Report: Mark Messier Interviewed for Oilers' Head Coaching Job

Jonathan Willis
August 16 2009 10:24AM

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.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 LowOnOil
August 16 2009, 10:36AM
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JW, Yeah, I agree with your thoughts 100%. I myself would've disliked an NHL coaching learning curve for Messier. However, you've got to admit, the novelty of seeing the Moose behind the Oilers' bench would be pretty entertaining and hard to beat, lol.

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#2 Brian P
August 16 2009, 10:43AM
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Maybe they were actually interviewing him about the Springfield head coaching job? That would make a lot more sense...

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#3 BigE57
August 16 2009, 10:52AM
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In the end it's just an interview....With Quinn and Renney I think/hope Oilers management got it right. Bringing in 2 knowledgeable students of the game but more importantly 2 guys with virtually no history with the Oilers organization.

No old boys club, no sentimental value if things don't go as planned just pink slips.

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#4 LowOnOil
August 16 2009, 10:57AM
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@BigE57, I'm admittedly a big fan of two Oilers bloggers--Johnathan Willis and Lowetide. LT had a great quote about Quinn recently:

"Now, Quinn may be a little less intense than he was as a player but he didn’t come here to wear his (*azz) for a hat in the standings."

* I censored it for this blog

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#5 Librarian Mike
August 16 2009, 11:00AM
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Oh man, I would have been pissed if they went with Messier. Seriously, screw the glory days. It was great and they were some amazing teams, but I swear we are becoming more and more like the Leafs with every passing year. Do we want that?

Then again, there would have been a nice glow in the river valley from all the torches and pitchforks in front of Kevin Lowe's house.

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#6 BigE57
August 16 2009, 11:01AM
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@ LowOnOil:

Totally agree, I don't think he would have taken the job if he didn't think he could make things happen. I'm looking forward to his presence behind the bench and if I remember correctly from his Toronto days he was pretty good for a quote now and then as well.

I'm just saying that if things don't go according to plan and another coaching change is required down the road there is no sentimental value to divide fans like there was with MacT.

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#7 juniorscribe
August 16 2009, 11:18AM
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OMG what were they thinking. Let's totally screw this organization up completely. In some ways I am starting to forget about what a jerk Pocklington was and remember him for his drive to win early on.

Is Kates so enamored with the Oil of old that all common sense was thrown out the window? How could a guy so smart at business be so dumb when it comes to hockey?

Please, I pray, let's get Kevin Lowe out of here and start completely fresh. Enough of this nepotism already.

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#8 Milli
August 16 2009, 11:19AM
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I don't know wwhy it would even be a consideration. Leaders and great motivators may be able to help you win a short tourney, but they don't have the tools to guide a team through 82 games and playoffs. Not that Mess may not grow into a great coach, but, if that becomes his desire, he should start in the minors and develop his skill just like he did as a player. Patrick Roy may be able to take that next step now that he has spent a few years working as a head coach in MJ.

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#9 Librarian Mike
August 16 2009, 11:25AM
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Willis wrote:

a portion of the fanbase would have been raving about his leadership abilities and all the great things he would do for the team.

Indeed those people would. My response to that would be to ask the Coyotes how things are going with Gretzky as coach.

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#10 roadrunner
August 16 2009, 11:25AM
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Do I like hearing the Oil even considered Messier as a possible candidate? Yes. Do I think he would have been the best possible choice for the job? No. Do I think Messier can be a GREAT coach one day in the NHL? Absolutely!

Here's why:

His development into an elite player speaks volumes of his commitment to putting in the hard work. The effort was always there.

He didn't have to say much, he just went out and performed. Even after a bad performance one night, you just knew he would step up and recover with a good game.

Messier is known for being the best leader in sports, hands down. This came from a combination of heart and passion for the game.

Teams take on the personality of their coach. He would demand the effort, consistancy and heart it takes to be successful and I think you'd see those traits in a Messier coached team.

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#11 Librarian Mike
August 16 2009, 11:29AM
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@ roadrunner:

I loved Messier as a player, and you're absolutely right about those qualities that he has. So, let's see him have a go with a PeeWee or Junior team. Parachuting him into a pro team just reeks with the stench of desperation, and that may go a long way to explaining why players don't want to come here.

