Is this an inappropriate time for a "pull my finger joke? It is? Oh, never mind then.
With the season circling the bowl, everyone on the web seems to have a great idea of what went wrong, and how to fix it. Yesterday, we discussed what Brent Burns means to this team, and what the fall out of a trade might look like. Today, we look at the next of what seems to be a secret list of Wild fan talking points for when things go badly.
Yes, today we discuss Todd Richards, head coach of your Minnesota Wild.
Was Richards the right choice when he was hired? Would things be different if Dave Tippet had been hired? Could any coach shy of Scotty Bowman been able to make this team do what he wanted them to do? So many questions, all of them completely hypothetical and impossible to answer with any certainty.
Sounds like the perfect chance for a discussion. Join me, will you?
Hiring Todd Richards
When Richards was hired, there were other options. Namely, the aforementioned Dave Tippet who is enjoying some strong success in Phoenix right now. However, the new GM already had his man in mind when he was hired himself. Quotes from the time said that all of the GM candidates had Richards on their short list of who to hire to be the coach.
Richards had already proven his worth as an assistant coach for winning programs. Coaching in the Penquins organization and with San Jose, Richards had the pedigree. We were told that if Dan Bylsma hadn't been installed mid-season in Pittsburgh, it would have been Todd Richards after the season.
Big praise for a guy who had never been a head coach. Though, he had never missed the playoffs in his professional career. Ever. That sounded good to us, and with a new GM coming in, it made sense to give the rookie his shot. Build a team for him, give him the reigns, and let him sink or swim.
Not only was Richards the only real choice at that point, he was the right choice. Dave Tippet is a defense first coach, and Chuck Fletcher is not a defense first GM. For all of you asking where the team would be with Dave Tippet, you may as well have just stuck with Jacques Lemaire.
Maybe they would win more, but they would be "boring" and it would not have been any semblance of the change fans were demanding. Yes... fans. YOU demanded a coach that put a premium on offense. The team listened. This is, at least in part, your fault.
Keeping Todd Richards
Within two months of being hired, fans were calling for his head. Not the reasonable fans, but fans nonetheless. Seems the belief was that a new coach equaled winning immediately. After all, it worked in Phoenix, and it worked in Pittsburgh. It has to work here, too, right?
No. It didn't, and the fans were angry. Fire Richards! He's to blame for all of this! Never mind the new system, new GM, new players. None of that matters, fire the guy after giving him three weeks and eight games to prove his worth. Hell, the Fire Childress campaign worked, and Minnesotans finally got the taste of blood. They were hungry for more.
Rightfully so, Richards kept his job. The season improved, then it fell apart. Richards bag skated the team, albeit a bit too late for it to matter. The organization went into the offseason having missed the playoffs for the second straight year, but with fans grudgingly accepting Richards wasn't going anywhere.
Then, this season began, and the Wild started losing. Again. The Fire Richards campaign was back again. This time, even the media had doubts he would survive, including your humble author. He again sent the team through a skate for the ages.
The team responded... sort of. Play improved, the team actually won some games, and Todd Richards was once again safe. Then, the team went on a tear, winning games they had no business winning. Richards, and his assistants, were praised. Jack Adams be damned, Todd Richards was the man.
Now, the wheels have fallen off, the team is in the toilet, they have no doubt given up on the season, and the blame falls squarely at the feet of Richards. Again.
Firing Todd Richards
The solution is clear, right? Fire Todd Richards. Get rid of this bum. He has lost control of the team, yet again, and is simply a terrible coach. That's the feeling out there, right?
Todd Richards can only do so much. At some point, the players have to man up and play the damn game. March does not seem the appropriate time for a coach to need to be involved in motivating the players. A playoff race, momentum, and a team playing very well. Seems to me they should have seen what they were playing for, come together as men, put on their big boy pants, and got the job done.
They didn't. They fell apart. Should Richards have put them through a bag skate? Perhaps. What would it have accomplished, other than giving the image of him trying "everything he can do?" My bet is even if put through a Herb Brooksian work out after the loss to the Habs, the Wild still would have come out last night and laid an egg.
The players simply don't care. As I did yesterday, I will point you back to your office. Anyone at your job that just doesn't care? Think that person can be motivated by threats? You're wrong. They can't. They don't care, and they won't care. Ever.
Todd Richards will take the blame for this. As any manager knows, the heat falls on him for the failures of his team. The players can't be fired, the coach can. It's not always fair, nor deserved, but it is the way of pro sports.
Richards has not meshed well with this group. I say that without any inside information or details on his relationships with the guys inside the room. I say that based completely on what I see on the ice. The team performs well, it looks to be their doing, not his. They perform poorly, again, them not him.
The job of the coach is to be in charge. The team has to respond to him, and to his instructions. They have to want to play for him. Love him or hate him, he has to motivate them, and they have to find a way to hang on to that motivation for more than an hour.
Todd Richards is a good man. He is a Minnesotan (why are you all so opposed to him? He's one of us!). He will be a great coach, but it doesn't appear he will be a great coach in Minnesota. For the same reasons I cannot believe the Golden Gopher coaches continue to be extended after losing, I just don't see Fletcher extending Todd Richards.
A new coach brings new blood, new ideas. It wipes the slate clean, yet again. As much as I like the guy, and think he deserves to be around when Fletcher actually builds a team for the system Richards plays, I just don't think Fletcher can do it without the fire moving under his own chair.
The current group of players don't seem to care, so I'm not sure what a new coach can do to change that. That said, something has to change, and the easiest way to change the situation is to remove the coach. I don't want to see him fired, but I'm just not sure it is an option to keep him around.