As he looked at the two newly retired numbers of Harry Howell and Andy Bathgate from the “Garden Eyebrow,” something clicked during Rangers’ overtime loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs in Glen Sather’s mind.
It was time to change the coach.
“I’ve been thinking about it probably the last couple of week,” Sather said in a conference call. “I could see the team starting to slide and, after the start that we had at the beginning of the year and the way we were playing and moving and controlling the puck, the game just started to erode and I thought sooner or later we were going to have to do something. I wish that it hadn’t have come to this, but it did. The last two or three games it was pretty obvious that we had to have something done.”
So when Sather arrived at the MSG Training Center, he dismissed coach Tom Renney and assistant Perry Pearn and began the negotiations with former Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella. In a matter of hours, a “multi-year” deal was hammered out and the 50 year-old Boston native became the 34th coach of the Blueshirts.
“Torts is certainly a lot more fiery and a lot different as a coach,” Sather said. “I think that he’s going to bring that fiery attitude and a lot of games we seemed to be missing it. It’s certainly not a sleight against Tom. It’s two entirely different styles.”
Make no mistake, Tortorella is a perfect coach for the Rangers. Not only does the new coach give the team a much needed kick in the pants, he’s perfect for New York. Outspoken, and willing get in the players and the media faces, it’s Sather’s hope he can jumpstart the Rangers this season, while building a foundation for years to come.
Even more importantly, he goes against type for Sather, who seemed to like coaches who won’t challenge his authority. During his almost nine years on 33rd Street, the general manager hired a buddy [Ron Low], a rookie [Bryan Trottier], a company man [Renney], and, of course, himself. It remains to be seen if Tortorella will mesh with Sather, but the general manager doesn’t seem concerned.
“I think he has a reputation that proceeds him,” Sather said. “He also has a history with Jim Schoenfeld. They know each other very well and Jim, of course, knows me very well. He thinks our attitudes and desires are going to mesh quite easily. Our philosophies are the same. I know that John works hard. He’s very demanding. I like that. He’s going to bring some of those things back to our game on the ice. We need it at this stage.”
Tortorella was actually Schoenfeld’s assistant coach with Phoenix during 1997-99, now the situation will be reversed as the Rangers assistant general manager will take Pearn’s place on the coaching staff on an interim basis. Sather said Schoenfeld was never a candidate for the job, although his name was rumored to be one.
As was Tortorella’s, who was with the Rangers organization where he was John Muckler’s assistant during 1999-2000. After Muckler was fired with four games left, the new Rangers coach took over the team for the rest of the year, going 0-3-1. Sather was hired shortly afterwards and Tortorella was let go.
“I didn’t know John at all at that point,” Sather recalled. “I talked to John a little bit, and one of the things I thought was he was really honest and said that they’d done such a poor job, they deserved to be fired. I liked that approach that he was honest and accepting what happened. I guess in retrospect you can look back and say, you know, that it would have been smart to keep him.
“But that was eight and a half years ago now. Things have a way of coming full circle. I know that he’s always been interested in the Rangers and he’s always loved to be here and coach here, so I’m looking forward to getting to know him very well.”
Moving away from the Rangers gave Tortorella a chance to become an accomplished head coach. During his seven seasons in Tampa Bay, he amassed a -222-36-38 record in 535 games with four consecutive playoff appearances and one Stanley Cup win in 2004. That season he also won the Jack Adams Award for top coach in the league.
Now, Tortorella will take over the slumping Rangers. The new coach will have to figure out how to get slumping veterans Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, and Wade Redden. He may also have to contend with Sean Avery, whom the coach blasted in TSN in Canada when Avery was suspended back in December.
“I think you always have to be cognizant of the fact that coaches have opinions about players and people in different organizations at different times can have the history with Sean that we do, Sather said. “I think that, over time, you learn to love him just like I have. That’s going to be something we’re going to have to deal with.”
As will the Ranger players as they get to meet their new coach tomorrow, when Tortorella runs his first practice.