After six seasons at the helm of the Alberta Golden Bears and 18 years in total with the program, Eric Thurston is now officially on leave from the University of Alberta, stepping away from the program - at least for the time being - for the first time since the early '90s.
Thurston announced his resignation last Thursday to the team at their year end banquet. Contrary to that announcement, however, he will remain an employee of the university, starting a leave of absence which is presumably effective immediately. CTV Edmonton reported the leave of absence is officially one year.
The move comes as a shock after the Bears won their 49th conference title nearly a month ago, with Thurston guiding the team to a 19-6-3 mark during the regular season.
Stan Marple - who served as an assistant under Thurston this past season - will take over interim head coaching duties, and will now be tasked with preparing for next season. Most importantly, Marple will need to solidify the Bears recruiting class, locking in the players Thurston had hoped to bring to the U of A.
Dustin Nielson, my partner on Golden Bears webcasts, first broke the news on Twitter reporting that Thurston is on leave.
The university has yet to send out an official release, but when they do, Thurston's absence will be termed officially as a leave as opposed to a resignation, as he had first told the team a week ago today.
There was pressure from certain corners within the program to pursue a full coaching search instead of giving an interim tag to anyone, but the athletics department - as they did after the resignation of football coach Jerry Friesen - have opted for an interim position, with a full coaching search coming down the road.
In all likelihood the U of A won't wait until the end of next season to fill the head coaching position on a permanent basis as some have reported, but rather during the season to make sure a full and thorough search is executed. I wouldn't be surprised if a search firm is hired by the university to actively pursue candidates to fill the position. That's what happened with the hiring of new Athletic Director Ian Reade, and while this is certainly up for debate, I would argue that after the AD, head coach of the Bears hockey program is the second most visible position within U of A athletics, and therefore all tools possible will be used to find the right person for the job. The athletics department will be going out to find the best person for the job - they're not going to wait for that person to fall into their laps 10 or 11 months from now.
Bears hockey coach Thurston not returning in fall - Chris O'Leary, Edmonton Journal
Thurston out as Bears coach - Dave Campbell, iNews 880