Quinn to fill the gaps

Coach Pat Quinn. (Sun Photo)

Coach Pat Quinn. (Sun Photo)

AL STRACHAN

, Last Updated: 10:10 AM ET

It's fairly clear that Pat Quinn and John Ferguson can't co-exist much longer.

That is not a great surprise. It's a classic plot in literature and movies.

The young whippersnapper who couldn't do the job himself comes in and is given a spot on the pecking order that allows him to outrank the grizzled veteran. The situation is not resolved until the youngster accepts the abilities of the veteran and realizes that they can operate to a mutually beneficial end -- which in this case, appears unlikely to happen.

But the dilemma for Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment Ltd., is this: It doesn't want to fire Ferguson and show that it hired the wrong general manager -- again. And it doesn't want to lose the expertise of Quinn, who has assets that would be extremely difficult to replace.

A PRISONER

The difficulty of coaching the Leafs never should be underestimated. Your every move is studied and evaluated. Your every statement is analyzed for hidden meaning. Your profile is such that you become a prisoner to your own celebrity status because you know that if you go out in public, you won't have a moment's peace.

Quinn handles all this as well as anyone who has ever had the job. You can't be an effective coach if you're yearning to avoid the spotlight, or if you're weighing the potential impact of your every decision or comment.

Quinn is an excellent big-picture coach. He has seen it all before and he takes it all in stride. But his detractors say that he doesn't pay enough attention to detail, he is not as knowledgeable about the players in the game as he could be, he favours veterans, and he doesn't communicate as well with the players as is the norm in today's hockey.

Every one of these criticisms has some validity.

But is the answer to fire Quinn and bring in someone else, thereby losing all of Quinn's considerable strengths? Wouldn't it make more sense to leave Quinn in place and bring in someone who can fill in some of the coaching gaps?

What Ferguson should do is give Quinn an option. He can stay if he wants, but assistant coach Rick Ley has to go.

In his place, and in consultation with Quinn, Ferguson will hire another coach -- not an assistant, but an associate, a title that gives him extra power and credibility.

This associate will have a strong strategical sense -- an X's and O's guy if you will --who can devise an appropriate strategy suited to the opponent on the night. He will constantly communicate with the veterans on the team to get their input and to pass along the coaching's staff's message across so that they, in turn can distribute it to the team. He will offer mid-game insights to the players,

In short, he will be a 21st- century coach.

Even if you were to accept that Ley is an effective assistant coach, which would be something of a stretch, it is certain that he and Quinn think alike. They played together and their careers have been inextricably linked for decades.

Therefore, he cannot possibly present any innovations to Quinn or offer any insight that had escaped Quinn's attention. If Ley thinks of it, you can be sure Quinn had already thought of it.

It is possible that Quinn might not accept the associate-coach solution. If so, Ferguson strengthens his own position by saying: "I tried to structure a format whereby Pat would stay, but he chose to go his own way."

But if Quinn does accept it, the Leafs get the best of both possible worlds. They have a head coach who can handle the precarious Toronto coaching situation extremely well.

At the same time, they have an associate coach who is involved with the game, who doesn't stand behind the bench like an Easter Island statue, who prepares the team for every game and who makes the coaching staff as dynamic as the staffs of the teams the Leafs hope to overcome.

That can't be a bad thing, can it? 


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