12Geoff Ward
Photo Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

A brief history of in-season coaching changes

The Calgary Flames have made a coaching change, with Bill Peters resigning his position and associate coach Geoff Ward taking over the club as interim head coach. The in-season swap is just the fifth time in the history of the Flames franchise that the team has changed coaches mid-season.

Here’s a glance down memory lane.

The 1974-75 season

It was the mid-’70s and the fledgling Atlanta Flames were just trying to find their legs. Third year coach Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion helmed a team that was talented but inconsistent. Geoffrion himself was dealing with the recurrence of some health problems (primarily ulcers) and eventually after 52 games he threw in the towel on his season.

The Flames brought in Omaha Knights (their Central League affiliate) head coach Fred Creighton to replace Geoffrion on a full-time basis with 28 games left in the schedule. The Flames missed the playoffs, but would qualify for them in each of their next 16 seasons.

The 1991-92 season

The powerhouse 1980s Flames had morphed into a less impressive 1990s vintage, as aging and economics made keeping the band together a bit of a challenge for head coach and general manager Doug Risebrough. In the midst of a chaotic season punctuated by the infamous 10-player trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs – touted by many as the worst trade the Flames have ever made – Risebrough resigned as head coach late in the season to focus on his off-ice duties.

The damage was done, though, and the Flames missed the playoffs for the first time since 1976. Assistant coach Guy Charron stepped up on an interim basis for the final 16 games before being replaced by Dave King during the off-season.

The 2000-01 season

When 2000-01 rolled around, the Flames had missed the playoffs for four consecutive seasons – the longest stretch at that point in their history. Looking to bounce back, the Flames recruited legendary WHL coach Don Hay to coach. It went… poorly. Hay just never seemed to fit with the pro game, failing to click with his players.

After 68 so-so games, the Flames ousted Hay and replaced him with assistant coach Greg Gilbert on a full-time basis with 14 games left in the calendar. How did that go? Uh, we’ll get to that in a second…

The 2002-03 season

Gilbert came into the head coaching gig two seasons prior with a ton of momentum and a good reputation as a progressive coach. His first season, 2001-02, saw Jarome Iginla score a zillion goals, win Olympic gold, and generally emerge as one of the best players in the entire NHL. The Flames finished below .500 and missed the playoffs. The next season, the Flames began 6-13-3-3 while Gilbert feuded with Marc Savard. Rather than squander another season they axed Gilbert after 25 games… after they had already traded Savard.

Legendary former coach Al MacNeil – the first head coach in Calgary Flames history – stepped behind the bench as interim coach while a search was conducted for a full-timer. In the meantime, Darryl Sutter was fired by San Jose and was lured to Calgary. MacNeil coached for 11 games.

What we learned

The Flames have changed coaches mid-season four previous times. Once they promoted their minor league coach, twice they promoted an assistant coach, and once they did an actual search.

Promoting Creighton and hiring Sutter worked well. The two assistant coach promotions didn’t work nearly as well, but both Charron and Gilbert weren’t nearly as experienced in the broader coaching world as Ward is right now.