NY Sports Day

A Good Man Lost His Job

On breakup day, after the Rangers were eliminated by the Buffalo Sabres  in 2007, Tom Renney addressed the media. Right after he was finished, I handed him the newest issue of New York Sportscene with an article I wrote on the coach.

Usually when you hand sports figures press on themselves, they take it, thank you, and you never hear about it again. Not this time. A week later, I received a call in the Sportscene office from a girl who worked for the Rangers, saying Renney really liked the story and thanked me for the story. She also asked if he could get copies for his family and friends. Of course, I obliged and send out the extra issues.

That was Renney, a classy gentleman, who was a rarity in the coaching ranks. Over the past four years, I spoke with many people involved in the NHL. To a man, each had glowing things to say about the Rangers coach. And many even said they secretly root for the Rangers, just to see Renney have some success.

That’s why yesterday was such a bitter sweet day for the organization. Businesswise, a change had to be made. The team seemed to tune out Renney over the last few weeks and if winning is the bottom line, something needed to be done. Remember, you can’t fire the players.

But no matter how John Tortorella does as Ranger coach, the organization lost some class yesterday. When Renney took over at the end of 2004, the team was a laughingstock, with no direction, and a place where players came to collect their checks before they retire.

Then came the lockout and a fresh start for Renney. The lockout allowed the coach to mold the team in his own image. Unlike the pseudo-coaches the team employed in the past, Renney was a true hockey man, who brought organization to his practices, while becoming successful in renewing pride in the Blueshirt.

While doing all of that, he treated the players with class and dignity. He first won over Jaromir Jagr, and then Brendan Shanahan, and that allowed the coach to defer the leadership to the dressing room. When the players needed to be motivated, Jagr and Shanahan took care of it. When Aaron Ward and Marek Malik caused disruptions at different times over the years, the Hall of Famers kept it in house and the problems were solved in the room. They were so good at it, they even kept Sean Avery in check, which is no easy task. Just ask the Stars.

Yet, by having two strong personalities like Jagr and Shanahan, Renney was allowed to be an administrator, rather than a disciplinarian. And it proved to be his downfall. When the team chose not to re-sign either player, there was a void at the top. Neither Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, nor Markus Naslund have the personalities or resumes of a Jagr or Shanahan and wouldn’t or couldn’t control the dressing room like their predecessors. And since it wasn’t in Renney’s nature to knock around some heads, the Rangers lacked the fire needed to succeed over an 82 game season.

So Tortorella now comes in and it will be his job to light a fire under the club. It’s a good hiring and a step in the right direction for the Blueshirts, but there is a price. The Rangers may have become a better team yesterday, but lost some class and dignity and that’s something that’s hard to replace.


  1. Chris Wassel

    February 24, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    Renney was a man of class….and well as Larry Brooks will find out again. Torts will not take anything from any media. I do question some of Renney’s treatment of guys like Prucha and Dawes but overall he was a good man and a good coach who just got tuned out. A bittersweet day indeed.

  2. James R. Keenan

    February 24, 2009 at 8:55 pm

    Having attended both the Graves and Bathgate/Howell ceremonies and then having to endure the extremely disappointing losses in the shoot-out (against Atlanta) and in overtime (against Toronto), I had told the fans who were around me before leaving MSG that the defeat was the last straw and that something had to happen soon because time is running out on this season. It is extremely unfortunate that Tom Renney had to go but it probably is the best thing for him. If what I see as a fan frustrates me, God only knows what it must have been doing to Renney as a coach. I also feel sorry for Henrik Lundqvist as he has not received any goal support by his teammates. It is almost like he is expected to record a shutout everynight for the position players to get away with scoring a single goal or two if lucky enough. The Rangers play is too predictable. Badly executed passes out of their end and too many passes or too few quality shots in their opponents zone. As statistics demonstrate the power play is atrocious. Too many players are being beaten to the puck. The only players that I observe who are hustling, hitting, or playing smart are Callahan, Sjostrom, Betts, and Mara. Zherdev looks like he trying out for figure skating at the next Winter Olympics. Rozsival is a Bobble Head doll at the blue line who can not keep the puck in the zone or get a shot on net. I am very sorry Mr. Drury but you will never wear the ‘C’ like Mark Messier. Fifteen game goal droughts and passiveness in the locker room are unacceptable. If Tom Renney could not take charge of the players Drury should have. Other franchises outside of NY have players that earn less money, player harder, and win. I hope that John Tortorella is able to salvage this season. Perhaps the Rangers can still earn a playoff spot but I don’t think the Rangers will advance very far in the playoffs unless something dramatically happens with their power play and overall performance on the road. If they do earn a playoff spot I doubt it will be in the top four for home ice advantage in the first round. Glen Sather and his off season acquisitions is another story. It will be interesting to see what he does this summer. As I have said many years as a Rangers fan, “Let’s look forward to next season.” Good Luck Guys. I am disappointed but still behind you.

  3. Joe McDonald

    February 24, 2009 at 8:59 pm

    Good to see you here, Jim!

  4. Derek

    February 24, 2009 at 11:41 pm

    It’s never fun to see anyone lose their job. I met Renney with my family during the lockout year and he was a very genuine classy person. The same you saw and got to know.

    He brought respectability back to the franchise. Thank you Tom Renney and best of luck in the future.

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