Coaches who were promoted from assistant to head coach on the same NHL teams

Photo credit:© James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Robert Munnich
1 year ago
Elliotte Friedman and Kevin Weekes have reported that the next head coach of the Calgary Flames is going to be Ryan Huska. The official announcement is expected early next week.
Huska has been an assistant coach with the Flames since the 2018-19 season where he has overseen the defense and penalty kill.
There is a narrative among a portion of the Flames fan base that going from being an assistant to a head coach with the same team is a difficult task and one that coaches have struggled to adjust to. The idea behind the argument is that Huska will go from being the “good cop” (especially during the Sutter years) to being the “bad cop.” Players might have a hard time with that adjustment.
And the two recent times the Flames have promoted an assistant coach to head coach have failed.
Assistant coach Jim Playfair was promoted to head coach in the 2006-07 season where he led the flames to the playoffs. But his stint in charge lasted one season. He was demoted back to being an assistant coach the following year.
Associate coach Geoff Ward took over as head coach of the Flames in November 2019 after Bill Peters stepped down. Ward led the Flames to the playoffs after taking over an incredibly difficult situation. He was retained by the Flames as head coach for the 2021 bubble season which turned out to be a disaster. He was fired a little over halfway through that season.
Although promoting an assistant coach hasn’t worked in Calgary yet, doesn’t mean it hasn’t worked for other teams across the league. There are a lot of successful coaches in the NHL right now who went from being an assistant or associate coach to taking over as head coach. Here are some examples.

Rod Brind’Amour

Brind’Amour has turned into one of, if not the best coach in the NHL since becoming the Hurricanes bench boss in the 2018-19 season. Before his promotion he was an assistant with Carolina for seven years. Since taking over as head coach, Brind’Amour has led the Hurricanes to a 226-107-27 record which is fourth-best in the NHL only behind the Bruins, Lightning, and Avalanche.

Don Granato

Granato has been a driving force in making the Buffalo Sabres relevant in their market again. He took over as head coach of the Sabres on Mar. 17, 2021. Prior to his promotion he was an assistant coach with the team starting in the 2019-20 season. He led a young Sabres team to having their best regular season in 12 years. Oh and they were third in the NHL in goals.

Dean Evason

Evason was promoted to the head coaching job with the Wild during the 2021 bubble season taking over for Bruce Boudreau. Evason was hired as an assistant coach with the Wild in 2019 after a six-year run as the head coach of the Milwaukee Admirals. Evason has helped turn around the Wild franchise since taking over as head coach.

Craig Berube

Berube might be the shining example of an assistant becoming a head coach with the same time. He was named head coach on Nov. 20, 2018 after being an associate coach for the season prior to that.
He helped get the Blues back on track after an awful start to the 2018-19 season and eventually helped lead St Louis to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

Jay Woodcroft

Woodcroft’s journey isn’t exactly like Huska’s. Woodcroft was an assistant coach on the Oilers from 2015-2018. He spent the next three seasons as head coach of the AHL Bakersfield Condors. He was then brought back up to become the head coach in Edmonton is February 2022.
Woodcroft was the assistant coach on staff with Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent Hopkins, and Darnell Nurse. He  has had to transition becoming the head coach with those core players around and it seems to have worked well so far.
Honorable mentions: Lane Lambert (NYI), Andrew Burnette (FLA).
My message to Flames fans who are skeptical about the hiring of Ryan Huska would be to give him a chance. Let’s give him some time and see what he can do. There have been plenty of examples of assistant coaches transitioning to head coaches on the same team that are having success. Hopefully Huska will follow in the path of Brind’Amour and Jay Woodcroft and not Jim Playfair and Geoff Ward.

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