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Can A New Coach Make A Difference?

I have heard a couple of incredible interviews recently with hockey coaches. I immediately thought of the parallels to leaders in the business world. It seemed like an opportune time to repost this article on a professional hockey coach. 

I was driving home from work one day last January and heard an awesome interview with Jeremy Rutherford from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on the Team 1260 Sports Radio in Edmonton. The discussion focused on the new coach of the St. Louis Blues, Ken Hitchcock, and the team’s amazing turn-around since his hiring.

Highly regarded professional hockey coach Ken Hitchcock was out of work for some time when the St. Louis Blues hired him in November, 2011. He had a reputation throughout the National Hockey League as a disciplinarian for many years, and lead with a “my way or the highway” approach. He had a history of conflict with young players who were having trouble adapting to his style of play.

By the time he took over the floundering yet talented Blues hockey club, the positive change in the team was almost instantaneous. At one point in January of 2012, they were on a 21 wins, 6 losses and 2 overtime losses run. The team’s fans and casual observers were impressed with the team’s turnaround, but not totally surprised based on Hitchcock’s history of success.

When Jeremy Rutherford was asked about Hitchcock’s most recent success, his answer was simple and to the point,

“He mellowed”.

He adjusted his coaching style to cater to today’s players. There is still accountability, but the players are not afraid to make one mistake and then have their butt stapled to the bench for an extended period. Two veterans who had previously played for Hitchcock gave the players a head’s up of what to expect from their new coach.

Rutherford described a potential scenario,

“You make one mistake, no problem. You make a second mistake, no problem. You continue to make the same mistake; the coach and player are going to have to find solutions.”

The part of the radio interview that impressed me the most discussed that Coach Hitchcock had studied all 30 teams for several months while he was unemployed. He was preparing for his next opportunity, and waiting for the phone to ring.

Two things stood out for me about this message:

  • He was not just sitting at home waiting for the next job to fall in to his lap
  • He had the positive belief that another role would come his way, and it was only a matter of time
  • Have you ever observed a sport or business team make a remarkable improvement after a coaching or management change?
  • Can you pinpoint specific reasons for the improvement?