BUFFALO – Back in 1996, Mark Morris wanted to add Ron Rolston to his Clarkson staff badly. The Sabres’ interim coach had just won two national championships as an assistant with Lake Superior State. Morris thought Rolston’s expertise could help his program could get over the hump.
So he hired a 29-year-old Rolston and another Lake Superior assistant, Jim Roque.
“I think the attraction for me was they were working with Jeff Jackson at the time, and they were winning national titles,” Morris told the Times Herald by phone this afternoon.
Morris received a “jack-of-all-trades” in Rolston, who handled every facet of the game – offense, defense and recruiting – in addition to doing video work and being a certified strength coach, an additional skill that impressed Morris.
“He really was very detailed and extremely knowledgeable about the game,” said Morris, now the coach of the Manchester Monarchs, the Los Angeles Kings’ AHL affiliate.
The Golden Knights never won a title in Rolston’s three years in Potsdam, although they made the NCAA Tournament each season.
But even about a decade before Rolston would run his own bench, Morris told his assistant he could be a head coach someday. In addition to his many skills, Rolston was young and in touch with the modern athlete. His brother, Brian, was playing for the New Jersey Devils.
“I had always told him I saw him being an excellent guy to teach pros because he was more current with the guys,” Morris said. “He knew their music. He knew the mindset of a professional athlete. He trained his brother Brian as well in the offseason. So he was familiar with the current player and the types of things that were all the hot buttons for young pros to get the most out of them.”
As Sabres fans have probably already noticed, Rolston’s not very emotional. He rarely changes his tone or looks angry. Don’t let that fool you, though.
“I can assure that he’s … a fierce competitor,” Morris said. “I’ve played shinny hockey with him. I know. He competes very hard. I’ve always marveled at the fact he always put the time in to make sure that our guys were ready for every game. If it wasn’t breaking out video, it was showing them the finer points of the game or in the weight room counting out every rep and telling him why they were doing it.”
Morris calls Rolston’s current situation “precarious.” The Sabres’ terrible play cost Lindy Ruff his job and didn’t improve until Tuesday, when they beat the Lightning 2-1 in Tampa Bay, Rolston’s first NHL win in his third game. Fixing the broken club will be a challenge.
“He’s in to try to fix everything overnight,” Morris said. “I know it’s a huge undertaking to try to settle things down and get things moving in the right direction.”
Morris knows Rolston will be fine if he’s given time.
“Unfortunately, anybody that’s a skeptic is probably going to think, ‘Who is this guy?’” Morris said. “But I can assure you that he’s top shelf. I have met a lot of people in the business, but I hold him right up there with some of the most well-rounded people that I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.”
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Why would an unsuccessful boys coach be a good choice to lead professionals?