Barry Melrose on coaching the Lightning


In “Dropping the Gloves: Inside the Fiercely Combative World of Professional Hockey,” Barry Melrose discusses his brief return to coaching with the Lighting in 2008.

My new job with Tampa Bay lasted sixteen games. I was done just before Thanksgiving. I couldn’t get the team to play the way I wanted. It was a really crazy situation. The main problem was that the players were friends with the owners. When the players can go directly to the owners about team issues, that’s not a healthy situation. You are trying to instill discipline, and the players are out having a beer with the owners after the game.

Having players friendly with owners is an unhealthy situation that upsets the chemistry in the dressing room. Maybe you aren’t that friendly with the star who is having dinner regularly with the owner. Maybe you start to think he might be throwing you under the bus at those dinners.

Tampa Bay was an impossible scenario for a coach. The players knew it was a screwed-up situation, and I knew it was a screwed-up situation. The owners knew I wasn’t going to change, and I knew they weren’t going to change. After a short period of time, they decided I wasn’t the type of guy they wanted to run their team. I think they consulted with the players. The players didn’t really like the way I was doing things, either, so it was an easy thing for them to let me go.

Today’s players are very powerful. When I coached the L.A. Kings in 1993, there was one millionaire on the team. In Tampa Bay in 2008, there was only one guy on the team who wasn’t a millionaire.

Group ownership is also more difficult to deal with, for both coaches and players. Teams with single owners are better in so many ways. With a single owner, everyone knows where the cheques and the decisions come from, and where the buck stops. There is so much money involved now, so many tough decisions because of things like salary caps, that one voice is a lot more efficient than four or five voices. The most successful sports teams have single owners: Art Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers; Mike Ilitch of the Red Wings; Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins; Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots; the Steinbrenner family of the New York Yankees.

You can’t have it both ways as a coach. You can’t be a disciplinarian and a buddy. You can’t be disciplining guys, trying to convince them to do what you want, and have them out socializing with the owner. My termination was the right call because it wasn’t going to work and everyone could see that.

Calling it quits early was probably the best thing for me, because I could get on with my life without a long interruption, and could pick up with ESPN where I left off.

Excerpted from “Dropping the Gloves: Inside the Fiercely Combative World of Professional Hockey.” Copyright © 2012 Barry Melrose with Roger Vaughan. Published by Fenn/McClelland & Stewart, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.