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#12 Jonathan Willis
August 16 2009, 11:29AM
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roadrunner wrote:

Teams take on the personality of their coach.

I'm not at all convinced that's true.

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#13 DizzyD
August 16 2009, 11:31AM
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Chip?

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#14 Archaeologuy
August 16 2009, 11:44AM
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We dodged a bullet with that one. Imagine people. Imagine. It took 8 years to fire a 3rd liner from the Glory Years. Does that translate to about 158 years to fire Messier? My children's children would be complaining about what Mess was doing with his line combinations.

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#15 Librarian Mike
August 16 2009, 11:47AM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

We dodged a bullet with that one. Imagine people. Imagine. It took 8 years to fire a 3rd liner from the Glory Years. Does that translate to about 158 years to fire Messier? My children’s children would be complaining about what Mess was doing with his line combinations.

Haha. FMNF version 2.0

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#16 Robin Brownlee
August 16 2009, 12:23PM
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juniorscribe wrote:

OMG what were they thinking. Let’s totally screw this organization up completely. In some ways I am starting to forget about what a jerk Pocklington was and remember him for his drive to win early on. Is Kates so enamored with the Oil of old that all common sense was thrown out the window? How could a guy so smart at business be so dumb when it comes to hockey? Please, I pray, let’s get Kevin Lowe out of here and start completely fresh. Enough of this nepotism already.

The harm in interviewing Messier without giving him the job is what, exactly? Please elaborate. Out of curiousity, how old were you when Pocklington ceased contolling the Oilers and the EIG took over in 1998? And it's Katz, not Kates.

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#17 Faceoff
August 16 2009, 12:49PM
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@ juniorscribe: I would also like to see the Oilers bring in some fresh

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#18 Faceoff
August 16 2009, 12:57PM
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@ juniorscribe: I would also like to see the Oilers bring in some fresh blood into the scouting department. Someone from an organization that has had more success than us in the draft may have a different perspective on junior talent.

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#19 Chris
August 16 2009, 01:00PM
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roadrunner wrote:

Messier is known for being the best leader in sports, hands down.

People in Vancouver would disagree. Messier was a beauty player, no doubt... but best leader in sports? Nice thing to say, difficult to prove.

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#20 oilFan
August 16 2009, 01:17PM
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I don't think the players take on the personality of the coach. That being said we will see how the moose does in NY. The Quinn Renny combo seems great. They coached together before and did well with younge kids. I wish Mark luck in his new position and always will remember what he brought to the game. The Moose was my fav player growing up and its hard to find a player these days, that matches what Messier did. I think maybe Getzlaf or Iginla as close. As for Gretsky, the yotes suck I still think he would be a better coach on a differnt team. He needs to coach a team that has fans and wants to win. In Phoniex knowone cares and I think that affects the coaching and play of the team. I think Tambo made a good choice. Just hope I'm not wrong.

Thanks to JW for all the articles and insight on hockey news. I may not agree all the time but thank god you write on the Nation.

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#21 viss.99
August 16 2009, 03:27PM
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Messier did a lot for this city, but we need a coach for a team with no identity, Tambo did great behind the bench, but not much for the on the ice.

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#22 99thoilerfan
August 16 2009, 06:03PM
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Moose!

I think if he was added in a certain way.. * A Very Special after school special..* "Tonight, with a very special guest star, the Edmonton Oilers meet the Flames..."

Nice to see you man, give us a call sometime..

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#23 Mike
August 16 2009, 10:06PM
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roadrunner wrote:

... He didn’t have to say much, he just went out and performed. Even after a bad performance one night, you just knew he would step up and recover with a good game. ... Teams take on the personality of their coach. He would demand the effort, consistancy and heart it takes to be successful and I think you’d see those traits in a Gretzkycoached team.

Oh wait, a team tried that already.......

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#24 jake
August 17 2009, 05:28AM
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Mess was a great player and some of his player personality traits would carry over into coaching. I think he would be a respected guy behind the bench, but needs to develop his abilities at a lower level first.

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#25 Mark Messier on Working for the Oilers - OilersNation.com
August 18 2009, 08:43AM
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[...] talked a few days ago about a report by the New York Post’s Larry Brooks, a report which stated that Messier was [...]

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