The Post has learned that coach Tom Renney approached Messier last season about the possibility of working with the coaching staff this season. It also has been learned that Messier interviewed this summer for the vacant coaching position in Edmonton that ultimately went to Pat Quinn (with Renney as his associate).
– Larry Brooks, New York Post
Thank goodness Steve Tambellini went with Pat Quinn.
The quote above comes from an article by Brooks detailing Messier’s new job – special assistant to Rangers’ GM Glen Sather. Brooks highlights how this has become a common occurrence in the NHL, with former stars like Steve Yzerman, Cam Neely and Al MacInnis taking on similar roles. Ron Francis in Carolina is another example.
It’s a good P.R. move for these clubs to bring back former stars. For example, I know for a fact that if Messier had been hired to coach the Oilers, a portion of the fanbase would have been raving about his leadership abilities and all the great things he would do for the team. Fans like to see these players come back to their teams, and in a league where it often feels like every star player is a mercenary for hire, the idea of a star player coming back to serve with his team has great appeal.
It’s also a good way for G.M.’s to evaluate the exact skill-set of the player coming back. It takes very different talents to be successful as a player or successful as a coach or successful as a manager, and the G.M. needs to be certain of exactly what role his returning star is best suited for. Take the example I mentioned of Ron Francis in Carolina. In 2006-07, Francis joined the Hurricanes as their Director of Player Development. His role has since morphed; he serves as an associate coach to Paul Maurice and as the Hurricanes’ Director of Player Personnel. Last week, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette talked about how the Hurricanes are handling Francis’ role with the team:
“It’s a situation that’s more unique to us,” Rutherford said of the dual roles. “But we have someone who’s good in a lot of areas and we want to use Ron to the fullest extent.”
Francis said he should be behind the bench for all the home games, missing some of the road trips.
“There will be different times during the season where I need to go to Albany and spend time with our prospects or maybe go see some of our kids play, whether it’s in college or what-have-you,” he said. “When those things come up I wouldn’t be with the team, but for the most part I should be around, especially all the home games and practices and meetings and all that stuff.
“It’s not going to be a dramatic change but there will be trips where I go in a different direction than the team. It could be if the team goes out West for three or four days, I might be in Albany for those three or four days, so it will be a little bit different.”
Rutherford said if the Canes’ performance lags when Francis is away, there could be a reassessment on the number of games missed. But it’s all a part of helping Francis decide which track best fits him — management or coaching.
Going back to Messier, he may have made a strong coach. There would undoubtedly be a learning curve – after all, Messier hasn’t had a role in the game since retiring, and coaching requires a lot more than a powerful personality – but after going through that curve it’s entirely plausible that Messier would have made a good coach. On the other hand, it’s entirely plausible that Messier would have been a poor coach.
The point is that it’s a gamble, and when people like Pat Quinn and Tom Renney are available (and there always seem to be good coaches out of work), it’s a stupid idea to gamble with a position as important as the head coaching job. If Messier had been an assistant somewhere, or a head coach in the AHL, it would be different, because there would be a track record as a coach. Not only that, but then some of the learning curve would have been absorbed in an area where it really didn’t hurt the NHL team so much.
In short: I can’t see a scenario where it ever makes sense to take a completely raw head coach and toss him in at the NHL level – unless the team in question is also hoping to land a lottery pick.