When strength and conditioning coach Rob McLean was fired from working with the Penn State men’s hockey team, he received countless emails from the players’ parents, thanking him for all the work he had done.
Despite not being wanted by the athletic department, McLean was still asked by athletes and parents to develop workout plans even after he was fired.
McLean was hired by Penn State on July 1, 2012 to help develop both the men’s and women’s hockey teams in their inaugural Division I seasons. Leading up to the first puck drop of a new era, McLean’s philosophy of finding perfection in everybody was a source of enthusiasm in the weight room.
After spending the summer of 2012 with a handful of the women’s players and meeting the rest of the team in September, McLean said he saw a lot of potential in the athletes.
Several of those players were cut.
Just a few weeks ago, head coach Josh Brandwene cut Cara Mendelson, Birdie Shaw, Madison Smiddy, Jess Desorcie, Brooke Meyer, Darby Kern and Katie Murphy from his women’s hockey team. Brandwene, who could not be reached for comment by press time Wednesday, said Monday the moves were made for the betterment of the program. But they were met with disapproval by many.
That included McLean.
“The role of the coach is to get the best of your player,” McLean said to the Collegian. “If you can’t get the best of your player, don’t point your finger at the player, point the finger at yourself.”
McLean has developed an eye for potential while training with athletes, having worked with professional hockey players since he was 22. His resume includes nine years of NHL experience with both the Colorado Avalanche and the New Jersey Devils.
McLean met with Brandwene before the start of the 2012 season and told the coach he thought two or three girls could potentially make the women’s national team if they trained hard enough. The former coach said he had no idea why Brandwene would limit their ice time, let alone remove them from the team.
“I was surprised that he laughed and he told me I didn’t know what I was talking about,” McLean said. “I thought that was a telling sign for me as two of those girls were just cut. He even told me one of them had captain potential.”
Before that first season even began, McLean said he was removed as a coach from the women’s team per Brandwene’s request. McLean sent an email to all of the players announcing he would be working strictly with the men’s team.
Former players Taylor McGee and Katie Zinn were part of the women’s team in its inaugural season but were cut by Brandwene at the season’s conclusion. Both said McLean was a genuine man who was easy to get along with, which led to confusion as to why he would no longer be working with the team.
“I think he contributed a lot to the men’s success last year, which was unfortunate for us girls because I think he could have really helped. He definitely knows what he is doing,” McGee said.
McLean then focused on developing the men’s team and said his relationship with both coach Guy Gadowsky and the players was great.
However, McLean’s opportunity to work with them would also end prematurely.
With the opening of the new Pegula Ice Arena , tour groups led by Brandwene and other members of the hockey department were often taken through the top-notch facility. There were several times these groups were taken into the weight room as players were lifting, which concerned McLean because the distractions were dangerous to the athletes.
McLean voiced his concerns about bringing the tour groups into the weight room while players were training, but said an inadvertent slamming of his office door made his frustration more controversial.
On Sept. 17, 2013, McLean was suspended from his duties, and just one week later, was terminated from his position at Penn State.
“As I’m older now and I don’t really have any more goals to accomplish in my professional career, the importance for me is to help these younger kids achieve their dreams,” McLean said. “I’m very frustrated I’m not there for them now.”
Now with the most recent cuts from Brandwene, McLean said he worries about the atmosphere that has been created in the program. The former coach said the focus should be on the athletes, but believes this is no longer the case.
“If you do all this in the right way, it should be fun, it shouldn’t be work,” McLean said. “We’re trying to help them accomplish their dreams. It’s easy to get athletes to buy in if you care about them. You have to show them you care more about them than you care about yourself, and that doesn’t happen with Josh.”