Patience rewarded

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

Three-and-a-half years after turning down an offer to coach the Calgary Flames, Jim Playfair reconsidered yesterday.

This time, there was no shouting match with the team president and no sleepless nights wondering if he'd made the biggest mistake of his life.

This time, it all makes too much sense, opening the door for the real story to finally be told about his initial hiring in December 2002, which never became public.

Just before firing Greg Gilbert, Ken King called Saint John to promote Playfair from bench boss of the Baby Flames to coach of the big boys.

Agreeing initially, Playfair went home to pack for the trip west before a phone call from King clarified the hire was on an interim basis, not on a standard three-year deal as the coach assumed.

Playfair respectfully declined, much to King's chagrin.

"It was 30 seconds between yes and no," recalled Playfair, the 42-year-old B.C. native of the decision to turn down a job he had chased through the ECHL, IHL and AHL for a decade.

"Was I nervous and did I wonder if I'd ever get this chance again? Absolutely 100 percent for sure, I did.

"But I never left the whole process with a sour taste in my mouth or felt slighted at all.

"Regardless of the outcome, my decision to turn it down was based on the right principles.

"I would have been the third young coach to come into the organization in three years and you can't expect the players, the fans or the owners to believe that's the best move."

After a month with Al MacNeil coaching the Flames, Darryl Sutter was hired. One of his first moves was to summon Playfair, his former IHL captain, for what would quickly evolve into a mentoring program of sorts.

And although Playfair still feels he was ready to coach in the NHL in 2002, his recent apprenticeship under Sutter makes him an even better candidate to succeed as he has throughout his career.

Not only does his straightforward and logical approach to the botched hiring in 2002 speak volumes of his character and smarts, his hiring as Sutter's replacement as coach is also a lesson in patience, success and planning, which is something this move is all about.

"I think the experience of coming to the league and working with experienced people will take him to the next level," said Sutter, pointing out how much he remembers learning under Mike Keenan and Bob Pulford.

Added King: "He would agree the experience he has gathered with and under Darryl may set him up for a good, long, beneficial career as opposed to what happens to most young coaches who get thrown into a fire."

Well aware Sutter will continue to play a huge role in the dressing room, Playfair said his goal is simply to continue building what Sutter started. And if there was ever any doubt Sutter and Playfair will clash at times, it was erased when Sutter couldn't help but playfully interrupt his coach several times during yesterday's press conference.

"We'll butt heads -- absolutely we'll butt heads," predicted Playfair, a captain or assistant most of his minor-league career.

"That's part of the deal. That's how you get better -- you have to have those questions.

"It's never personal -- it's about finding ways to get better. As far as my personality, I think I'm firm, fair, demanding, honest and I push players."

And he's a man whose intelligence landed him exactly where he belongs -- three years late or not.


Videos

Photos