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BY MIKE GRIFFITH Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
It's taken more than a dozen years, but Troy Mann has found his way back to Bakersfield.
And this time he expects a far longer, and more fruitful, run.
Condors general manager John Olver announced Friday that Mann has been named head coach of the organization.
Mann, 43, had been an assistant coach for the Hersey (Penn.) Bears of the American Hockey League for the past four years and helped guide that team to a league title in 2010. Mike Haviland was named head coach of the Bears on Tuesday. Mann had been one of three finalists for that position.
He becomes the sixth coach in Condors franchise history, replacing Matt O'Dette, whose contract was not renewed after the Condors missed the playoffs the past two seasons.
Lured to Bakersfield at the start of the 2000-2001 season by former Condors player Paul Willett, Mann played seven games for Bakersfield before bailing for another league.
"We all make certain decisions in life, and from a playing standpoint that one wasn't positive," Mann said in a phone interview from his home in Harrisburg, Pa. "I went out there (to Bakersfield) to play with Paul Willett and Quinn Fair, two of my best friends. It worked out for them but not for me.
"But the positive for me is I ended up going to Flint (Mich.), and that's where my wife (Lori) and I got together."
He expects a far better experience in Bakersfield this time around.
And once again, Willett, now director of hockey at the Bakersfield Ice Sports Center, played a role.
“Honestly, the connection (to Mann) came through Paul Willett, his boyhood friend,” Olver said.
“They grew up in the same neighborhood and Willett was the best man at his wedding. Paul was the one who initially alerted us to the fact that he may not be going back to Hershey.”
Like a bulldog with its teeth sunk into a bone, Olver didn’t let go and finally convinced Mann to come out to Bakersfield last weekend and see what the town and team had to offer.
At that time, Mann was still in the running for the head job in Hershey.
“In the beginning he was not sure he wanted to come here,” Olver said. “It’s no different than players (wanting to be at a higher level). I called him, said you’ve got an opportunity to come and see your best friend Paul Willett and get an all-expense-(paid)-trip to Bakersfield. Come out and talk and let us show you what we have here, and if things don’t work out in Hershey, this is something you might want to consider.
“He came out last weekend, we had a great visit. He had a chance to spend some time with his best friend Paul Willett. He went home Monday hoping he was going to be named the next coach in Hershey. That didn’t happen.”
Mann said he decided during the past season that he was going to actively pursue a head coaching job at the American league level. When the Hershey job came open, he was quick to pounce.
“First and foremost was to do my best to get that job but I knew it would be tough,” he said, noting that Hershey — with 11 Calder Cups (AHL titles) and an average attendance of more and 10,000 — is one of the most coveted jobs in hockey outside of the National Hockey League.
Instead of waiting to see if Haviland might choose him to stay as an assistant, Mann said he opted to be the head man in Bakersfield, even if it meant dropping down a ladder on the hockey rung.
“J.O. and the organization were great to me,” Mann said, referring to Olver. “I think they held on as long as they could. With an opportunity there at the head coaching position, which is something I coveted ... it’s the right decision.”
Olver admitted he pressed Mann hard to make a decision a few days ago.
“We’ve talked to some players from last season’s team about their interest in returning, and of course their first question is who’s your head coach,” Olver said. “We’ve talked to some agents of players we’re interested in and their question is who’s your head coach.
“Until we were able to have this day and announce Troy is our coach it’s kind of tied our hands here a little bit.”
Mann brings an extensive career in minor-league hockey to the Condors, both as a player and coach.
Prior to his stint as an assistant in Hershey, Mann had four years of coaching experience at the ECHL level, including two as head coach with the Columbia (S.C.) Inferno. He led the Inferno to the third round of the 2008 ECHL Kelly Cup playoffs.
As player, Mann scored 396 points over 530 games spanning 10 years in five different leagues. He won an ECHL Kelly Cup while playing for the Mississippi Sea Wolves in 1998-99.
“Quite frankly, when you’re at a higher level and you take a step backward, even if it's to be a head coach, there’s risks involved,” Olver said. “One of the thought processes for him coming here, he felt he had to win.
“Obviously, his taking the job is an indication of how confident he is at beng successful here. For his own career, for himself and his family, this move made sense to him because he thought he could win.”
Mann will be in Bakersfield to begin side-by-side work with Olver in early July, as well as meeting the media and fans, and expects to have his family moved out by the end of July or mid-August.
“It’s been an interesting processs,” Mann said of the past few weeks. “It’s been a whirlwind.”