As is the nature of a losing team, we are seeing the beginnings of the circling vultures. John Davidson was the first major leadership change and, as he starts to make his choices (goodbye Scott Howson) eyes are constantly turning to “who is next?” It seems this week begins the focus on Head Coach Todd Richards. While I have no idea what the future will hold for the current coach (who is beginning year 1 of a 2 year contract) I felt it important to consider some things that can/may influence what Richards’ fate will be…some are more obvious than others.
This is the easy part…sort of. “Winning fixes everything”. If Richards finds a way to bring in a record that is in line with or exceeds the expectations of management, he gets to stay. It is interesting to note that if wins come only late in the season, once “the pressure is off”, well, John Davidson is on to that trick. At the recent Q&A with season ticket holders John Davidson specifically mentioned that winning when the pressure is ON is what matters and that that is how you evaluate true performance.
Other than wins, what will be important to examine is the system Richards brings to Columbus. The dump and chase has had middling results thus far, so it will be interesting to see if this system sticks, evolves, and, most importantly, if it jives with Davidson’s and Jarmo’s expectations for the structure of this team.
Another comment that has been raised is conditioning. There was some buzz about a Richards’ quote that last night against Phoenix, he was hard pressed to find someone to go who wasn’t breathing hard. Usually this would fall squarely on the coaching and conditioning staff, but this year, while certainly disconcerting, this (lack of) preparation lies with the players themselves who were challenged to stay in game shape during the lockout.
Something that I have found interesting is how Richards’ talks about motivating players. We have heard quotes such as “(sic) if players are looking to me to motivate them…they are going to have to look elsewhere”. Now this is an interesting tactic by Richards and it could cut one of two ways. First, and perhaps most pessimistic, Richards saw the writing on the wall and is going to distance himself from the possible debacle of this season to protect his future.
Second, and perhaps more intriguing, is if this is part of the overall plan. If you buy into JD and “brick by brick” you’ve heard JD say he’s evaluating every aspect of the organization top to bottom. Of course this includes Richards, but it is my opinion that the most important part of that puzzle is the players on our current roster. We know there needs to be a culture change and, this is much harder than introducing 3-4 new players to the locker room. Perhaps Richards distancing himself from the players as we strive towards the “never be outworked” era, is to put the boys squarely in the spotlight. This is a new day – and if the message to players is that they now must perform without the shelter of a coach or a GM, the excuses are being stripped away. Much has been made of the fact that the Blue Jackets have long been without an identity – JD is starting to define what he wants, he’s now looking to see if he has players here right now who have what it takes. If you want to go into the theory of all that, it’s asking your managers to be enablers versus controllers.
Another prominent theory is that the new guy always brings in “his guys”. This is true because it happens – but it doesn’t always happen. In fact, if you look to a lot of businesses, there is a theory that you “Don’t parachute in a new team of top managers. Work with the existing managers and draw on people who share your vision,” (Forbes). Some may say ‘well that’s business this is sports’, but the events of the past year should have only reinforced your understanding that sports is just another business at the end the of the day.
I believe it’s also important to consider “change for the better” versus “change for change’s sake”. When you consider the recent moves by the CBJ, they fall squarely in the latter category. John Davidson brings the organization credibility, respect and a proven resume. Jarmo again brought accolades and documented success in the areas we lack expertise: drafting and development. Right now, there are seemingly not high-caliber head coaching candidates being ignored. Further, the Blue Jackets have introduced 6 head coaches in 6 years. Too much change leads to instability, lack of confidence, and inability to perform as the standards are always a moving target.
Ultimately, this conversation is just beginning. Todd Richards’ fate will be decided by much more experienced minds than mine for reasons I may never understand. Arguably, should significant coaching names become available in the coming year, I think that will perk interest more. But I think that we discredit ourselves if we look at this as inevitable.