Ranking the 5 Worst Coaches in Pittsburgh Penguins History
With a coaching history that includes all-time greats Herb Brooks and Scotty Bowman, one normally equates the Pittsburgh Penguins with great coaches. However, that has not always been the case.
Now 47 years removed from their founding as an expansion club in 1967, the Pens may be remembered for their great coaches, but they’ve had their share of bad ones as well.
While it should be remembered that having a bad record doesn't make someone a bad coach any more than having a great record makes someone a great coach—see: Ivan Hlinka—records don't lie and the Pens' coaching history has had its share of dark ages.
While the root causes of their struggles are open for debate, let's look at the five worst coaches in Pittsburgh Penguins history.
5. Rick Kehoe
Despite the early success that NHL legend Patrick Roy has had thus far as the head coach for the Colorado Avalanche, being a great player doesn't guarantee success as a head coach and Rick Kehoe stands as proof of that.
After playing 11 seasons with the Pens before retiring in 1985 as the leading scorer in franchise history, Kehoe would spend the next 17 seasons as a scout or assistant coach with the team and seemed to be a natural successor to Ivan Hlinka when he was promoted to head coach in 2001.
Unfortunately, the deck was stacked against Kehoe, as he took over a Pens team that had just traded away Jaromir Jagr for little in return and was further hampered by injuries to Mario Lemieux, who would play in only 24 of 82 games during the 2001-2002 season.
The next season, despite Lemieux's return to health and eighth-place finish in the scoring race, Kehoe was once again the victim of circumstances as general manager Craig Patrick—desperate to keep the Pens out of bankruptcy—was forced to unload top talents Alexei Kovalev and Jan Hrdina in one-sided trades.
Despite having kept the Pens competitive in the face of insurmountable adversity, Kehoe was replaced as head coach of the Pens in the summer of 2003 having compiled a record of 55-81-14 and a .419 winning percentage during his only stint as an NHL head coach.
4. Bob Berry
Although some of his predecessors could have claimed that they didn't have talented players on their roster, Bob Berry had no such excuse during his time as head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Hired just five days before the Pens would select Mario Lemieux with the first overall pick at the 1984 NHL draft, Berry was charged with molding the team into a playoff contender after missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.
While Lemieux was even better than hoped, the Pens failed to make the playoffs not only in his rookie season, but also in the following two campaigns despite a strong nucleus of 30-plus-goal scorers Warren Young, Mike Bullard and Doug Shedden.
With frustration mounting and attendance lagging, the Pens fired Berry immediately after the 1986-87 season, having amassed a record of 88-127-25 and a .419 winning percentage.
3. George "Red" Sullivan
While Bob Berry's teams failed to meet lofty expectations, one would think that the expectations for an expansion franchise in its infancy would not be nearly as high.
Yet, somehow, George "Red" Sullivan's teams failed to meet them. After just two seasons as the Pens' head coach, he was shown the door.
As a player, Sullivan had experienced his share of ups and downs in the NHL and was nearly killed when Doug Harvey of the Montreal Canadiens speared him in the stomach and ruptured his spleen.
Charged with making an upstart franchise credible, Sullivan arrived in Pittsburgh after four unspectacular seasons as the head coach of the New York Rangers, but his Pens teams fared no better.
After just two seasons, a record of 47-79-24 and a .393 winning percentage, Sullivan was replaced by another "Red"—Leonard Patrick "Red" Kelly—who would guide the Pens to their first postseason appearance the next season and vindicate the switch.
2. Ed Olczyk
Sometimes, good guys get put in bad situations and Ed Olczyk definitely falls into that category regarding his coaching tenure with the Penguins.
Having played parts of two seasons in Pittsburgh alongside Mario Lemieux, "Edzo" had a natural rapport with the team's captain/owner and was serving as the Pens' color commentator when he was selected to be head coach in 2003.
Saddled with a roster that reflected the franchise's financial troubles, Olczyk was forced to try to make something out of nothing, but was unable to do so. The Pens finished in last place.
After the NHL lockout in 2004, the team entered the 2005-06 season with high expectations having selected Sidney Crosby with the first overall pick in the draft and signed veterans Mark Recchi, John LeClair, Ziggy Palffy and Sergei Gonchar.
Unfortunately, the 2005-06 Pens struggled right out of the gate, as the older veterans didn't mesh well with the younger players and Olczyk proved to be incapable of bridging the gap.
On December 15, 2005, Olczyk was replaced as head coach by Michel Therrien and left the Pens with a record of 31-64-14 and a miserable .274 winning percentage.
1. Lou Angotti
If there was ever a coach who was set up for failure, it was Lou Angotti.
Having played 10 seasons in the NHL and parts of two seasons as the head coach of the St. Louis Blues in 1974 and 1975, Angotti was hired to be the Penguins' head coach before the 1983-84 season—not to win games, but to manage a dismantling.
Coming off a last-place finish the previous season and with the highly touted prospect and projected top overall pick Mario Lemieux breaking records in the QMJHL, Pens management decided to unload its top players and tank the season in the hopes of getting the first selection in the 1984 draft.
Intent on revamping their entire roster by acquiring prospects and draft picks, the Pens made 10 trades during the 1983-84 season and ensured a last-place finish by losing 16 of their last 20 games.
After selecting Lemieux with the first of their three first-round selections, the Pens dismissed Angotti, who left Pittsburgh after just one season with a record of 16-58-6 and a franchise-worst .232 winning percentage.