• Coaching

    by Tyler Dellow • April 9, 2012 • Hockey • 9 Comments

    Before long the new member of the Oakland As realized: Billy Beane ran the whole show. He was like a Holywood producer who insisted on meddling not only with the script but also with the lights and cameras and sets and wardrobes. He wasn’t just making the trades and supervising scouts and getting his name in the papers and whatever else a GM did. He was deciding whether to bunt or steal; who played and who sat; who hit in which spot in the lineup, how the bullpen was used; even the manager’s subtle psychological tactics…Billy had told Art how and where to stand during games so that the players would be forced to look up at him, and take strength from his countenance, because when Art sat on the bench, as he preferred to do he looked like a prisoner of war…

    -Michael Lewis, Moneyball

    Lewis makes it sound like there was something unusual happening in Oakland, with the extent to which the front office exercised control over what Howe did. I’m not sure that that’s entirely the case. I suspect that what was unusual was a baseball team being managed and general managed by two men with such a disconnect in their basic philosophies of the game. In most cases, I’d assume that general managers hire coaches who see things the same way that they do. If you’re a coach, you’re probably wise to either coach in a manner consistent with the views of your general manager or bring him around to why your way of doing things makes more sense.

    Which brings me to Tom Renney. Bob Stauffer tweeted the following tonight:

    Be very surprised if the Oilers pulled off an NFL-type end of the season coaching move tomorrow. There will be meetings and evaluation.

    “NFL-type”? The NHL season ended on April 10 last year. Cory Clouston was fired on April 9. Peter DeBoer was fired on April 10. Todd Richards was fired on April 11. Marc Crawford was fired April 12. The only other coach replaced during the summer was Craig Ramsay and the circumstances of that situation were somewhat unique, with Atlanta re-locating to Winnipeg and switching owners. This is, as far as I can recall, the norm every year. I asked for examples on Twitter – everything that came up was a case in which there was big time transition in the front office, which resulted in a late decision. As a rule, coaches who are going to be replaced are gone almost instantly and, in any case, within a day or two of the end of the season. It’s not “NFL-type” – it’s “NHL-type.”

    The reason for this, of course, is that teams which are finishing way up the track are usually the ones that replace their coaches. Those teams can usually see it coming – the Oilers, for example, have been effectively out of it since December. Steve Tambellini has known Renney for at least fifteen years, since Renney was with the Canucks. The Oilers have had literally months to make up their minds in terms of what to do wtih Renney. It is bizarre that they now need to meet and evaluate what to do. Who will be making this evaluation? Tambo? Tambo, Lowe and Katz? There can’t be a lot of people in on the decision. What’s to evaluate that hasn’t been done already. discussed ad nauseum as the season wore down?

    Which leads to my point. I don’t comment as much on Oiler sites as I once did but I read the comments. As best I can tell, the case against Renney is awfully slight. People are upset that Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins didn’t get more ice time. There was an obvious reason for that. Some people think that MPS, Linus Omark and Anton Lander were kind of screwed around, with Omark basically rotting in OKC, Lander contributing to the rot in Edmonton and MPS travelling back and forth between the two.

    I wonder though, the extent to which the decisions that Renney made were his and his alone. I’d expect that very few of them are. You can see in Moneyball what happens when a front office has a different philosophy than the coaching staff. The front office tends to get its way. (Regrettably, nobody seems to have told Renney that he looks terrible on the bench when he does that thing with his arms crossed and ordered him to do something else. You know who looked great on the bench? Ron Low. He always had his arm up on something, chewing gum and screaming. I digress.) I can’t imagine that there was anything significant that Tom Renney did in which the front office had no involvement.

    Which brings me to my point: if the Oilers elect not to bring Tom Renney back, I’m awfully curious as to how they’d justify it. Team didn’t meet expectations? Seems like an expectations problem to me. Most sensible people figured they’d be terrible. Doesn’t develop kids? We only see a piece of that but he seems to me to have done a great job of putting Eberle, Hall and RNH into positions to be successful. Sure there are issues with Omark et al. but does anyone think that the front office wasn’t complicit in those decisions?

