Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Channeling Barry Trotz, Part II

Part I: On The Forecheck's take
Part II: Preds 101's take
Part III: Pull My (Fang) Finger's take
Part IV: Seth Lake's take
Part V: Preds on the Glass' take
LESSON 1: Be a good guy, a relationship builder, a guy who worries about tomorrow as well as today.

My ongoing quest for knowledge about Barry Trotz and the lessons we can learn from his success as a model for professional hockey success in Columbus led me to Josh at the Preds 101 blog.  I love how he describes the purpose of his blog: "A blog about the Predators for the football fan.  I love hockey, and have a lot of friends that would love the game if they knew anything about it.  This is my attempt to explain the game to the fans out there that love football, and would love the Preds if they just knew what the heck was going on."  An honorable mission, one of education for the masses.  My type of guy as I look to learn more about Barry Trotz.

And, boy, did Josh bite.  Not only did he answer my email, but he wrote and posted an entire piece analyzing Barry Trotz on his blog in the course of the day!

Thus, with no further ado, here's the Preds 101 take on my question du jour...

A Question from Columbus: "Barry Trotz... How Does He Do It?"

Today I got a great question from Dark Blue Jacket, a Columbus Blue Jacket Blogger. Recently the St. Louis Blues fired their coach Andy Murray, and some people in Columbus are wondering whether the same fate awaits Blue Jacket coach Ken Hitchcock. Hence the question:
"What makes Barry Trotz the ideal coach for the Preds? What is it about his coaching and/or leadership style that allows him to stay as the team's only coach when some teams change coaches more often than they change third jerseys?"
I have no doubt that Tennessee sports fans may well disagree with my answer, or with the premise of the question entirely. Regardless, I think DBJ is spot on, and here are my top four reasons for why Barry Trotz (and, to some extent, Titans coach Jeff Fisher) have been successful long-term coaches in Nashville.

To put it simply, Nashville's fans (and management) trusts our professional coaches. That trust been rewarded with defensively minded teams that are almost always competitive. Barry Trotz (and Titans' coach Jeff Fisher), are "player's coaches." So even if some fans are disgruntled, you'll never hear any negative quotes coming out of the locker room. In a small market like Nashville, you need a system based on character, grit, and hard work. Trotz epitomizes and breeds success in that system, which is good, because no superstar free agent is going to walk through the door anytime soon.

1. Perhaps its "Southern Hospitality", but In Nashville, Keeping Coaches is What We Do.

Preds' coach Barry Trotz is second longest tenured coach in the NHL. Trotz began coaching the Preds in 1997, and over 12 years later is the only coach this city has ever known.Titans' coach Jeff Fisher is the longest tenured coach in the NFL. Fisher began coaching Titans in 1994 and over 15 years later is only Titans' coach this city has ever known.

Two coaches... 27+ years. Enough said.

We keep our coaches. Local media often remarks that Nashville isn't the most critical sports city. We give a fair amount of deference, and trust that the GMs, coaches, and staff are doing their jobs. Of course, the city can be patient when our teams tend to win more then they lose. But the point is this, in some cities a losing streak can end a tenure, and the years of hard work that have gone into building and molding a team. Not here.

2. Coaching a Scheme that Nashville Needs

Predators fans, Canadian media, and everyone else knows one simple fact: the Predators are going to be spending near or at the salary cap floor for the foreseeable future. It takes a long time to develop a team that can succeed in that type of system. Fans realize that, and GM David Poile and Coach Trotz realize that. It helps that both Poile and Trotz have been at the helm together for over a decade now, slowly and methodically building that system. This "Lunch Pail Gang" mentality, outlined really well by AJ in his Pull My (Fang)Finger blog, is what Trotz breeds: a hard working, role playing, team first, defensive, take-care-of-the-puck, system, develop talent from within, system. Over the years, the different rosters may have forced variations on this coaching theme... but the theme is always the same.

It should be noted this is almost exactly the same style and system that the Titans and Jeff Fisher employ as well.

3. Player's Coaches

Both Fisher and Trotz are class acts, and Player's coaches. One predators blogger, Mark from The View from 111, wrote up this piece about Trotz last week. As a result, one thing you almost never hear in Nashville is locker room dissent from the players. Disgruntled fans may jaw on the radio, but you never hear any quotes from players as ammunition. In Steve Sullivan's words:
Sullivan said one of the reasons Trotz has been around since 1997 is the coach's ability to form relationships with players. "I definitely think he's a players' coach ... He has an open-door policy. He takes into account a lot of the players' ideas. We not only have captains, but a leadership group that meets regularly to talk about the month ahead, what our plans are. There are no surprises from the coaching staff. That's what we're looking for, an idea of what our game plan is."
When the players are happy, everybody's happy. Conversely, look at former Titan Albert Hayneswoth. Under Fisher, he was kept relatively in check when talking to the media. Half a season later, he's denying rumors of organizing a player boycott in Washington.

4. Beating Teams and Expectations

Expectations are critically important for coaches who want to keep their jobs. In last season, when expectations were high, and the team fell short, it was because of an ownership crisis. This season, like our early seasons, the Predators were, well, supposed to be terrible. We win more games that we "should", and Trotz always gets a lot of credit for that.

Expectations for the Predators will likely always be a little lower than other, larger markets. What the fan base does demand and expect is that that the coaching staff has the attention and respect of the locker room. So long as that is the case, Trotz can be behind the Nashville bench for years to come.

And there you have it. 4 solid lessons - lessons not just about the coach but also about the organization and community. And you know, I can see the Nashville model working real well in Columbus.

The most significant challenge that I see to the Nashville plan taking root, actually, is history. This may sound like excuses, but ex-General Manager Doug MacLean poisoned the well in Columbus is ways far beyond the roster. He set sky-high expectations for the Blue Jackets, expectations that couldn't be met early in the life of the franchise. The general public(diehards excepted) now either has outsized expectations considering our roster, or they have a cynical disbelief in anything the Blue Jackets do - on or off the ice.  Regardless, it's a tough road to hoe for Mike Priest, Scott Howson & Co.

What do you think?  Is the Nashville/Trotz model something that will work in Columbus?

At least one more Trotz-related post to come...

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