WATERTOWN — After guiding the Watertown Wolves to another league championship this year as head coach, Brent Clarke has an opportunity to coach at the next level.
Clarke has been hired as the new head coach of the Knoxville Ice Bears in the Southern Professional Hockey League.
“To be honest with you, it only came about really recently, it was very sudden, to be honest,” Clarke said. “It wasn’t something that was planned or anything, it was just a last-minute thing that came about. I ended up taking an interview and shortly after that I was offered the position in Knoxville.”
Longtime Wolves player Justin Coachman, who was named the team’s assistant coach earlier in the offseason, has now been promoted as the team’s interim head coach.
“I’m excited, of course,” Coachman said. “It comes with little a bit of nerves, this being my first year of coaching, but I feel like I can handle it and take control here and put a good team and good product on the ice. So I’m very excited for this opportunity.”
Clarke also coached the Wolves to the Commissioner’s Cup as the Federal Prospect Hockey League champions in the 2014-15 season — the franchise’s first year.
“We all coach to try to move up to the next level, so this is exciting,” said Clarke, who was named as the FPHL’s coach of the year this past season and in 2014-15.
Clarke was approached earlier this month by Knoxville, where he served as an assistant coach at times during the 2020-21 season.
“Absolutely, I’m up for the challenge and I just want to see what I can do at that level,” Clarke said. “You know I’ve been coaching all these years to get to this level and this is maybe one of the only years where I didn’t put my name in for a job and one came my way. I’m just thankful to the Ice Bears organization.”
Clarke also coached for two other teams in the FPHL, including one season with Danville and two more with Elmira before returning to Watertown in 2020.
“It’s a great opportunity to go down there and purse my career in hockey,” Clarke said of Knoxville. “On the family front, that’s the only part that’s not the best because unfortunately they have to stay here because my wife has a great job and my boys are little, and one’s starting school.
“So the away part is not fun, but it’s a job and sometimes you have to move on, right?”
Clarke replaces Jeff Carr, who accepted an assistant coaching position with the Norfolk Admirals of the ECHL.
“I got basically asked if I wanted to put my hat in the ring and I did and it happened very quickly,” Clarke said. “I actually worked pretty closely with the coach that was there prior and some of our players have been there and back last season and I didn’t even know he was moving until the last minute, so we both got last-minute gigs and that’s how it came about.”
Coachman, a veteran defenseman, has played in 151 games over four seasons in the league — all with the Wolves. He also helped lead the team to its second league title in the 2017-18 campaign as a rookie.
“It’s going to be the same thing as if Clarkie was still here, we have a lot of returners coming back and a lot of new guys coming in,” Coachman said. “So the team’s going to operate in the same way, it’s just with me at the helm here and Curtis (Mosely) helping out as the GM and president.”
Coachman, who was already looking forward to serving as assistant coach, has now been thrust into a greater role.
“So my angle was always to try and get a head coaching job at some point and this year I was going to be the assistant coach under Clarkie, kind of learning a little bit more in depth on the coaching side of things,” Coachman said. “But now I get this awesome opportunity to actually just jump in as a head coach and kind of develop my own coaching ways and the way I like to run things.”
Change continues to sweep through the Wolves organization, which also has a new owner in local businessman Tyler Weese, who purchased the team in May.
“It’s probably the fastest rise up in the league, all the way from volunteer equipment manager up to director of hockey operations, and now president and GM,” Mosely said. “So it’s exciting.”
“Curtis is one of the best things that’s happened to this team,” Coachman said. “Him stepping in as an equipment manager last year was a huge help, the best one we’ve ever had here. I couldn’t think of anyone else better for that new position. He’s very organized, he takes care of the guys, he takes care of the office and all the little things, it’s been awesome to have him around.”
Mosely said that while Coachman is taking on the role as the team’s interim coach, he’s a strong candidate to enter the season as head coach.
“He brings a lot of continuity to the team,” Mosely said. “And just his experience in the league and stuff like that and being the fan favorite here and living here in Watertown, he’s a good contender for the job.”
Clarke, who also played for the Watertown Privateers in the 2013-14 season before taking over as Wolves head coach later that year, says moving on from the team is bittersweet.
“Absolutely, (I won) two titles here and my family’s here,” Clarke said. “And my little guys got to be part of that championship last year and be on the ice for the Cup, you can’t ask for anything better than that and I’ve got memories from here forever. And I’m not really going anywhere, I’m going to coach a hockey team and I know after this season I’ll be back here.”
Watertown’s team training camp will begin in October and will open its regular season when it hosts the expansion Motor City Rockers on Oct. 21-22 at Watertown Municipal Arena.