The rules are different for club sports at America’s universities and that was never more evident than on Monday at Utah State University.
Club sport coaches are not paid and student-athletes don’t receive scholarships. At USU, and it is true elsewhere, club sports teams are run by team officers who are elected by members of each club sports team, under the direction of Campus Recreation.
And in the case of the Aggies’ popular ice hockey club team, what the leaders have done is choose one of their own as the new head coach.
C.J. Westlake is 26 years old, the 2017-18 season was his final year as an Aggie student-athlete — he served as a captain — and as of Monday he is the one designated to take over the program from the very successful Jon Eccles.
Eccles’ remarkable run behind the Aggie Ice Hockey bench ended with his retirement announcement in June. He became the winningest coach in the program’s history with a 264-87-16 record. In the nine full seasons Eccles coached, his teams finished under .500 just once.
Westlake said there is a reason he is not concerned about his relative lack of coaching experience.
“I have so much confidence in our team and our leaders. I’m not worried at all about the age cap. I was lucky enough to take on a leadership position the last couple of years. Being captain last year really helped me earn their respect.
“We’re pretty confident about this transition and we’re just ready to get back on the ice and get to work.”
Aggie hockey fans knew Jon Eccles’ passion for the game came from his growing up years in Michigan. Westlake’s story is similar.
“I’ve played over 20 years of competitive hockey at the AAA level and AA level. I played five years at the junior hockey level and five years at the collegiate level.
“I’ve also coached a couple of different bantam AA and AAA teams.”
He said he understands the responsibility the new job entails because of the way Eccles, his coach, built the program.
“We have a lot of support from the community. I’ve never played on a team where the whole town cares so much. I’m very confident in what’s going to happen this season and I am very confident in the team we’ve put together.”
He says he understands the team and it’s culture; he’s been in the middle of it for several years now.
“I know it’s a team-run sport; I will definitely bring a sense of ‘laid back’ like Jon’s style. I do want this team to grow and develop, so I think bringing a little bit more of a serious presence will definitely help this team move on.”
He said it is important to continue a presence in the hockey community, not just in Alaska, and he will be looking to junior teams not just in Utah, but also Idaho and mostly the west coast.
Coach Westlake said tryouts will start in early August because there are a few more positions to fill before the roster is set.