    Unless Renney’s stupidly ignoring signs from the front office as to how they want certain things done, I’m not at all sure why you’d fire him unless a) you need a scapegoat, b) you’re just generally indecisive and don’t know what you’re doing or c) a better option comes available. As far as c) goes, Robin Brownlee mentions Craig MacTavish, which a lot of us have suggested but there are other potentially interesting options too, depending on how the playoffs unfold – Todd McLellan in San Jose seems schooled in the ways of Red Wings, for example, and seems constantly associated with power plays that get bushels of shots. So there might be options out there.

    If Renney hangs though, the story they tell will be interesting. You really should have a reason when you scapegoat someone and I’m not sure that they’ve got a plausible story to tell. Which, while it’s more fun for those of us watching in the short term, probably isn’t good in the long term.

    About Tyler Dellow

    9 Responses to Coaching

    1. Roke
      April 9, 2012 at

      I imagine Tambellini’s own contract uncertainty plays a big role in what’s going on with Renney, unless he was renewed and the news flew over my head. If Tambo is the decision-maker he’s probably more concerned about his own future at the moment.

    2. Garnet
      April 9, 2012 at

      It would be good news if we knew for certain the management even felt the need for a scapegoat. The complacency at the top is genuinely shocking, given how bad the team has been.

    3. FastOil
      April 9, 2012 at

      I like Renney’s chances better if it’s on Lowe/Tambellini’s plate. They have other excuses they can make- injuries, the new CBA scaring them, whatever. As you said, there isn’t really anything directly on Renney’s performance, and he did handle the trio well at least.

      If Katz is in the picture putting pressure on, I think Renney takes the fall if the other two can manage it.

    4. Scottie
      April 9, 2012 at

      Solution: fire Renney and Tambo pulls the ol’ Sather move of becoming the GM and head coach. That way when they fail next year we can be rid of him. ;-)

      All kidding aside, a coaching move would usher in Tambo’s 4th head coach (albeit one was inherited from the old GM). This should be setting off alarm bells about it not being a coaching problem.

    5. Dennis
      April 9, 2012 at

      I called Lowe/MacT putting the band back together and I’m sticking by it. I think Lowe’s had the public shakes since he dealt away 94 and he had Tambo as the “puppet-with-no-other-options.”

      Lowe feels the group is close to the playoffs now and there’s less chance they’ll continue to suck so he rides back in for what he hopes is more glory than gut-wrenching failure.

    6. RiversQ
      April 9, 2012 at

      I’ve been critical of Renney over the handling of the three Swedes, but I’m not that worked up about it. He’s probably an average NHL coach which means they could do worse. I think he proved this year that a) he’s not an idiot and b) they were deliberately tanking hard last year.

      I am loathe to blame the org for the Swedes because the Oilers love to spread out accountability over time, space, and as many employees as possible, but I have to admit it reluctantly. The continuum of blame from Renney to the org probably goes in the order Omark – MPS – Lander. The latter absolutely had to be an order from on high. Omark? I’m a little less convinced.

    7. April 9, 2012 at

      I see your point, Tyler, but I’m not 100% convinced that management was telling Renney to keep sending Khabibulin out the gate and if they weren’t that’s on him.

      • Rich
        April 10, 2012 at

        Spot on w/the goaltending. Listening to Renney at yesterday’s presser it is very obvious he’s not convinced that the job is DD’s going into the fall. It’s also obvious that last fall, Renney did not have much confidence in DD’s ability to seize the job, and I don’t know if he gave him the opportunity to grab it. Rather, DD was pretty much forced on the job by Khabibulin’s inability to stop pucks anymore.

        And I’m not saying that I’m convinced DD is the answer, but why it took Renney until early March to finally give up the ghost on this is a fair comment on the coach.

        And Tyler, with all due respect, it goes beyond Renney’s handling of the 3 Swedes. Using Belanger on the power play? The use/misuse of Barker?

        All that said, I expect Renney will be back next season, but seriously doubt he finishes it.

    8. Maestro Fresh Mess
      April 9, 2012 at

      Does anyone know if Katz has/had a personal friendship with Messier similar to that of Lowe and MacT?

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