When 5 years means he’s No. 1

The Light­ning ’s Jon Cooper is now the NHL’s longest­tenured coach. What keeps the land­scape shift­ing ?

Tampa Bay Times - - Sports - DIANA C. NEARHOS

Pa­tience is a dy­ing virtue, and it’s as true in hockey as any­where else.

The Light­ning’s Jon Cooper is now th­e­longest-tenured coach in the NHL at five-plus years.

He was granted that sta­tus when the Black­hawks fired Joel Quen­neville on Tues­day af­ter 10-plus years at the helm.

It wasn’t long ago that 10-year tenures were com­mon and five didn’t seem that long, but it’s all a cy­cle.

“It’s kind of go­ing back to the days when the NHL stood for ‘Not Here Long,’ ” NBC an­a­lyst Pierre McGuire said. “Coaches were fired and hired re­ally quickly back in those days. You can look back to the ’80s.”

The Black­hawks weren’t even the first team to fire a coach this sea­son. The Kings beat them by two days, fir­ing John Stevens on Sun­day.

Cooper, who de­clined to be in­ter­viewed for this story, would say only gen­er­ally that be­com­ing the longest­tenured coach isn’t a good thing when it comes at the ex­pense of some­one else in the coach­ing fra­ter­nity.

No coaches were fired dur­ing the last reg­u­lar sea­son, but that’s un­com­mon. All that in­di­cates is teams waited un­til the off­sea­son to make

a move. Six teams hired coaches in the off­sea­son; that’s 20 per­cent of the league. Add the two coaches hired this week and one-quar­ter of the league has a dif­fer­ent coach than it ended last sea­son with.

Barry Trotz, who was in town this week with the Is­landers, is one of those newly hired coaches. He went to New York af­ter leav­ing the Cap­i­tals fol­low­ing their Stan­ley Cup win when he and man­age­ment couldn’t agree on a new con­tract.

NBC Sports re­ported that Trotz had been look­ing for a five-year deal and the team didn’t want to grant that given coaches’ short shelf life.

As for why teams are quick to fire coaches, Trotz cited par­ity in the league and im­pa­tience. With pressure to win com­ing from fans, man­age­ment, own­er­ship and even play­ers, it can be harder to wait it out for long-term gain.

“A lot of times, a lit­tle bit of in­ex­pe­ri­ence gives you less pa­tience and you re­act dif­fer­ently than some­one who has maybe been around a long time and seen the ebbs and flows of a sea­son,” he said. “All those things are com­bin­ing to make a lot of changes.”

A lot of things can go wrong with a team, so why is it usu­ally the coach who pays first?

“A lot of times, not al­ways, in­ter­nally (gen­eral) man­agers over­rate their team to their own­er­ship,” said McGuire, who in 1994 was fired as the Hartford Whalers’ coach af­ter six months. “They have a vested in­ter­est in hav­ing a higher-rated ros­ter. Then the owner asks, ‘If our team is so good, why aren’t we win­ning?’ The man­ager says, ‘My coach isn’t get­ting things done.’ The coach doesn’t have the direct line to the owner.”

But if you have high-end as­sets and aren’t win­ning, there aren’t many other places to look than the coach. McGuire’s ex­am­ple was the Pen­guins, with the com­bi­na­tion of Ev­geni Malkin and Sid­ney Crosby be­ing about as high end as it gets.

The Pen­guins were strug­gling when they fired Mike John­ston in December 2015 and hired Mike Sul­li­van. They went on to win the Cup in back-to­back sea­sons, 2016 and 2017.

That’s one of two re­cent ex­am­ples of quick turn­arounds af­ter a coach was fired that can read like a short­cut for teams look­ing for one.

Af­ter the Kings fired Terry Murray while out of a play­off spot in December 2011, they hired Darryl Sutter. The Kings made the play­offs as the eighth seed in the Western Con­fer­ence and won the Cup. They won again with Sutter two years later.

By the Pen­guins’ and Kings’ stan­dards, the Preda­tors al­most look like a long-term project. They dumped Trotz, the fran­chise’s first coach, in April 2014 af­ter fail­ing to make the play­offs for two years and hired Peter Lavi­o­lette. They made the play­offs the next year and made it to the Stan­ley Cup fi­nal in Lavi­o­lette’s third year, los­ing to the Pen­guins.

Look­ing closer to home, the Light­ning had missed the play­offs four out of five sea­sons when it hired Cooper in March 2013 af­ter fir­ing Guy Boucher (now coach of the Sen­a­tors, the Light­ning’s op­po­nent tonight at Amalie Arena). It has made the Eastern Con­fer­ence fi­nal three times dur­ing Cooper’s ten­ure and the Cup fi­nal once.

The Light­ning is the only team to ad­vance to a con­fer­ence fi­nal three times in the past five years in ei­ther con­fer­ence (the Pen­guins did it three times from 2013-17, though).

Does that suc­cess come from coach­ing sta­bil­ity? Some, but that’s over­sim­pli­fy­ing mat­ters. Suc­cess and sta­bil­ity are fac­tors of a well-run or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“Jef­frey Vinik is one of the best own­ers in pro­fes­sional sports, maybe the best,” McGuire said. “He pro­vides the as­sets for his or­ga­ni­za­tion to sur­vive. He doesn’t med­dle.”

Ad­di­tion­ally, McGuire said, the Light­ning has a great scout­ing staff that has brought in play­ers such as Ryan McDon­agh and An­drei Vasilevskiy, even when the trans­ac­tions seemed sur­pris­ing.

“If you’re look­ing for how coaches last longer, the owner usu­ally doesn’t med­dle, and own­ers usu­ally are told the right an­swer about the ros­ter,” McGuire said.

That’s been work­ing for the Light­ning.


Jon Cooper says his new renown isn’t good given that it comes at the ex­pense of an­other coach.


Jon Cooper, hired in March 2013, has led the Light­ning to three con­fer­ence fi­nals and one Cup fi­nal.

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