Carolina Hurricanes Shouldn't Hire a Former Ron Francis Teammate as Head Coach

Mark Jones@@CanesReportSenior Analyst IMay 12, 2014

Feb 9, 2013; Washington, DC, USA;  Florida Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen looks up at the scoreboard form behind the bench against the Washington Capitals in the first period at Verizon Center. The Capitals won 5-0. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

Over the course of 1,731 games and 23 NHL seasons, new Carolina Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis played with a vast number of teammates.

This summer, as Francis begins his general manager tenure searching for a new head coach, those peer connections have again risen to the forefront.

The list of Francis' former on-ice teammates-turned-coaches is lengthy: Kevin Dineen, Ed Olczyk, Ulf Samuelsson, Dean Evason, Doug Jarvis, Rick Tocchet.

The amount of off-ice coaching success those men have had, however, is minimal. 

It may be great for Francis' social life to choose one of his buddies as head coach—but it would be neither just nor considerable for him to cripple the 'Canes with such cronyism.

Ron Francis speaks at last Monday's press conference.
Ron Francis speaks at last Monday's press conference.Gerry Broome/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press

Of the six, Dineen has had by far the most success behind an NHL bench, but to label his entire coaching tenure with the Florida Panthers as successful is still generous. 

Dineen behind the Panthers bench last season.
Dineen behind the Panthers bench last season.Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images

Dineen, now 50, led the Panthers to their first-ever division title and first playoff appearance in 11 years in 2012. He did so, however, with a loser-point-aided losing record (38-44) and lost to the sixth-seeded New Jersey Devils in the first round. 

The Panthers then floundered to a pathetic 15-33 record in lockout-shortened 2012-13 and to a 3-13 mark to begin 2013-14 before Dineen and staff were fired.

The inexperienced boss, who played with Francis in Hartford from 1984-1991 and in Carolina in 1998-99, admittedly dealt with a severely salary- and talent-lacking squad for the majority of his time in South Florida, but his results were almost equally mediocre.

GENE J. PUSKAR/Associated Press

Olczyk, now a familiar name to all for his analysis on NBC national broadcasts, hasn't coached since 2005, when he finished off the Pittsburgh Penguins' pre-Sidney Crosby era in ugly fashion.

The Pens posted a brutal 23-59 record under Olczyk's guidance (if it could be called such) in 2003-04; following the lockout year, they then began the 2005-06 campaign 8-23—despite rookie Crosby's 31 points in 31 gamesbefore the Olczyk disaster was finally called off. 

Francis spent just two seasons, 1996-97 and 1997-98, as his teammate in Pittsburgh; for the Hurricanes' sake, it's worth hoping that the bond between the pair didn't grow too deep in those two years.

Samuelsson as a Coyotes assistant coach in 2011.
Samuelsson as a Coyotes assistant coach in 2011.Andre Ringuette/Getty Images

Samuelsson has perhaps displayed the most dedication to coaching of the six, leading Swedish club Modo to a 47-49-13 record in 2011-12 and 2012-13 and serving as both a Coyotes and Rangers assistant in the past half-decade, but he's also widely regarded as one of the dirtiest players in NHL history.

Would he toughen up Drayson Bowman? Yes, probably. Would he be able to help Eric Staal's struggling confidence and production much? Doubtful.

Evason played with Francis in Hartford from 1984 to 1991 and currently holds the Kirk Muller-vacated job as head coach of the Milwaukee Admirals (the Nashville Predators' AHL affiliate).

Jarvis also skated alongside Francis in Hartford in 1985-86 and 1986-87 and has been spent eight years as an NHL assistant: 2005-2009 in Montreal and 2010 since in Boston

Tocchet, a teammate of Francis for three seasons in the Steel City, coached two disappointing and forgettable years in Tampa Bay before being axed. The Lightning won a mere 19 games in 2009-10 under his leadership, then improved to 34 in 2010-11, yet it wasn't enough to prolong Tocchet's fate.

Rick Tocchet coaching the Lightning in 2009.
Rick Tocchet coaching the Lightning in 2009.Doug Benc/Getty Images

It's certainly no secret that retired star players often fail miserably in attempts to convert others into stars. Wayne Gretzky stands as a glaringly blatant example of the failed transition, but others such as Butch Goring, Vic Stasiuk, Bryan Trottier and Curt Fraser also experienced similar failures.

GMs around the league today still commit that mistake, though. Colorado's Patrick Roy and his miracle turnaround exists as an exception, not a standard.

Arguably scarier than the embarrassingly weak resumes of Dineen, Olczyk, Samuelsson and the others, however, is the public traction they're gaining in the Hurricanes' coaching search.

TSN's Bob McKenzie stirred the pot with this tweet last week:

Chip Alexander of the News & Observer mentioned Samuelsson's name early in his column last week:

Francis said he could not talk about anyone who is under contract. That could include an assistant coach such as Ulf Samuelsson of the New York Rangers, who are facing the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the playoffs.

Samuelsson and Francis are close friends and once were teammates with the Hartford Whalers and later the Penguins, twice winning the Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh.

Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun also daringly proclaimed Dineen as Carolina's "expected" next head coach:

In an extensive poll conducted by the Canes Country blog, 20 percent of the fanbase voted for Dineen as their first-choice coaching hire—just three percentage points shy of Barry Trotz for the largest majority. Samuelsson accounted for another five percent of the vote.

Kevin Dineen coaching the Panthers at a road game in PNC Arena in 2013.
Kevin Dineen coaching the Panthers at a road game in PNC Arena in 2013.USA TODAY Sportss

Frankness and familiarity are always positive group traits within a professional team management group. 

But now is not the time for the Hurricanes to stay trapped within their comfort zone. Cronyism has too often before trapped the team in a harmful and uncomfortable bind—the brotherhood between Eric, Jordan and even Jared Staal, the friendship between Jim Rutherford and Paul Maurice.

Now is the time for the Hurricanes to add the fresh perspectives of those outside the organization, those with different ideas and different experiences, those most dissimilar to the men who have led the team down this very path to the league basement. 

Francis sits back at the 2013 NHL draft.
Francis sits back at the 2013 NHL draft.Dave Sandford/Getty Images

Ron Francis boldly challenged both himself and the franchise last week with the firing of Kirk Muller and staff. 

He cannot afford to now take a step back into the safe mental prison of familiarity which so haunted his predecessor. 

The hiring of an unqualified former teammate as Carolina's next head coach would be an immense gaffe with possibly irreversible consequences.

 

Mark Jones has been a Carolina Hurricanes Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report since 2009. Visit his profile to read more or follow him on Twitter.