Ever since Dennis Williams graduated from college in 2002, he’s been either a head coach or an assistant coach at the NCAA level.
Now he’s been tabbed the first coach of the Amarillo Bulls - Williams’ first junior hockey gig.
Williams, though, doesn’t see himself as having to endure a long-winded adjustment period in making the move to the North American Hockey League (NAHL).
“I wanted to continue being a head coach and, once you do that, you get the itch to want to keep running your own programs; I thoroughly enjoy that,” said Williams, who was the head coach at Bowling Green State University (where he also played from 1997-2001) last season and also at Division III Neumann College for three seasons. “I want to be the one to make those tough choices. This opportunity arose in Amarillo and I was excited to try something different. True, I’ve never been a junior coach, but my job is to prepare these young men for college hockey and to win hockey games.
“These are obviously younger players in the NAHL, but the systems are the same. At this level, there’s a lot of teaching and, at the end of the day, if we can close the gaps to make these players impact players at the next level, then we’ve done our job as coaches.”
Being in the coaching realm the past eight years, Williams has certainly seen his share of NAHL players during scouting trips and with graduates from the league on his teams. He said knowing the league was another selling point to taking the Amarillo position.
“Every team I’ve coached, we’ve always had players from the NAHL on the team,” noted Williams. “I remember back in 2002-03 when I was coaching with Utica College and going to the league showcase that was in Chicago back then. That was my first recruiting trip. This league just continues to develop great players and you see that every year.”
Another adjustment factor Williams already has a leg-up on will be the weather. As an assistant at Alabama-Huntsville, Williams saw firsthand the southern United States’ definition of winter.
“There can be a little bit of snow (in Amarillo), but I do like golf weather,” Williams said. “In Huntsville, I’d go to practice in a light jacket all season long. That’s a great city and a great town, but they do have some hot summers.”
At BGSU, Williams experienced true winter, but also brought something other than coaching to the university.
“One thing I’ve always been a big proponent of is community service,” said Williams. “Last year at Bowling Green, we put in more than 300 hours as a team in the community. You need to get out and show the community that if they need a hand, we’re here to help. Everyone wants to play in front of big crowds and that’s perfectly fine, but we need to show the fans that come out and support us that we support them as well.”
Being personable is also something Williams feels he can bring to the Bulls immediately.
“I’m a very hands-on type of coach and I want these kids to know that my office is always open and they don’t have to walk by with their head down,” explained Williams. “I want these kids to be comfortable talking to me about anything. I want to help these kids not only as a coach, but also as a mentor because that’s what we really are as coaches. We all want to make a positive difference in all of these kids’ lives.”
The Bulls will play in the South Division with Texas teams in Corpus Christi (IceRays), Frisco (Texas Tornado) and Wichita Falls (Wildcats).
“I look forward to playing those guys and meeting those teams,” said Williams. “It should make for a good in-state rivalry and some good, clean, hard-nosed hockey. The state of Texas has some great fans, too.”
In less than a month, the Bulls will be off to Blaine, Minn., for the annual SBK Hockey/NAHL Showcase Tournament. Williams intends on using the season-opening event as a measuring stick to gauge where his team is, where he thinks they should be and how he plans to improve the squad.
“Blaine is a great weekend for the NAHL,” added Williams. “As for our team, we’re going to prepare the same way we will for all our games. It definitely will give our staff the opportunity to set a benchmark.
“I am extremely excited about the season and being a part of the Amarillo community and the NAHL.”