Decision to coach is a Great One indeed

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:10 AM ET

In what amounts to hockey's first bit of good news in eight months, Wayne Gretzky will coach the Phoenix Coyotes, according to something called the East Valley Tribune.

There never gas been a player of Gretzky's stature behind an NHL bench, and basketball is the only other major sport with a worthwhile sample group.

TWO TITLES

Bill Russell, a force with the Boston Celtics, returned to the club in 1967, delivered two championships in three years and won 340 games.

Lenny Wilkens, one of the NBA's 50 greatest players, coached for 32 years in the league and won a title.

Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas and Jerry West evolved from star players to successful coaches. Then again, Magic Johnson lasted only 16 games with the 1994 Los Angeles Lakers.

Of the 50 top home-run hitters, only one, Frank Robinson, took to managing. Joe Torre was a nine-time all-star who won four World Series titles with the New York Yankees but he was no Gretzky.

Then again, who was?

None of the current five leaders in any NFL category became a head coach.

Why bother?

Coaching is a brutal business that brings all the hassles (travel, media) a player must endure with none of the on-ice rewards.

Superstars retire with plenty of money and endless business opportunities.

Should they want to return to their sport, they can always find an announcing job that carries none of the responsibilities. Commenting sure beats being impaled on talk radio and eventually whacked by a general manager looking to paper over his lousy personnel decisions.

Superstars are gifted with an unteachable genius. That's why the best coaches and managers, regardless of the sport, were middle-of-the-roaders who learned what it took to stick and who could, in turn, teach it.

Wayne Gretzky can't teach another player to play like Wayne Gretzky.

A Sutter brother, by comparison, can draw heightened commitment from anyone.

So is Gretzky hiring himself a bad move?

Absolutely not.

For one thing, he brings an unquestioned credibility, and not just because he is Wayne Gretzky.

Gretzky is part of the group that signs the cheques and he hired the general manager. There is no one to undermine his authority and if he likes, he can have the job for life. In Phoenix, there will be no doubt about where the buck goes to die.

Gretzky brings a competitiveness that belies his skill level. As a player, his motivation to be great outstripped even his prodigious talent.

He used both to garner 61 offensive records.

Don't be fooled by the veneer, Wayne Gretzky is a hockey guy, as plugged into the game's mores as any journeyman and even more competitive.

Since his retirement in 1999, Gretzky has re-established his credentials with the same impeccable grace he did as a player.

In 2001, his "check your egos at the door" tack and a nice gambit about Canada being hated in the hockey world established the perfect environment for this nation's first Olympic hockey gold in 50 years.

He wrangled a new arena for the Coyotes and managed Canada to a victory in last summer's World Cup.

And when hockey does return, who better to not only champion a more wide-open style but implement it?

Gretzky will command far more attention and log far more face time as a coach than he would as an owner.

The game is lost, awash in greed and addicted to violence.

Any and all saviours, upper and lower case, are immensely welcome.


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