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Character Study: How coach Red Berenson has spent 26 years making Michigan Men

Ariel Bond and Allison Ghaman/Daily
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BY RYAN KARTJE
Daily Sports Editor
Published April 11, 2010

Chris Fox stood at the corner of State and Hoover Street, unsure of where he would go from there.

His path to college hockey had been laid before him like the yellow brick road. Nearly every Division I hockey program had shown interest in him, so he had options at his disposal. He was going to be a star no matter what corner of the country he ended up in.

It was 1993 and his decision had been narrowed down to just three schools. Bill Cleary, who had won the NCAA Championship just a few years prior, wanted him in Harvard Crimson. Ron Mason, the winningest coach in college hockey history, thought he should be a Spartan.

And then there was Michigan.

With Yost Ice Arena a block south, Fox glanced up from in front of Weidenbach Hall and an unforeseen bout of nerves began to set in.

Flanked by his parents, the 17-year-old fought down the nerves, and took the stairs up to a corner office that overlooked the busy Ann Arbor street, which he stood on just moments ago.

He knew who waited on the other side of the thick wooden door.

As the door opened, Fox peered in at a man that he had only heard of before. His reputation, to say the least, preceded him.

Fox had heard that he took a great deal of his coaching acumen from Scotty Bowman, who had just taken over as head coach of the Detroit Red Wings. But at this moment, the coach, with his skin cracked and rough and his blue eyes piercing, felt more like Clint Eastwood circa Dirty Harry.

So the nerves came back, this time like a tidal wave.

This is Red Berenson. He’s a legend, Fox thought to himself.

The coach stood before the Foxes, just as many other coaches had before him. Cleary and Mason glowed about Chris’s potential. “What can we do for you?,” they would ask.

But this coach, the same man who scored six goals in a game for the St. Louis Blues, the same man who won NHL Coach of the Year in 1981, the same man who had singlehandedly made Michigan relevant again, wasn’t the glowing type.

“So,” the coach said, turning to Chris Fox, “What can you do for Michigan?”

Fox was stunned.

For months, coaches catered to his needs, promised him playing time. What did he owe this man he had just met? Who was recruiting whom here?

The coach sensed his hesitation. He had a knack for that sort of thing, like this moment was all scripted beforehand, as if he was prepared for Fox’s apprehensive response. It was part of the game.

“If you want to be a Michigan Man, you should know in the next week,” the coach said to the recruit, who looked and felt much more like a kid than he did when he walked into the office just minutes before. “It will just become clear.”

Fox left bearing the weight of words he didn't quite understand. What was it about this coach that gave him license to give him an ultimatum? He wasn’t sure. Berenson’s aura had left him shaken, but even more curious.

So the Foxes made their way down the block to Yost Ice Arena that Friday to watch Michigan, in future Hobey Baker-winner Brendan Morrison’s debut, defeat Notre Dame in a rout, 13-0.

The steely glare. The ultimatum. The aura. It all seemed to make sense to the 17-year-old after the game.

Chris Fox marched up to Berenson’s office soon after the game ended that night and committed. He wanted to be a Michigan Man.

**

Renovations in 1996, soon after Fox’s meeting, opened up a room perched at the top of Yost Ice Arena which would become Berenson's office. It was supposed to function as a library of sorts, the coach tells me, but that didn’t make any sense.

I look around confused. This place sure looks like a library, I think to myself.

Berenson reads my mind. “I guess it’s more like a museum now,” he says.

He’s right. The room is lined with trophies, plaques, and maize and blue memorabilia.

The coach has his own bobblehead. So do a few of his players: a Brendan Morrison, a Marty Turco. There's the two national championship trophies, as well as a host of others. My eyes scan across the room and down the walnut shelving. It’s hard not to as light pours in from the bay window, catching every hint of gold in the room.

I think of how many people have walked into this room and sat where I was, asking for the coach’s wisdom.

It’s hard not to listen to him when he talks. My attention frequently sharpens with anticipation which builds each time Berenson pauses.


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