Flashback: The Rangers 2002 Coaching Search (Daily News Edition)

Following his second straight season leading the Rangers, Ron Low was not retained as head coach in the spring of 2002.

At the time, GM Glen Sather said to the Daily News “I think the obvious answer is that we haven’t made the playoffs in two years. I don’t think it’s just the coach’s responsibility in a situation like this. We all have to share equally in this. But in every situation, there’s someone that ends up taking the blame in these kinds of deals and it’s generally the coach that does.”

The search for a replacement started immediately and 1999 Stanley Cup winner Ken Hitchcock was at the top of the list.

Below is an account of the Rangers search for a head coach in the spring of 2002 as told through the Daily News.

April 16, 2002: Glen Sather has been given permission from the Dallas Stars to speak to Hitchcock but had yet to contact him. Strong candidates besides Hitchcock are Hartford Wolfpack coach John Paddock, former Rangers coach Herb Brooks and possibly Pat Burns. Director of Player Personnel Tom Renney is not expected to garner much consideration.

April 16, 2002: The Daily News writes “The knocks against him are that he is too rigid in his insistence upon adherence to his system and too negative in his barking on the bench. The concern is that he would alienate Rangers stars such as Eric Lindros and Pavel Bure while preventing certain free agents from signing with the team. “Our system has nothing to do with when we have the puck at all,” Hitchcock said. “And I’m never telling a Pavel Bure or Eric Lindros or Brett Hull or Mike Modano what to do with the puck – that’s just not happening. But defensive hockey to me – and that is just the play without the puck – there isn’t a lot of room for negotiation.”

April 17, 2002: The Daily News says that Glen Sather has been granted permission to talk to Herb Brooks and that Brooks is only interested in returning to coaching if it is with the Rangers.

On Brooks, the paper writes”Back in 1980, fresh off having orchestrated the Miracle on Ice, Brooks was interviewed by Sather about possibly joining the staff of the Edmonton Oilers. Both men view the game being about speed, creativity and entertainment. However, Brooks soon after was hired to coach the Rangers by then-GM Patrick. Brooks went 131-113-41 as Rangers head coach from 1981-82 through the middle of 1984-85. An innovator who brought a puck-possession style to the NHL at a time when dump-and-chase ruled, Brooks guided his smallish Rangers “Smurfs” to the playoffs in each of his four full seasons at the helm but couldn’t get them past the Islanders. ”

April 20, 2002: Mike Keenan has been contacted about the Rangers opening but has turned the team down and has decided to stay in Florida with the Panthers. While that happened, Sather and Hitch spent the day in NY talking about the organization and touring the new practice facility set to open a few months later. On the meeting, Hitch said “From my standpoint, everything felt very good.”

 April 22, 2002: The Panthers are accusing the Rangers of tampering in regards to their conversations with Mike Keenan about their head coaching position.

April 24, 2002: Pavel Bure asked Keenan to call Glen Sather and ask about the head coaching position. Keenan apparently hadn’t asked for permission to talk with the Rangers and Sather ended the conversation when he found that out. Dave Tippett, Jacques Martin and Joel Quenville are all potential coaching options but still in the playoffs.

April 27, 2002: Herb Brooks wants the job and is going to meet with Glen Sather to talk about it. Sather has also met with former Sabres coach Ted Nolan along with Hitchcock.

May 1, 2002: The Flyers are now in the mix for Hitchcock and while Hitch is the Rangers top target, Eric Lindros reportedly told Sather that he didn’t want to play under Hitch. Hitch is also expressing interest in the Flyers opening and Sather is planning to meet with Pat Burns, Dave Tippett and if granted permission from the Devils, Larry Robinson.

May 6, 2002: Brooks and Sather are finally going to talk in person, at Sather’s home in California, and the two are on the same page with having a brand of “entertaining hockey.”

