December 6th, 2002


My Guy Your Guy Whose Guy?

Off Ice Staff Shuffles Leave Chain of Command Chaos

AP Photo

Whose Guy?: Who was behind the Don Hay hiring?
D'Arcy McGrath

Want to hear a good theory as to why the Flames are still without a coaching replacement for Greg Gilbert?

A messed up chain of command.

Things have been a little off kilter in Calgary since the sunny month of May, 1996. That day, if you can reach back in time to remember, was the day that Calgary's ownership ushered in a new team president, Ronald. S. Bremner.

The hiring had its share of logic.

Bremner was looked on as a personable businessman, a fellow with a very useful background in television and sports media. A perfect fit or so many thought for a small market Canadian hockey team looking to jump on new and innovative revenue streams, and improve their bottom line.

Now this plan never really came to fruition, a topic that is likely an editorial in of itself, but for the time being lets put Mr. Bremner's job performance aside.

The bigger faux pas of the time wasn't the success or lack their of in the president's suite it was the fact that he inherited an entire hockey operations team he didn't want.

Or at least learned he didn't want in time.

Career Flame executive Al Coates was the reigning general manager of the team that fateful off-season, having a previous management purging that saw ex-Flame captain Doug Risebrough ceremoniously dumped.

The sports world is clearly different than the real world, at least in many respects.

Many of us have jobs working for people that we may or may not entirely get along with. Others still have people working for them that they may not have chosen had they been given the opportunity.

Still, most of these difficult situations are worked out, the company continues to do what it does, and things chirp along nicely.

In sports or hockey, each level of command needs to have "their guy".

The president likes to have picked their own general manager the general manager to have picked their own coach and the coach to have picked their own assistants.

Great theory but something rarely practiced in Calgary.

I'm sure efforts were made to get along, to work as a team off the ice as they expected the team to act on the ice, but in the end most if not all these relationships failed, wasting a lot of time in the process.

Bremner and Coates worked together for the better part of four years before Bremner alone survived another off ice purge that had Al Coates and Brian Sutter shown the door in April of 2000.

Four years.

Little accomplished.

The exit of Coates gave Bremner the chance to get his own man to find a GM that he himself picked and to finally put some cohesion and solidarity back in the Flames braintrust.

That man was Craig Button who was brought in later that summer to take the hockey reigns and return success and sanity in Calgary.

Then the problems reappeared.

Less than a month on the job and Craig Button learns he's not allowed to hire "his guy" for the team's head coach the chaos begins a new.

Legend has it Craig Button was enamored with Brian Trottier and Brian Sutter the coach recently sacked in Calgary, but was pretty much forced to bring Don Hay in against his wishes.

It wouldn't take a rocket scientist to see where this was heading.

Less than a year into Hay's tenure, the Flames careening out of control, and Craig Button is forced to gas Hay, and replace him with Greg Gilbert, a job he himself lost earlier this week.

Wait it gets worse.

A year later, in August of 2001, the ownership group grows weary of Ron Bremner, shows him the door and replaces him with a new president, Ken King.

Now take a look at the picture.

You have a president without "his guy" running the hockey operations, a general manager without "his guy" coaching the team, and further down you have a coach with one of the general manager's "guys" as an assistant (Brian Skrudland).

How could this ever hope to succeed.

Now the above history lesson may be entertaining in much the same way a Greek tragedy or a made for TV disaster movie may catch one's attention, but it doesn't make for a rosy immediate picture.

Fast forward to Friday, December 6, 2002 (or press day for this article)

Remember way up the page when I suggested I might have an idea of why the Flames are still without a head coach?

Their hands are tied.

The general manager, who has only 5 months left on his contract wants "his guy" in Jim Playfair, to take over the job.

Playfair however, is more than a little reluctant given the general manager's precarious situation.

Even if he's given a three year deal, there's a reasonable chance that his boss, Button, may be shown the door this summer, leaving a new general manager in place that will likely want "his guy" to take over the coaching duties.

If this is the case, that Ken King is looking to jettison Button, then wouldn't this have been a prudent move a few days ago when Gilbert was shown the door?

If not if Ken King is firmly behind his current general manager, then why not extend Button's contract a year or two and make the process of hiring a coach a heck of a lot easier.

Why indeed

But where's the fun in that?

It's Flameland as we all know if fans find the on ice product less than entertaining, just have a boo upstairs.



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