By Scott Bordow, Tribune Columnist
Well, if the NHL season ever gets started, things sure will be interesting
here in the Valley.
Brett Hull will shoot pucks and his mouth off. Not necessarily in that
The upgraded defense will crack some heads and protect its goalie - instead
of exposing him.
The Coyotes will make the playoffs and - if they acquire an elite goalie -
make some noise once they get there.
And orchestrating it all as the NHL Coach of the Year: Wayne Gretzky.
The headline was stripped across the front page of Thursday's sports
section: Is Gretzky going to coach?
The answer: If he wants to.
It's clear the Coyotes are holding the job open, waiting for Gretzky's
Phoenix didn't seriously interview any coaching prospects this summer, and
unless there's a mystery candidate behind Door No. 3, Gretzky's role in the
organization is about to change.
It's an enticing prospect on several fronts.
Gretzky helped put this team together, so he knows its strengths and
weaknesses. He won't be so foolish to impose a system on the players; he'll
fit his system around the players.
There's little doubt Gretzky would command immediate respect in the locker
room. Scoring the most goals in NHL history will do that for a guy.
Finally, you think a few free agents might want to play for Gretzky? He'll
attract more attention than filmmaker Michael Moore at a Republican rally,
and the Coyotes will become the NHL's "it" team.
But for every reason to believe Gretzky would be an inspired hire, there's
reason to believe the Coyotes should lower their sights.
First, is Gretzky willing to make the time commitment demanded of a head
On the day he was introduced as the Coyotes' part owner/savior four years
ago, Gretzky said he had no intention of becoming involved in the club's
He told Tribune reporter Jerry Brown on Wednesday that while the idea of
coaching intrigued him, "I certainly have a lot of other things to occupy my
time that are also exciting. Coaching is something you have to throw
yourself into. The daily preparation is a tough job."
Gretzky sounds much like Magic Johnson did in 1994 when Johnson was
debating whether to become coach of the Los Angeles Lakers
"It's like I've told (my wife), 'We've got to think about our lives,' "
Johnson said then. "Our life has been great. We've settled in to me being
retired, we've settled in to me being around home. And now we've got to give
all that up again?"
Johnson took the job but quit after just 16 games.
If Gretzky has any hesitation about the 18-hour days, the Coyotes should
find another worker bee. Ambivalence and coaching aren't dance partners.
There's another sticky question: Who will hold Gretzky accountable if he
turns out to be a terrible coach?
General manager Mike Barnett owes his career to Gretzky - he was Gretzky's
agent - and considers the Great One a close friend. Could he summon the
courage to fire Gretzky who, as the team's managing partner, is technically
Owner Steve Ellman has the title and the responsibility, but Glendale Arena
and Ellman's precious Westgate development don't get built if Gretzky
doesn't step in at the last minute and affix his name to the Coyotes.
Could Ellman pull a Donald Trump and tell Gretzky, "You're fired"?
One man can't have so much power he's bulletproof. Otherwise, he becomes
Michael Jordan running the Washington Wizards
into the dirt.
There's a misguided notion in sports that great players become bad coaches.
That's sometimes the case - Ted Williams was 273-364 as manager of the
Washington Senators and Texas Rangers - but Hall of Famers can look good in
suits, too. Lenny Wilkens is the winningest coach in NBA history and led the
Seattle SuperSonics to the 1978 NBA title.
If Gretzky is certain he can handle the rigors of the job, and there's a
system of checks and balances in place, the Coyotes have to name him coach.
(What, one of the worst franchises in the NHL is going to turn down the
greatest player in league history? Yeah, that'll go over well.)
But the Stanley Cup didn't make reservations for Phoenix when Gretzky came
on board four years ago, and there's no guarantee if he becomes coach.
Still, what great fun it will be to watch the season unfold.
Assuming, of course, there is a season.