May 7, 2002: The process of picking a coach appears to be winding down as Brooks was the last high profile candidate that Sather planned to meet with. He has met with Hitchcock and “longshot” Ted Nolan. He isn’t going to meet with Pat Burns who is expected to get the job in Philly nd is still waiting to talk with Guy Carbonneau of Montreal and Dave Tippett of the Kings. Mike Johnston, an assistant coach in Vancouver, is reportedly also in the running for the job.

Brooks may have an inside shot at the job because his hiring could lure Chris Chelios and Bill Guerin, two players from the 2002 USA Olympic team, to the Rangers.

May 9, 2002: Sather is going to meet with LA assistant coach Dave Tippett who is one of the most highly regarded assistant coaches in the league. Tippett is also a former teammate of Eric Lindros in Philadelphia and is being credited with LA’s improved offensive game.

May 10, 2002: Larry Robinson has withdrawn his name from the Rangers coaching search as he wanted to take some time to decide what he wanted his future in hockey to be.

Pat Burns reportedly got a negative report from his previous employers in Boston and that ruined his chances. Ted Nolan reportedly never had much of a chance.

In terms of the top candidates for the job, “Herb Brooks has the inside track. Ken Hitchcock? He still wants to coach the Rangers very badly, but it is clear that a reputation for relentless negativity has damaged his otherwise impeccable candidacy.”

Brooks reportedly “wowed” Sather during their meeting in Palm Springs. Hitchcock, once the front runner, is giving Sather pause because of many reports of his negativity hurting his players.

May 11, 2002: Hitchcock is reportedly close to joining the Flyers as their head coach and Herb Brooks is now undecided if he wants to return to coaching. Dave Tippett just interviewed with Glen Sather but he also interviewed with the Dallas Stars. With his top choices now in limbo, Sather is going to set up meetings with Guy Carbonneau and Colorado assistant Bryan Trottier. Brooks is reportedly also considering a full-time role with USA Hockey.

May 15, 2002: Hitchcock signs a four year deal with the Flyers. He reportedly never had a follow up meeting with Glen Sather and Flyers President Ed Snider said that once he found out Hitch wasn’t going to be the Rangers coach, he moved quickly to sign him.

Sather reportedly wasn’t comfortable with the idea of Hitchcock being a negative person who focuses on what his team lacks and struggles with. Pavel Bure and Eric Lindros were both against Hitch being hired by the Rangers because of his no-nonsense defense approach.

Herb Brooks is the favorite but still isn’t positive he wants to return full-time to coaching.

May 16, 2002: Brooks and Sather have started contract talks but Brooks is having doubts about returning to coaching and the situation now seems “doomed.” Tippett is about to be introduced as head coach of the Dallas Stars and Carbonneau could replace Michel Therrien in Montreal.

The Rangers may be forced to look at a second tier of candidates that includes John Paddock, who was passed over for the job in 2000, and Ted Nolan. Sather has some issues with bringing in Nolan since he has been out of the game for a few years.

Brooks reportedly has taken issue with not being offered the job earlier and isn’t sure he wants to coach for an organization that isn’t behind him, “Brooks has never been comfortable with working for organizations that have any doubts about him – he resigned from the Devils after the 1992-93 season when GM Lou Lamoriello delayed his announcement that he wanted him back. And the Rangers’ failure to offer him the job in the week and a half since he met with Sather is a signal that Sather wasn’t as convinced as Brooks would hope. What’s more, while a shot at the only big coaching prize that has eluded him has tantalized the 64-year-old Brooks, a possible run at a Stanley Cup couldn’t trump his need to remain close to his Minnesota-based family and his life-long quest to further the cause of American hockey. ”

May 17, 2002: “Glen Sather’s surprising fascination with Herb Brooks fell apart Wednesday and came to a crashing end yesterday with neither man feeling very fulfilled by the process. ”

Ted Nolan doesn’t care where he fits on the Rangers list, he just wants a shot “”Whether I’m the second choice or the 10th doesn’t matter to me at all. “I’m hungry to do it and I strongly believe that what the Rangers need is hunger. That’s what I have to offer.” Nolan hasn’t heard from Sather since their first meeting.

