A decade ago, Dean Clark was a rising star in hockey’s coaching ranks. These days, he’s selling cars at Kentwood Ford in Edmonton. If you know anything about Clark, you’ve already said, “What the hell is with that?”
In 1998, Clark won the Dunc McCallum Memorial Trophy as WHL coach of the year with the Calgary Hitmen and was voted CHL coach of the year. He followed that up by guiding the Hitmen to a WHL title with a 51-13-8 record in 1998–99.
Clark, who played one game for the Edmonton Oilers during the 1983–84 season before finding his calling as a coach, was a thirty-something whiz on a fast-track to the NHL. Or so it seemed.
Zip ahead 10 years, Clark is flogging Fords after being fired as the coach and GM of the Kamloops Blazers, the franchise he played with after the Oilers drafted him 167th overall from the St. Albert Saints.
Clark, 44, got blown out last November by the new ownership group in Kamloops—Tom Gaglardi, Jarome Iginla, Shane Doan, Mark Recchi and Darryl Sydor—within two weeks of them taking over.
Again, what the hell?
“It’s funny how things work out,” said Clark. “I love the game. I’m a little bit surprised, but with an ownership change, that’s the way things go. That’s hockey. If you’re in the business, you have to understand that.”
Gaglardi and his deep-pocketed NHL pals bought the franchise from the Kamloops Blazers Sports Society last fall, getting the nod over the Edmonton-based Mike Priestner Group. As part of its bid presentation, the Priestner Group not only endorsed Clark as coach and GM, the plan was to make him a managing partner.
When Kamloops struggled to a 6-9-1-1 start, Gaglardi and his partners tied the can to Clark and brought in former Blazer and Oiler Greg Hawgood as interim coach.
The sacking of Clark, who has almost 400 wins with Calgary, Brandon and Kamloops, is just another chapter in a tumultuous decade for a franchise that was once the class of the WHL.
“When the Priestner offer came through and they said they wanted me to keep doing what I was doing, I think they took that as trying to bid against them,” Clark said of the new owners.
“A lot of the comments leading to the wrap up of the sale was they had to change the culture and the image and all that stuff. Usually when you’re saying those things, you want to change the leadership. Whether it’s fair or not, they own the team and they can make those decisions.”
Since 1999, the Blazers have gone through a half-dozen coaches. Starting with Marc Habscheid, who led Kamloops to the 1999 WHL title, the bench carousel has included Dean Evason, Troy Mick, Mark Ferner and Hawgood, who replaced Clark.
Clark has landed on his feet thanks to Priestner, who owns a handful of car dealerships in BC and Alberta, but closing the deal and handing over the keys isn’t his calling in life, coaching is.
The problem is there aren’t a lot of WHL coaching gigs available, not even here in his hometown, where Steve Pleau just finished his first season at the helm of the Oil Kings. Randy Hansch, Clark’s player director of personnel in Kamloops, landed a gig as assistant GM with the expansion Oil Kings. Clark, meanwhile, bides his time.
“I enjoyed my 12 seasons in the WHL and all three places I’ve been,” Clark said. “I coached some world-class athletes. The experience of coaching and managing has brought me some great skills.
“Is there an opportunity down the road? With my record and what I’ve done in the past, I’d like to think there are some people who’d be interested in at least talking to me.”
I can think of several gainfully employed hockey coaches who’d be more suited to selling cars. Then, there’s Clark, a car salesman who should be coaching hockey.
—Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 5pm on Total Sports with Bob Stauffer on Team 1260.