for a while, I’m very comfortable with them and the team is in good hands,” Randolph said.
“Mike kind of lays out what he expects,” Brooks said. “Dylan and myself go over that with him and we have a pretty good understanding of what he’s looking for. Mike has a plan, he has a master plan for everything. We’re his lieutenants and we carry out orders.”
East’s junior-varsity coaches are tasked with updating Randolph via text messages during games he misses. On occasion, however, he is able to watch East games online from his hotel room. That was the case during the Greyhounds’ season opener at Wayzata … unbeknownst to Brooks and Mills.
“My phone was beeping so often because he was watching the game online in Omaha,” Brooks said. “I almost had to shut my phone off. I was texting him between periods, ‘I got it, Mike.’ And he was giving me line change combinations, ‘Move this guy to this line.’
“It was kind of like having him there. But I didn’t know the game was online, so it was like, ‘How is he seeing this?’ Having played for Mike Randolph, we always felt like he was everywhere.”
In addition to trips to Omaha, Randolph made his first visit to Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks when Nebraska-Omaha played at North Dakota in late November. He also plans to see Nebraska-Omaha play at St. Cloud State and Minnesota-Duluth in February. His wife Ginny travels to most of the games with him.
Before the series at North Dakota, Nebraska-Omaha coach Dean Blais asked Jake Randolph, “Is your dad coming?” Jake replied, “Oh yeah, he’s not missing that.” To which Blais said, “Don’t they have games?”
Jake said, “He just kind of smiled and laughed. Even my roommates here will ask me about it. They’re surprised that my dad’s able to come down so much and see me play. People know about it and they say a lot of good things about it. It means so much to me. I’m happy to be able to see him when I’m playing and happy for the Hounds because they need him.”
Mike Randolph said he hopes the coaching/parenting arrangement continues throughout Jake’s college career.
“Long-term, I look at Jake and in four years he’ll probably be done playing,” Mike said. “Then I might want to be still coaching. Where, if I quit, in four years who knows where I’m at? I still really enjoy coaching, I enjoy it a lot. It just happens that both are happening at the same time.”
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 276
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 6,010