More thoughts on Ron Wilson and the next Sharks coach..

I’ve been thinking and talking offline more about the Sharks and Wilson, how we got here, where we go, more or less following up on my previous musings on the topics.

Ultimately, Ron Wilson wasn’t fired because he failed. He didn’t; just look at his numbers with the Sharks, and this season. 2nd best record, Division championship, 5th team left standing, and game 6 in the second round of the playoffs. Oh, and basically running the table the last quarter of the season….

The problem (“see, THERE’s your problem!”) is that this simply isn’t good enough, given this team’s talent. There have those of us who’ve felt — and I believe Doug Wilson would agree — that this team underperformed, both on an individual basis and as a team.

So if I’m Doug Wilson, I would need to sit down with Ron Wilson and have a very uncomfortable (but short) conversation, that goes something like this:

Given that this team didn’t play to its full potential (It was damn good. It should have been even better), what can you do as a coach to help these players reach this potential that you haven’t already done?

And given you’ve had five years as coach, if you haven’t done it yet, why not?

In other words, Ron Wilson’s damned no matter what. By this time, he’s taken this team as far as he can take it, and everything he does from here on are variations on a known theme. Given the Wilsons likely had this discussion after LAST season — and yes, the team and Wilson both improved, just not enough — it’s hard to see Doug Wilson saying “hey, let’s go one more year and see what happens”.

That’s why Ron Wilson’s unemployed today. Not that he did a bad job by any means, but he did the best possible job he could with this team — and it wasn’t good enough.

And honestly? That seems to be how to define Ron Wilson’s career: he can turn players into a really good team, but can’t quite get them over the hump. Anyone need to build a franchise? He’s your guy (and Atlanta ought to be talking to him already; that may be the best fit for him now. Or maybe Florida).

Now, I don’t envy the next coach. He comes in with even higher expectations, if that’s possible. He has to be: (a) as good a coach as Wilson, (b) a better motivator than Wilson, (c) personable, and (d) even better able to work with and get these players to buy into his system. that’s a bit set of shoes to fill.

It’s not as simple as replacing Wilson with a hard-ass coach (no Pat Quinn or Mike Keenan) or a “player’s coach”, although I get the impression that Doug Wilson thinks that the players need someone who’ll give this team more of an edge, so he seems to be leaning towards hard-ass.

The Sharks need a coach that can instill a “no prisoners” mentality into the team; a good start there is a coach who’s a former player with that kind of mentality. That drives my thinking on the next coach as much as anything, and it changes my list somewhat.

It makes me now think that NHL playing experience is key, and so is NHL coaching experience. That means, at least to me, that Roy Sommer isn’t a good candidate, and makes me lower Mike Sullivan further down my list.

But let me digress a bit — Two things about the Sharks organization I like is that they care about their alumni, and that they are loyal to those that are loyal to the organization. Roy Sommer has been coaching at the AHL level for the Sharks for years, and many of the Sharks prospects succeeded at the NHL level. At some point, I believe he should get a shot at the NHL (assuming, of course, he wants one) — and maybe it’s time to bring him to the San Jose organization as an assistant under the new coach, perhaps the eye in the sky guy.

And I’d love to see Rob Zettler and Tim Hunter stay with the organization. Will they stay assistant coaches under the next regime? Unlikely, but wouldn’t it be appropriate for them to take their next step forward with the team as well? I’d love to see the chance for them to go and take the helm at Worcester and get experience as a coach; I’d tend to think Hunter as the bench boss, but both of them deserve a chance to move forward and stay with the organization.

And having said that, back to the coach…

So after a couple of days reflection, what’s my short list?

Pat Burns – may be an old-school coach, but also seems to understand the newer generation players. Has a good Joe Thornton connection, and Thornton has gone to him when he’s had questions in the past. That seems like a good recommendation, and he has a solid resume, and wants to get back in the game. I wouldn’t mind seeing it happen in San Jose.

John Anderson – coach of the Chicago Wolves, in reality the best coach who hasn’t gone to the NHL. His IHL/AHL winning percentage? Right around .700, coaching a team taht in many cases had no affiliation, or one with a weaker team. If Bruce Boudreau is an example of the trend to moving from re-hiring the same set of coaches, then John Anderson is probably the next one to be brought up from the minors. And his teams win.

Joel Quenneville – I like what he did in Colorado, and I think his attitudes are compatible with the team and what the Sharks want to have happen. And he’s a lot like Wilson, so I dn’t see a need to tweak the team or the system heavily to fit into his visions.

Tony Granato – Speaking of Colorado, Granato is exactly the kind of player the Sharks need to have more of, and the kind of person that players can look up to and learn from. He’s someone I”d like to see have a good senior assistant staff with, but I think Granato could do some interesting things in San Jose. And he’s an alum. And a heck of a nice guy. And his sister’s cute. Wait, that’s not a reason to hire him… forget I said that.

How about Dale Hunter? Not an Alum, but… again, exactly the kind of player we need the sharks players to be more like. Currently an owner, president and head coach of the OHL’s London Knights. He doesn’t have the NHL coaching experience yet, but again, with the proper support structure, that wouldn’t worry me so much. I know it wouldn’t worry him…

So right now, those are my five favorites. Fortunately for Sharks fans, I don’t get a vote. It’ll be interesting to see what Doug Wilson does, though.

Coaches NOT on my candidate list:

Barry Melrose: there’s a reason why he’s worked for ESPN all these years. And a reason why he’ll continue. Anyone who seriously floats him as a coaching candidate for any job should be someone you stop taking seriously.

Drew Remenda: they’ll rehire Kevin Constantine first. Mostly because Remenda knows he’s a much better TV guy than a coach. And he wasn’t a bad coach, FWIW.

One local pundit suggested Mike Ricci, and even seemed serious about it. My only thought: that’s a good reason to stop reading this person’s writings about hockey. Ricci is many things, msot of the positive for the organization, but at least Jamie Baker has experience coaching his daughter’s rep team. Might as well make Joe Thornton player/coach. Heck, that’d probably work better. And that’s no rip against Mike Ricci — but Ricci isn’t qualified to be an NHL coach yet and won’t be for many years, if ever. And no, I”m not linking to him. Don’t want to either embarass him or make it easier for you to find him…