As long as travel plans cooperate, Tony Granato will get to see two graduation ceremonies in two states this weekend.
There are good reasons for him to expect powerful sentiments for both.
On Friday, the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey coach’s youngest of four children, Gabriella, will graduate from the University of Colorado in Boulder.
A day later, Granato will be the one in cap and gown at Camp Randall Stadium, celebrating the completion of a UW degree more than 33 years in the making.
He completed his final courses toward a Human Development and Family Studies degree over the past year, starting not long after he moved into a Kohl Center coaching office that frequently has doubled as his study hall.
In that space, he took a minute this week to ponder what might cross his mind at his graduation.
“I’m thinking for me, just sitting in there wearing a gown and sitting and watching this ceremony will be pretty emotional from the standpoint that it’s been a long journey to get there,” Granato said. “I’ve watched my kids, all four of them, work really hard to get theirs. It’ll probably be more of a reflection on the importance of the education and mostly how proud I was of my kids on how they did it.”
The journey to graduation for Granato, 52, dates to his freshman year at UW in 1983. When his four-year collegiate playing career ended, he didn’t have his degree completed; he hoped to draw closer to finishing the requirements in offseasons during his years in the NHL.
After a few years and a few credits, the pursuit took a back seat to family life.
When Granato agreed last March to lead the Badgers after 13 seasons coaching in the NHL, his lack of a degree came up because it has become standard for colleges to require their coaches to have one.
UW chancellor Rebecca Blank asked for a provision to be written into Granato’s contract that he could be removed for cause if he didn’t graduate in his first year.
That clause won’t be needed after Granato took two courses last summer, two more in the fall semester and two more in the spring. While he was in charge of a team that exceeded most expectations in the second half of the season and came within a breath of the NCAA tournament, he was working on an independent study and an online course.
The hardest part was time management, Granato said. He leaned on associate head coaches Don Granato and Mark Osiecki and director of hockey operations Shane Connelly to develop practice plans on days when he was at class or in a study group.
When Tony Granato was named the Big Ten Conference coach of the year toward the end of a 20-15-1 season, he wanted the honor redirected toward his staff.
Despite the time demands, Granato said the year as a student-coach was a fun experience, and he went through a list of positives to explain how.
Going to class brought back good memories of his earlier time here as a student-athlete, even if he quickly learned that the laptop computer-based methods of note-taking preferred by most students of today don’t match his pen-and-notebook traditions.
Being challenged to prepare for tests brought out a competitive nature, even if there were initially some missteps in preparation.
“I probably studied three or four times what I had to,” Granato said of his first exam after his return to the classroom last summer. “But you’re not in a rhythm and you’re not sure what the test is going to be because you haven’t taken one in so long. And you want to do well.”
The bottom line was the ultimate reward.
“Seeing a good grade on your report card,” Granato said, “is a pretty good feeling, too.”
He had to work for it, said Mary Weaver-Klees, the associate director of UW Athletics’ Academic Services department.
“Tony has been amazing in his approach to returning to school,” she said. “(He) rarely had to miss class, was very organized in his approach to getting papers written, quizzes studied for and exams taken. He was 100 percent engaged in the process.”
Four of the Badgers players he coached in his first season are due to join him as new UW degree-holders this weekend: Grant Besse, Aidan Cavallini, Corbin McGuire and Jedd Soleway.
In all, 96 UW student-athletes are eligible to take part in Saturday’s noon graduation ceremony at Camp Randall Stadium, bringing the total for the school year to 148.
Granato’s experience this school year has him prepared to carry a message to other former Badgers player who, like him, left UW a few credits shy of finishing their degree. He said he has a list of seven or eight people who are within 15 credits of becoming a UW graduate. They can expect a call from Granato with some words of encouragement.
“If it’s something that you’ve been thinking about, I’m going to push you to try to get in here and get it done,” Granato said. “And I’ll tell them it’s been fun. It is challenging. You do have to work. But there’s a pretty big carrot at the end. You’ll feel really good that you went back and were able to do it.”