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Tomassoni Is a 'Very, Very, Very, Very, Very Leading Candidate'


By Michael R. Grunwald

The new Harvard athletic director, who happens to be the old Harvard men's hockey coach, will have some very important business to take care of when he takes over his administrative position on April 1.

As mandated by Harvard's well-intentioned employment policy, he will have to organize a nationwide search for a new--you guessed it--men's hockey coach.

What a joke.

During yesterday's press conference, Harvard Athletic Director Bill Cleary said that Associate Coach Ronn Tomassoni would be a "very strong" candidate for the position. In an interview afterwards, he went a bit further:

"I can assure you that Ronn Tomassoni will be a very, very, very, very, very leading candidate," Cleary said. "He's an excellent young man. I've always said I wanted him to succeed me--I just never knew I'd be the athletic director."

Sometime next fall, Cleary will announce that after a lengthy, intensive, nationwide search, he has selected Tomassoni for the head coaching job.

Fortunately, Tomassoni will deserve it.

When Cleary chooses Tomassoni, he will be able to point to his colleague's record. Tomassoni has already proven his mettle as a coach--he has handled Harvard's defensemen and power play under Cleary--and as one of the Harvard athletic department's best recruiters.

When Cleary chooses Tomassoni, he will be able to point to Tomassoni's support from the players.

"Coach Tomassoni is a great guy, and he's been in the mold for a long time," Captain C.J. Young said. "The team would be thrilled if he got the job. We have the utmost respect for him as a coach and a person. We're backing him 100 percent."

And when Cleary chooses Tomassoni, he will be able to point to Tomassoni's loyalty to Harvard. The RPI graduate has already turned down offers to take over the top position at Notre Dame and his alma mater.

Tomassoni's fiercest loyalties lie with Cleary, one of his best friends and his coaching mentor.

"I certainly hope to be a candidate for the coaching job," Tomassoni said. "But I was sitting back at home after he told me he was stepping down, reflecting on eight great years we've had together--it's kind of sad. I'm happy for him, but I've worked with him so closely day in and day out--I'm going to miss that. I've learned from him every day--and not just about hockey."

Bill Cleary and 70 other applicants applied for the A.D. job. Their applications were reviewed by a search committee headed by Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett '57. Jewett a close friend of Cleary's, can be found in the coach's office after almost every home game.

To no one's surprise, Cleary was one of three finalists recommended by the committee. And another close friend of his, Dean of the Faculty A. Michael Spence, offered him the job.

If this were a grimy investigative story of cronyism, the next sentence would make some sarcastic comment about how far Harvard's administration had to "search" before "finding" their buddy across the Charles. But the search, people say, was done professionally and honestly.

"The search was a tribute to Harvard," one unsuccessful applicant said. "There was nothing perfunctory about it. We all got a fair shot, and Billy should be honored he got the job."

No, this is a story about appearances of impropriety where none exists. Cleary shouldn't have to prove to anyone that he earned his new position. And when he picks Tomassoni, he shouldn't have to argue about his protege's merits.

Tomassoni is going to get the job. He'd better, or else Harvard will lose one of its most promising coaches. But he shouldn't have to explain that his close friend gave him the job.

Coach Cleary could even let someone else search for a new hockey coach.

That person would pick Tomassoni, too.

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