Monday, July 14, 2008

Ted Nolan and Garth Snow Reach an Impasse

"I feel my continued service aboard can only reduce my usefulness to the Navy...and increase disharmony aboard this ship." --Mister Roberts (1955)

Increased disharmony indeed.

In the 1955 film Mister Roberts, the title character, played by Henry Fonda, solicited a transfer of duty from his captain, played by James Cagney. One can only wonder how instrumental Ted Nolan was in orchestrating his own departure from the Islanders.

One thing certainly can be said about this dismissal/firing/settlement: the Islanders managed to end the Nolan era better than the Mets ended the Willie Randolph era. And Garth Snow benefits from making this change in this media market at a time when the move the Mets made appears to be paying off.

Some fans are expressing outrage, but there is not a universal outcry of injustice. Perhaps it's as simple as we all saw it coming.

But it's remarkable that this story does not seem to be on fire. You get the sense that the fan base not only knew this was coming, but is accepting it—maybe not across the board, but widely enough that there really aren't any flames to be fanned or doused.

But how did we get here?

How does Snow, with so little experience as an executive, get to institute his philosophy while Nolan's successful body of work is shoved aside?

I've yet to be convinced that Charles Wang's way of doing business is going to be beneficial to the franchise. He ignored the traditional standards for hiring a GM. All that was required was familiarity with the game, the intelligence to do the work, and a willingness to do whatever Wang wants. I'm not entirely sure that familiarity with the game is a prerequisite.

Can't you imagine, if Snow vacated the GM position, that Wang might hire someone he likes and thinks is capable regardless of hockey knowledge? Specialty skills and experience? Not required.

On the other hand, dismissing Nolan may have been the most general managery thing Snow has done. Maybe he went to Wang and said, "Look, I'm the GM. I should be able to pick my coach."

Why wouldn't Nolan want to get on board with the program? Did he simply not believe in it? In his exit comments, he stated that he has great respect for what the organization is doing.

So was he simply worried that he would be held accountable for the poor won-loss record of a rebuilding team? More likely, he couldn't stand to have his voice and influence marginalized within the organization. Nor would he have liked to have been told how to run his team.

Nolan is a proud man. Having said that, let's not let it singularly define the man. He is also sharp, pleasant, and engaging, among many other things I'm sure.

But he may be too proud to toe the company line, whether in subscribing to organizational philosophy or in accepting coaching advice. The former should be part of his job description, but the latter should be required only in small and infrequent doses.

On leaving, Nolan doesn't seem particularly aggrieved. But you'd have to think he's unhappy with the way things turned out—unless he was equally unhappy about the way things were.

He said the right things today, which was ironic considering the trouble Snow and Nolan had filtering their public comments over the last few months. Maybe they were filtered, but they certainly weren't veiled. It has been odd to see them passive-aggressively stating their displeasure through the press.

The decision to remove Nolan probably had less to do with how the Islanders performed under his direction than it did with two men being unable to find common ground. It wasn't so much philosophy on the ice as it was divergent definitions of respect off it.

It may have been as simple as Nolan being unwilling to coach without security beyond this year, and the organization being unwilling to give him that security. A matter-of-fact impasse, and a mutual parting of the ways.

That management and coach couldn't get on the same page is a shame. Nolan has a lot to offer as a coach. But he still seems to have a lot to overcome.

Nolan was an NHL outsider. The Islander faithful felt pride in knowing that its team opened the door for this man with a knack for motivating players to get back to the big leagues. But once back in, it continued to feel like Nolan was an outsider.

Would any other NHL team have ever given him a shot? What team other than one starved for recognition and run by an unconventional owner would have opened this door?

Nolan was never perceived as just a hockey coach. He was a player's coach. But that meant that he had the accompanying tag of tactically challenged. And then he favored veterans. So he wasn't a player's coach to all players. Then some of those veteran players apparently didn't appreciate what he had to offer.

He certainly found himself on the outside of the inner circle. At the draft in Ottawa, it looked like Nolan was sitting at the distant relatives' table.

There was sufficient evidence to suggest that this parting was coming. Give credit to the people involved for taking care of it before the timing would have caused even more turbulence for the team.

Many of us wanted Ted Nolan to be the answer. It was a good story that could have become even better. It still doesn't compute entirely that Garth Snow gets to decide that Nolan is not the answer. It's unsettling that stubborn pride could lead a good leader astray.

The ideal solution would have been for coach and management to find a way not to clash. It didn't happen. The ideal now is to get everyone moving in the same direction.

The NHL would benefit from its Long Island franchise gaining traction and momentum. It would also be richer for the continued presence of Ted Nolan.


ken d. said...

Excellent piece as always.

As an aside, I can't really start raking in the sweet scratch unless this blows up publicly. We need a war of words or Logan to reveal a widespread anti-Nolan conspiratorial atmosphere within the organization.

Remember, I trademarked "Ted Nolan firing bungle-fest," not "Ted Nolan calm and orderly dismissal." If only this could have been done at 3 AM, or maybe in a gentleman's club. Damn.

B.D. Gallof said...

Awesome blog. Bravo

Pat said...

Great blog! I'm interested to know who you guys want to replace Teddy? My vote is for John Tortorella!

Check out more Islanders content at my blog:

Islanders Outsider said...

Ken, you may just have to use your blog for evil instead of good.

Thanks, B.D. I really should get around to joining hockeybuzz so I can comment on your stuff. I mean, it's not like it's been a year or anything.

Pat, for now I'll say this: I'm not thrilled with any of the obvious candidates. I'm hoping that the search at least attempts to unearth some new blood. There is plenty of talent at the college and minor league levels, and assistants at the NHL level that should at least be examined. If none of those people are right and it has to be a Maurice, Tortorella, or Hartley, then so be it. But I can easily see those guys not lasting more than 2-3 years, and who needs that? Let's get someone in here to take over the program and stick with it.

Feeway said...

Great blog.
My take is that Nolan didn't want to coach an inexperienced team and then be judged at the end of the season without a contract extension. In my opinon he is right. I believe Ted nolan is the reason we made the plyoffs 2 years ago and stayed in the hunt last season.
As for Garth Snow; lets face it our GM is a backup goaltender that couldn't get the job done in the net when it counted. I don't know what his philosophy is. If he wanted to go with the youth movement then why not trade some of our veterans at the trade deadline last season.
I think we are doomed. Mr. Wang sell the team.

As for the next coach lets put Trottier behind the bench.

Islanders Outsider said...

Thanks for reading and contributing, feeway. Trotts has made it pretty clear that he's comfortable in his current role and is not seeking the head coaching position. I suppose things could change but it seems very unlikely at this point.