“I’m the rubber stamp. I have the sign-off.”
Of everything he said Tuesday, that snippet from Edmonton Oilers’ GM and POHO Ken Holland, in conversation with Bob Stauffer and Reid Wilkins of 630 CHED, about trusting new coaching hire Dave Tippett to select his own coaching staff without interference sticks with me.
Big picture, it speaks to hiring the very best people you can, then turning them loose and letting them do the things that made you want to hire them in the first place. Whether it’s running an NHL team or any other business, the successful outfits figure that out and insist on it from the top down. I think Oilers’ fans would agree we need to see more of that around here.
First, owner Daryl Katz and CEO Bob Nicholson brought in Holland, who insisted he be given the latitude to make any and all moves he deemed necessary. Now, Holland brings in Tippett and insists he won’t get in the way of letting him hire his assistant coaches. Maybe that includes one of the holdovers from a staff that served under Todd McLellan and Ken Hitchcock – Trent Yawney, Manny Viveiros or Glen Gulutzan. Maybe not.
Hire the best people. Let them do what they do. While that doesn’t guarantee success because the game is played on the ice and not in the front office, it’s a start and it damn sure increases your chances. Managers manage. Coaches coach. Then, add accountability up and down the food chain in hockey ops with results trumping all and you’ve got a chance to get right.
THE WAY IT WORKS
“My philosophy is the head coach has to pick the people he wants,” Holland said. “They’re in the trenches every day and he has to select the people that he believes are going to complement one another. I’m the rubber stamp. I have the sign-off.
“I went through the process with Mike Babcock. He had lots of assistant coaches. Mike would say to me, ‘I’m going to step outside. I’m going to get Jeff Blashill, who’s coaching a college team.’ We’d talk about the process. The head coach does it. I’m going to sign off on it. I’m going to go through the process, we’re going to talk.
“He needs to be in that coach’s room on an everyday basis with people that he’s hired. They know he’s their boss. I’m the boss above them. They need to have chemistry. I’m big on chemistry, not only on the ice but off the ice. We have to do things to build chemistry, so I’m going to work with Dave, but, ultimately, he’s going to have the final decision putting his staff together.”
There’s nothing ground-breaking in what Holland said, but putting it into action instead of just talking about it would be a welcome approach. Holland’ job as GM and POHO is to bolster a roster that simply isn’t good enough so that Tippett can do his job deploying the personnel he has to work with. Both can consult with whoever they choose and trust, but my sense is that everybody else better stay out of the way. They both know the gig.
Like many of you, I thought we’d get what I’m talking about here when Peter Chiarelli came aboard and brought in McLellan. Both had experience and solid track records but it became evident as time went by they weren’t on the same page. Fans got one good year out of that deal before Chiarelli’s knack for bleeding talent in trades sent things sideways and got both of them fired. I didn’t see it playing out that way when they took over, but it did.
That hasn’t soured me on the kind of experience Holland and Tippett bring to the table. Could a couple of up-and-comers still needing NHL training wheels have come in and managed to get things right? I don’t think so, given the make-up of this team and its roster shortcomings, but, for better or worse, that’s not where we are today.
Holland has been there and done that. He has a vision for this floundering franchise and he didn’t leave Detroit to come here to do his thing with strings attached like a puppet. He knows what his job is. He’ll do it. Likewise, Tippett. That’s as good a start as this team and its long-suffering fans can hope for.