Q&A with Rangers GM Glen SatherPosted: Wednesday January 29, 2003 11:18 PM
Updated: Thursday January 30, 2003 1:31 AM
Rangers general manager Glen Sather fired first-year head coach Bryan Trottier on Wednesday, just 54 games into his NHL head coaching career. The Rangers are in 11th place in the Eastern Conference with a record of just 21-26-6-1, despite having the league's highest payroll at more than $70 million this season. Sather spoke with the media Wednesday night in a conference call to answer questions about Trottier's dismissal.
Q: Why did you make a change at this time?
Sather: I don't think there's a particularly good time to do something like this. I thought we were going in the right direction after the Nashville victory and the victory against the Islanders. But then after the recent three-game slide, I made the decision that the team is sliding in the wrong direction and that I have to do anything to try to salvage this season. I really needed to do something in a hurry to put some shock value into the team to get the reality of the discipline that we need to have to win. And that's why it was done.
Q: Can you say who will take Bryan's place?
Sather: We're not making any announcements about that [Wednesday], but we'll do something about that [Thursday] before practice.
Q: Was one of the reasons behind this your feeling that there was not enough accountability? And do you think that Bryan struggled at times easing into the role?
Sather: I think every new coach goes through a transition of getting comfortable with the team and getting the team to believe in the methods that he's using. But it really had more to do with the discipline and the accountability than anything. We were on a pretty good roll and then all of a sudden our discipline disappeared. And I just felt that I had to do something and I had to do it in a hurry if we are going to salvage the season.
Q: Is this something that you considered doing around the holidays?
Sather: I don't think I want to speculate on anything like that. This just happened recently and we'll just leave it like that.
Q: When did you first sense that Bryan might not be the right guy?
Sather: I don't know whether there was any particular timetable. I think it's just something that you watch and observe and see how people react. There's no formula for people who are successful coaches, but sometimes there is a formula that doesn't make somebody successful. Players sometimes listen and sometimes they don't listen, and coaches really have to find a way to tune in to what gets them, what makes them click and what makes them accountable for their mistakes. There's such a fine line between winning and losing, and the odd mistake here and there can cost you a game. But you just can't have the same thing happen continually.
Q: Do you believe that at this point and time it's still possible to make the playoffs?
Sather: Yes, absolutely.
Q: I was just wondering when and how you let Bryan know? And how did he take the news?
Sather: I spoke to him in my office at the practice center. He came in after practice, he sat down and we talked about it for a little while. I told him that I was going to make a change. I think he looked a little relieved. It was a shock, but he looked like the weight of the world was lifted off his shoulders at that point.
He wasn't happy about it, but I don't think anybody gets happy about something like that happening to them. But he took it like a man and said that he didn't think he was the right guy for this group of players and that it would probably be the right thing to do.
Q: The qualities that you saw in him when you hired him -- are you disappointed that maybe they didn't manifest themselves? Or was his just not the right fit? And do you think he can still be a good coach in this league?
Sather: I think Bryan is a terrific guy and a good coach. I just think that at this time, and under these conditions with this group of players, that maybe it wasn't the right fit. And it was a decision that I made. Some of the decisions are good and some are bad, but you have to live with those mistakes. And I'm prepared to do it and go on. And I'm sure the team is prepared and ready to go on.
Q: This will be the third coach of your tenure. Why has nothing seemingly worked for the past five years, no matter how much the names of the players and coaches have changed?
Sather: I can't comment going back five years. I can make a comment on the last two coaches that were here. There are a lot of things that have happened over that period of time. But it's an environment where you make a choice and sometimes the choices and decisions you make work and sometimes they don't work. It would've been a lot easier not to do anything. But I think this team certainly has the right personnel to get into the playoffs, and to do well if we can get there. But I think that we needed to do something to put them into the frame of mind that we need to do something now. We need to pull together, we need to unite this team and we need to make them stronger. Hopefully, this is the right decision.
Q: When Bryan was hired, one of the many questions was whether or not a rookie coach could do this job. In retrospect, do you think that this is just too much for a guy who had very little head coaching experience?
Sather: Well, I think it's easy to have 20-20 hindsight in this situation. At the time that I hired Bryan, I certainly thought he was capable of doing the job. I thought that we'd be very successful with the people, the team and the background that he had as an assistant coach. Based on the kinds of players he had dealt with, the situations he'd been in and the way he handled himself, I thought he'd be a great match for us. But it didn't turn out to be that way. I still think Bryan is going to be a good coach in this league. This may not be the right time or the right group of athletes for him to coach.
Q: Is your dismissal of Bryan an admission of a mistake?
Sather: I would certainly think that it has to be at this stage. I've made a lot of decisions over the number of years that I've been involved with hockey, and not all of them were right. When you make a mistake you have to live with it, go on and try to get better.
Q: You use the terms "shock value," "discipline" and "accountability." Is this a flat-out message to the players that it's time they looked in the mirror?
