Tom Renney is a good NHL coach, but he’s a hall-of-fame talker and somebody who is bound to impress Edmonton Oilers GM Steve Tambellini when they sit down to discuss why he’s the right man to take over behind the bench from Craig MacTavish.
Renney’s interview skills were never more impressive than this afternoon, when he spoke with Just A Game host Jason Gregor and co-host Dan Barnes on TEAM 1260 (listen to the whole interview here).
To be honest, I’ve long perceived Renney as a bit of a MacTavish clone, a guy who preaches defence first, covets safe players and doesn’t necessarily get the most out of young, offensively talented players. Sound familiar?
In fact, Renney, 54, has pretty much won at the at same clip as MacTavish during his NHL coaching career with the Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers, going 203-170-9-46 (.539) in 428 games. MacTavish, by the way, was 301-252-47-56 (.537) in 656 games with the Oilers.
While Renney is somebody, obviously, Tambellini wants to talk to, my take has been it’s likely a stretch to think he’ll be short-listed above candidates like Brent Sutter, Pat Quinn, Pete Laviolette, Bob Hartley and Marc Crawford.
I don’t know if today changed my mind — I’m thinking not — but there’s no question Renney, who has ties with Tambellini dating back to the 1990s in Vancouver, said the right things when Gregor and Barnes quizzed him today.
A silver-tongued devil he is.
Coaching the Oil
Barnes asked Renney if the Oilers have the kind of roster he’d like to coach.
“Absolutely,” Renney said. “I think they’ve got a group of players within the ranks that would like to do something more than what they did last year. I think the leadership would like to make amends for a tough year that the team had.
“I think that’s there’s a lot of pride in that room, no question about that. You can draw on people who have had a tough time and use that to your advantage as a group and certainly as a coach. I think it’s a great, young group. I think there’s some untapped potential there, to say the least.
“I think what you’ve got to do is try to nurture that and inspire it, challenge it and hold it accountable and all those types of things that’s incumbent with coaching. I just really like the upside of the team . . . ”
Gregor asked about the coach’s role in inspiring and motivating his players and how he approaches it.
“I think you’ve got to be that yourself,” Renney said. “It can’t be phoney. I mean, it’s got to be the real deal and be one of those guys who gets up every morning looking forward to what’s in front of you. You can kind of live that and allow others to view that as motivation before you even open your mouth.
“That’s a good thing. There’s a certain amount of motivation that comes from what we watch and see, never mind what we hear. Beyond that, you’ve got to translate all of that into what makes sense. It’s got to be on a personal level for each and every player. You’ve got to have enough insight into each guy that you can help them understand that you get it on their behalf.
“Ultimately, as a group, it’s the same thing. I think that involves just being yourself, encouraging people and nurturing people and having a plan that makes sense, that you’re absolutely 100 per cent committed to.
“That becomes easy to follow, or it should. If it doesn’t, then you’re the wrong guy for the job or it’s the wrong message.”
Drawing the line
Barnes asked about Renney’s approach to handling veterans versus younger players, specifically touching on MacTavish’s penchant for giving some players in the dressing room much more rope than others.
“That depends on the circumstances, naturally,” Renney said. “Let’s just say that I’m the coach of that hockey club, for example, and they all understand where my bottom line is and what you can’t do to cross it.
“I have no problem with that. I think it’s a function of making sure you avoid the double-standard. I think it’s a function of making sure guys understand you will draw that line. As a coach, you almost look for that opportunity, quite honestly . . .
“The bottom line, beyond that, is to be consistent. You don’t sort of pick your spots. I think you have to be consistent. That doesn’t mean you don’t work with guys. That doesn’t mean you don’t give people a second chance. There’s no question about that.
“The thing is, you don’t discriminate between and older player making that decision or a young guy. As long as everybody knows and understands right off the bat where your bottom line is and you’re consistent with it, you’re good to go.
“Those who can’t handle it or whatever and choose to work outside the best interests of the team, they’re probably going to have to answer to somebody else beside me.”
Barnes asked Renney about his take on criticizing or calling out players through the media.
“I’ve never called out a player through the media,” Renney said. “I think it’s very dangerous to coach a player through the press. I think you’re inviting problems you don’t really, in fact, need.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with accountability and holding people’s feet to the fire and those types of things. That’s a relationship between a coach and the player behind closed doors or within, at least, the confines of the team framework.
“I have no trouble challenging my team in the media and, often times, it serves as pretty good leverage. When players read about it they kind of get it that way, but I’ve not been one to single people out in the media. I’m not sure that’s the appropriate way to go about things.”
Drawing it up
Gregor asked Renney about how rigid he is in his coaching philosophy and if he shapes his approach based on the personnel he has to work with.
“What you have to have is flexibility,” Renney said. “If you’re so rigid you can’t do that, you may, in fact, have some problems. You might be asking people to do things that are maybe a little bit beyond them . . .
“Good coaches, and they all are in the NHL, recognize the need to have some flexibility with their approach to the game recognizing what their personnel might look like.”
The above are just excerpts from the interview, but Renney covered a lot of ground with these answers and, I’m guessing, said the kinds of things a lot of Oilers fans want to hear.
— Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.