May 19, 2002: Brooks has withdrawn from the Rangers coaching search saying, “The New York Rangers and New York are very special to me – the Rangers are the team I ‘broke in’ with. “Also, the level of respect I have for Glen Sather and his accomplishments and philosophy is so high. But because of that, I just didn’t feel it would be right. Because where I am in my life right now, I just couldn’t make the kind of commitment that New York and the Rangers deserve.”

Brooks was reportedly done with coaching following a stint as a replacement in Pittsburgh but rekindled his passion during the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. He reportedly told Sather that he would coach and prepare the team in practice, but let Sather run the bench during the games.

Remaining candidates are listed as Ted Nolan, John Paddock, Walt Kyle (a candidate in 2000 and a Rangers assistant,) Guy Carbonneau, Pat Burns (“With league shutdown threatened for 2004, short-term firebrand might fit,”) Detroit assistant Dave Lewis, Bryan Trottier (“made a poor first impression with Sather,) Barry Melrose and Mike Keenan.

May 22, 2002: Carbonneau seems likely to return to Dallas in a front office role that is being created just for him. Nolan, after not hearing anything, called up Glen Sather “I wanted to tell him that I was still very interested and see if there was anything else I could do. “He said he had a lot of work to do and probably would get back to the coaching situation again this week.”

June 5, 2002: The lead of the Daily News is “A man who once spent many a night on Madison Square Garden ice wrecking Rangers seasons now is on the verge of going behind the home team’s bench in order to point it back in a winning direction.” Bryan Trottier has been offered the head coaching job by Glen Sather and an announcement is expected by the end of the week.

Trottier was a finalist for the jobs in Chicago and Columbus in the past couple of years and as recently as a week ago was considered to be a long shot.

In a last ditch effort, Sather asked Herb Brooks to reconsider, which Brooks did but only if he could get a short-term deal with a high base salary, signing bonus in Cablevision stock and the only performance based bonus being a Stanley Cup Championship.

June 6, 2002: In 1990, Trottier asked Neil Smith to play for the Rangers but the two decided that a fit wasn’t right. When it was believed that Smith wanted to fire John Muckler as head coach, Colorado GM Pierre Lacroix called Smith to promote Trottier as a head coaching candidate. Smith was fired and Lacroix called Glen Sather to promote Trottier.

His contract is for three years and a reported $750,000 per season. The paper writes “He’ll need it to somehow mold the Rangers into a cohesive unit that can both entertain on offense and not embarrass itself defensively. Trottier never went five straight seasons without making the playoffs as a player or coach. The team he’s taking over has done just that.”

June 7, 2002: Trottier reportedly won Sather over by responding to Sather’s questionnaire with over 80 pages of hand written detailed look at coaching strategy. Sather weighed that along with the glowing reports he received from other executives and colleagues of Trottier when he decided to offer him the job.

Sather said “When it got down to the end and Bryan and I finally met with each other (last weekend in New York), it didn’t take very long for me to decide that he was the guy that I wanted to see guide the New York Rangers.”

June 7, 2002: Columnist Sherry Ross writes “Rangers general manager Glen Sather spent weeks assessing head-coaching candidates. There were multiple interviews, checking of references and seeking of opinions. And he still got it wrong. If any other team had hired Bryan Trottier, you might admire the decision to take a chance on a familiar yet fresh face, giving a chance to a newcomer to the head-coaching ranks instead of hiring one of the same old retreads. But the Rangers are not any other team. Coaching the Rangers in any given year provides more of a challenge than any other American-based team in the National Hockey League.”

The title of Ross’ article is “The Wrong Man For The Wrong Team”

January 30, 2003: “Of all the many big, expensive risks Glen Sather has taken as Rangers general manager, none was more difficult to fathom than his hiring of Bryan Trottier as head coach last June. That risk having failed spectacularly, Sather fired Trottier yesterday in a desperate attempt to save yet another season that is teetering on the brink of oblivion.”