Sather: I think that's certainly part of it. I hope that this turns this team around and gets us into the playoffs. I hope it gets some success from a lot of people who have been making mistakes. But all the players have to be held accountable for what's happened. It's a situation that nobody wants to see happen, but sometimes it does happen in sports. I don't think anyone who has been fired is ready to accept it, but it does happen.
You know the old cliche that "you can't replace 20 players." It's a way to try to help everyone redeem themselves. Everyone needs to get to play a lot better. We need to perform every night. We can't take undisciplined penalties, we can't make the mistakes we were making and maybe this will help.
Q: Were you thinking about this long before the three-game losing streak?
Sather: I try to do whatever I can to help improve the hockey team. And that's analyzing the team every night. You want to see the team grow and move ahead. I thought we were playing very well during that streak, but after that, we seemed to lose our edge and lose our composure in situations. We needed to regain that and this is one way to help us.
Q: Was the distribution of ice time a concern of yours? And was the non-distribution of starts for the two goaltenders a concern?
Sather: I don't think that was a concern. I think that Dan Blackburn has to earn his ice time. We put Danny into a tough spot when Mike Richter was hurt. We weren't sure that we had to make a deal in the early part of that injury. We had to force feed Blackburn a few games and we certainly wouldn't have chosen to do that if we had an alternative, but we didn't. Injuries play a big part in some of these things. It's almost the luck of the draw sometimes with what happens to people.
Q: Were your best players playing enough?
Sather: I certainly think if you look at how the ice time was distributed among our players, you'll see that the top players were averaging 20 minutes a game. And I think when they are playing that much they have to produce. They can't make the mistakes that we were making. But you also have to remember that two or our best players haven't played for close to 30 games.
Q: You said Bryan looked relieved when you told him the news. Do you think he was shocked that perhaps he didn't have a longer leash?
Sather: I think when somebody tells you something like that there is always an instant where you are shocked. There is a great deal of pressure coaching a National Hockey League team, especially a team in New York and especially with the number of good players that we have. A lot of them weren't performing up to expectations and it's part of the coach's role to get them there.
Bryan was very dedicated to his job. He was in the office early, he left late, he did everything he could do. I think he was probably pulling his hair out trying to figure out a way to get them motivated and to get them to move. So I think that was kind of the relief that I was talking about.
Q: Did Bryan offer you any reasons why he felt he wasn't able to do that?
Sather: No, we talked for a great deal of time, but that's something that he and I will discuss more after the All-Star break. We are going to meet and have a further discussion, but I don't think I want to get into any specifics right now.
Q: Will he remain with the organization in any role?
Sather: We are going to meet after the All-Star break is over to talk about that.
Q: You mentioned that Bryan will be a good coach in the league but that this might not be the right time or the right group of athletes. What is it about this group of athletes that coaches have had trouble with?
Sather: I think it's a combination of things. If you look at most teams that have grown up together, they've learned the same discipline and same responsibility to each other. When you have a collective group of superior athletes who have come from different teams and haven't grown together, they all have their own distinctive ideas on what is right and what is wrong. Sometimes it takes a period of time to get them to buy into your philosophy.
If we could've stuck with this and waited until next season, then perhaps we would've never made a change here, but we don't have that kind of time. I think that this team can make the playoffs and we have to do something now to get them there.
Q: In all of your years as an executive in the league, is this as difficult as a decision as you've had to make?
Sather: It's certainly up there. It's very difficult to do something like this to someone who has become a friend and a respected part of the organization. I've gotten to know Bryan very well. I know what he's like and I know how hard he had been taking the losses. I think he gave everything he could to try to get these guys to go and to do what he thought was right. He's gone through a lot of hockey ups and downs in his career, and he's seen an awful lot. It was tough to see this weigh on him the way it did.
Q: How does this affect your future as the general manager of the hockey club?
Sather: I don't think that I take a lot of time during the day to worry about myself. My job is to try to improve this organization and to get it back to where we expect it to be in the standings. That's the way I'm spending most of my time.
Sather: I really haven't though about a playing coach, but first of all it's against the rules in the NHL. We're going to get into the coaching decision [Thursday]. So there's no sense even speculating about that.
Q: I know you said that hindsight is 20-20, but looking back, do you kind of wish that you had hired somebody with more of a disciplinarian reputation when you had people like Ken Hitchcock and Pat Burns available back then?
Sather: Well, I think I've answered this question before. I went through the selection process and I thought I made the right decision. It's easy to go back and say that decision wasn't right today, but when I made it I thought I made the right choice. I analyzed a lot of coaching candidates and I thought that I came out with a guy who was the best suited to be successful here, and obviously he wasn't. So we had to make a change and I'll have to live with that for a long time.
Q: Have you given any thought to getting back behind the bench?
Sather: I think I answered this earlier -- we are going to make that decision [Wednesday] and going to make the announcement [Thursday]. But I'm not going to get into any details about coaching now.