Brandon Naurato stands behind the Michigan hockey players on the bench.
Dominick Sokotoff/Daily. Buy this photo.

This article was updated to correct word choice about recent news regarding Brian Wiseman.

After Michigan Athletics fired Mel Pearson Friday morning, its attention immediately shifted to filling its vacant head coach position. With just under two months left until the first exhibition game of the season, the Wolverines desperately need someone to take the reins.

But the program’s image took a hit during the investigation, created in part by Michigan’s self-inflicted employment drama. The next hire will need to prioritize restoring its credibility and controlling the damage done by Pearson’s misconduct.

Under that lens, The Daily analyzes likely candidates who could become Michigan’s ninth head coach in program history.

The No-Gos: Bill Muckalt, Brian Wiseman

Trigger warning: mention of sexual assault

It’s important to distinguish who’s unlikely to receive the head coaching position. The key issue to start the next coach’s tenure will be image repair after what unfolded under Pearson. These two candidates would undermine that goal.

In the cases of associate head coach Bill Muckalt and former assistant coach Brian Wiseman, both likely won’t be in the running due to their backgrounds. 

Muckalt holds deep ties to Pearson as a coach, having worked alongside him for parts of nine seasons. He held a position of power in Pearson’s program, and some of his responses in WilmerHale’s report contradict what alleged victims say happened inside the program. That proximity to the Wolverines’ recent investigation complicates a potential hire.

In Wiseman’s case, rumors of his apparent return to Michigan swirled in recent weeks, especially after his slated assistant role with the New York Islanders wound up going to a different coach. But that was before disconcerting news of a sexual misconduct trial from his past once again gained attention. In the wake of Pearson’s culture of abuse, a candidate whose background includes alleged sexual misconduct could only further damage the Wolverines’ credibility, and hiring him would only reinforce the notion that the Athletic Department does not protect, or care for, women.

The bold hire: Brandon Naurato

Assistant coach Brandon Naurato coached under Pearson last season, but his time in the program superseded most instances of misconduct. On paper, his lack of coaching experience makes his hiring seem unlikely, yet everything else about him feels right.

Before last year, he spent parts of five seasons in player development roles, most notably with the Detroit Red Wings. His skills in that field are valued at a premium. His application of advanced statistics on the ice could help Michigan get the most production out of its talented recruiting classes. It could also help develop Wolverines attempting to join the NHL ranks — a crucial factor in many recruits’ commitment to Michigan.

Naurato might not be the most experienced coach on the Wolverines’ radar, but his familiarity with the program and specialized resume could make him the premier candidate for the position. 

Other NCAA coaches: Nate Leaman, Kris Mayotte

With such a legacy of harm left in Pearson’s wake, it’s highly likely that Michigan will look at other NCAA coaches to take the helm. While that process could involve a costly buyout paid to their current university, the Wolverines have the financial means to make the best coaching hire possible. If that means paying extra for a premier coach, then that’s an option they should explore.

Providence coach Nate Leaman could make an intriguing hire. As one of the top head coaches in college hockey with 19 seasons under his belt, Leaman brings plenty of experience to the table. He’s also familiar with many of Michigan’s players, coaching four current Wolverines with the USA World Junior Championship team. That familiarity with Michigan’s top players — especially sophomore defenseman Luke Hughes and sophomore forward Mackie Samoskevich — could prove invaluable to getting the team ready for the season on such short notice. He is also not involved in the Wolverines’ misconduct investigation, offering an outside perspective that could help weed out issues remaining in the program.

Another  NCAA head coach Michigan could target, however, does have direct coaching connections with the Wolverines. Colorado College coach Kris Mayotte served as an assistant coach under Pearson from 2019 to 2021, but sources told The Daily that he was not involved in any of Pearson’s misconduct. Like Leaman, he is familiar with the Wolverines’ top players through his role as an assistant coach on Team USA’s staff, as well as its upperclassmen from his tenure as an assistant. If he decides to leave the Tigers and return to Ann Arbor, Mayotte’s return could bring an unparalleled knowledge of the Wolverines’ roster from someone outside the current program.

As the hiring process begins for its newly vacant head coaching position, Michigan must prioritize more than winning. It has to find a candidate free of the toxicity that was rife in Pearson’s program.

With just under two months until the puck drops on the season, the urgency to decide who takes over increases with each passing day.