By Tony Stevens
Bobby Francis had never been fired as head coach
at any level before this past season. But, in his fifth season as bench boss of the Phoenix Coyotes, Francis received the famous pink slip.
Francis' success with the team came early. In his first three seasons as the Coyotes head coach his record was 114-85-34-13 and he was awarded with the Jack Adams Award as Coach of the Year in the 2001-02 season. He averaged of 91.67 points per season, which would have been good enough to make the playoffs every year.
In his last season and half, though, Francis seemed to have lost the ear of his players.
Both seasons were major disappointments as the Coyotes finished out of the playoffs with a combined record of 51-59-26-8.
While the golfing season started early this year for Phoenix, the search to find the next head coach begins.
In narrowing down the possibilities of the team's next head coach, it must be considered that managing general partner Wayne Gretzky likes to hire people whose character and talents he is already familiar with.
Bringing up names such as Ted Nolan or Robbie Ftorek could be considered, but with a lack of a positive connection to Gretzky, they are unlikely to take the reins in Phoenix.
While Rick Bowness, who was named interim coach when Francis was let go, could lead this team next season, there are several other possibilities in place.
1. Jacques Martin: Recently fired by the Ottawa Senators after eight and half years as head coach, Martin appears to be one of the leading candidates for the Coyotes head coaching position.
Martin has a reputation for working well with younger players. The Coyotes will have one of the youngest teams in the NHL next season. Martin's expertise will be invaluable in helping turn the Coyotes into a real and consistent playoff team
. Martin was part of Gretzky's 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics brain trust selecting players for gold medal winning Team Canada.
2. Barry Melrose: Gretzky and Melrose have had a good relationship, as Melrose coached Gretzky's last Stanley Cup Finals team, the 1992-93 Los Angeles Kings.
Melrose was a rookie coach that season. Yet, when he actually had to coach instead of inheriting a talented team, his Kings missed the playoffs the next year and he was fired at the mid-way point of the following season, lasting only two and half seasons behind the bench for his only head coaching position at the NHL level.
3. Joel Quenneville: Coach Q was fired by the St. Louis Blues, the same day the Coyotes let go of Francis, after guiding the Blues for seven years. He is a lot like Bobby Francis in that he stresses a tight defense but seems to do more with less. His teams are notorious for allowing as few shots on goal as possible.
Competition for this coach will be tough. Quenneville is already attracting other interest, as the New York Rangers are reportedly hot on his trail. The Ottawa Senators are also believed to have interest.
4. Marc Habscheid: A bery successful coach of the Western Hockey League's Kelowna Rockets. He played with Gretzky in Edmonton during the early 1980s and is familiar with two Coyotes prospects (Kiel McLeod and Randall Gelech) having coached them at Kelowna. He will be in the NHL very soon, but is a rookie coach really best to help this young Coyotes roster achieve the next level of play?
5. Rick Tocchet: Toc and Gretzky were teammates and very good friends during their days in Los Angeles. Like Habscheid, Tocchet lacks NHL head coaching experience and may not be the best fit for the team. Unlike Habscheid, Tocchet has never been a head coach at any level and is still in his first full season as an assistant coach with Colorado Avalanche. He has, however, played for the Coyotes and already is known by the fans in the area.