EDMONTON - Talk about “sucking the hind banana.”
One of Pat Quinn’s more colourful and descriptive quotes last season best fitted what happened to him Tuesday.
You’d think after a season like last year, the GM of the Edmonton Oilers would owe the head coach another year.
But Pat Quinn was tossed out with the trainers and equipment men as part of the purge in the name of doing what he was trying harder than anybody to do, which was change the culture of the hockey club.
Injuries kept his best player, Ales Hemsky, and his No. 1 goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin out for most of the season. A mind-boggling total of 530 man games were lost in injuries. A ‘flu epidemic ran through the club. And a bunch of veterans all turned out to have the same expiry date. And this was Pat Quinn’s fault?
“I believe I was the best guy for the job and the best guy going forward,” he said when I threw that out on a conference call following the news conference yesterday in which Quinn was replaced by associate coach Tom Renney.
“I don’t think any human could have anticipated what happened to us last year. It was disastrous and it ended up costing us good hockey men in our trainers department. Somehow they got the finger pointed at them. But that’s what our upper hockey management has decided.”
It ended up costing Pat Quinn his coaching job.
And it was a dirty bit of business.
After saying a month earlier that Quinn’s job was safe if he wanted it, GM Steve Tambellini waited until the plane was warming up on the runway to take him to the draft — the equivalent of a government press conference at 4:15 p.m. on a Friday of a long weekend — to announce he’d decided to do the dirty deed.
Firing Pat Quinn — and that’s what it was no matter how the Tambellini tried to dress it up — was going to be viewed as the admission that he had made a mistake with his first major decision, even if they’d announced it at midnight or gave Quinn a parade.
The announcement trumpeted “Quinn Named Senior Advisor; Renney Assumes Head Coaching Duties.”
Quinn, with the same honesty he showed all year in his post-game press conferences, was having none of it. Indeed that abundance of honesty involving the performances of his players when they “sucked the hind banana” last year, might have been a major reason why he was replaced, today’s pampered players not liking to be dressed down in public like Quinn did in trying to change the culture here.
He was damn sure honest about his appointment to a “Scotty Bowman role” as being no promotion.
“No, it’s certainly not. It’s not my decision. I’d been looking forward to coaching the team next year.
“Promotion? I’d say not. My career is coaching. It’s why I wanted to come back into the game with Edmonton last year. We went through some tough times, but I was looking forward to continuing to help this organization go back to respectability in the sense of winning. I’ll continue to do that, but it’s just going to be in a different capacity, obviously,” said the 67-year-old who returned to the NHL last season after a three-year absence from his seven-year run as coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs during which time he coached Canada to a first Olympic gold medal in 50 years at Salt Lake 2002.
“It was a surprise,” said Quinn. “If there was the opportunity to stay, I wanted to stay. It’s disappointing. I felt my contribution to the Oilers was going to be as a coach.”
Tambellini was selling it as a succession plan moved up one year.
“If that was indeed the plan all along, in the sense of telling people ahead of time, it’s probably not a good plan,” said Quinn.
Maybe Quinn should have figured out that’s why he got a two-year contract and Renney had a three-year deal.
“When you look at a plan that was in place when I discussed it with Pat before he came here as far as a succession plan, the idea was that after a year or two I would ask him to take this position as a senior hockey adviser. That was my plan going into this and for Tom to take over,” said Tambellini.
“As far as whether or not they told Tom he was going to be the next head coach, I don’t have any knowledge of that,” said Quinn.
“All I said to Steve at the start was don’t just play it as an interim coach as far as I’m concerned. If you come in as an interim, that’s what you get. If the organization recognizes that, and I mean the players, then it’s tough to hold their feet to the fire when it really counts.”
Pat Quinn, to me, was done dirt in this deal. It’s a total miscarriage of justice to hang last year’s Oilers season on him as the last chapter of such an outstanding career.
And that’s only the half of it. Tom Renney gets cheated by coming into this coaching job this way, too.