Ben not gone yet, but who will eventually take reins?

Updated: February 19, 2006, 3:50 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

TORINO, Italy -- The moment the Swedes stunned the U.S. women in a shootout in Friday's semifinal, the "Ben Smith Must Go" rumbles were given full throat.

Smith, the only head coach the women's program has known, has no plans to change that, although he acknowledged Sunday the entire program will have to take stock after being denied either silver or gold for the first time in Olympic competition.

The American women will vie for the bronze medal Monday against Finland, a team they defeated 7-3 during the preliminary round.

Smith said he always takes stock at the end of every season, "to see what I can do to help keep the program moving in a forward direction."

"Obviously, the loss the other day was a shock," he added. "The whole organization will have to take a look and see where we go next."

Even if Smith, who turned 60 shortly before the Olympics, is not pushed from his perch in the near future, he will not coach forever. And the most important question then facing Team USA will be, who will replace him? Or more to the point, will his replacement be a man or woman?

It should be a simple process. Identify the best person for the job, then hire him or her. The problem will be in determining just what qualities such a coach might possess. Smith has said that coaching women is an exercise in socialism, while coaching men is an exercise in capitalism. Women are more prone to buy into the collective mentality than men, Smith said.

"If they made $2 million that would change in a heartbeat, but we don't need to worry about that," he said.

Who could best relate to these differences, a man or woman?

Alana Blahoski, a former player with the U.S. program, has since 2003 been an assistant coach under Smith.

"I'm going to be very objective," she told ESPN.com during the Olympic tournament. "I really, truly believe women respond better to a male authority figure."

Blahoski, who teaches skating in New York, said she has played for both male and female coaches, and believes it takes a woman with special qualities to handle the job successfully.

"If [a female is] going to be a ... coach, you're going to have to have a lot of male traits," Blahoski said. "You have to be all business. You can't let your emotions get in the way."

Does she imagine filling Smith's role when, and if, he leaves the program?

"I don't know if I have enough of those traits or characteristics to be a head coach," Blahoski said.

There are, of course, women head coaches at the college level. And there are some members of this Olympic team who might evolve into a national team coach like Katie King, who is currently an assistant coach at Boston College.

Blahoski points to Ohio State University women's coach Jackie Barto as someone who has the qualities she thinks are necessary to tackle such a job.

"She's all business. She has a game plan and she sticks to it," Blahoski said.

Smith doesn't appear ready to cash in his coaching chips just yet, but he also thinks women need to play a more prominent role in women's hockey.

"We do need women coaching our team," Smith said.

Melody Davidson of Canada is the only female coach in the women's Olympic tournament. She said she expects it will be the players on the national teams here that will one day end up behind their teams' benches.

"The players who are coming through in all these countries, they are the future coaches and administrators. There's not enough yet, and when they start to retire there will be more," Davidson predicted.

Davidson, a native of Oyen, Alberta, succeeded Daniele Sauvegeau. Canada has had a woman coach since 1995.

"I think it should be the best person possible," Davidson said. "At the same time, I don't think women should cut each other's throats. We have to respect the fact it takes some time to grow that. It's not necessarily a bad thing to have a female coaching you and it's not a bad thing to have a male coaching you, either."

Scott Burnside is an NHL writer for ESPN.com.