Ned Harkness was a highly successful college coach, mainly at Cornell University, where his star goalie in 1970 was Ken Dryden, who helped the Big Red win the NCAA Championship.
The Red Wings brain trust was led by an executive named Jim Bishop, who was a lacrosse guy, as was Harkness before he made his name in hockey. Bishop decided to make Ned the first NHL coach who made the jump from college, when Bishop hired Harkness in the summer of 1970.
The 1969-70 Red Wings made the playoffs under coach/GM Sid Abel, but apparently Sid's long-standing relationship with the organization meant nothing, as Bishop badly wanted to hire Harkness.
Harkness's rah-rah attitude rubbed the veteran Red Wings the wrong way, to say the least. Then, Ned got into a spat with star center Garry Unger about the length of Unger's hair.
By Christmas, with the losses piling up and the team uninspired, Abel, who was still the GM, became concerned. It was clear that the players despised Harkness.
A 13-0 blowout loss to the Maple Leafs in Toronto on January 2, 1971 was the last straw. Players signed a petition, stating they wouldn't play another game for Harkness, and gave it to Abel. In fact, during the second intermission of that 13-0 game, Unger recalled that Harkness sank to his knees and said to his players, "Why won't you play for me??"
Abel was further incensed when Harkness was quoted as saying that things, basically, weren't his fault. Ned said the organization was "paying for the sins" of the past decade, a direct slam at Abel, who'd been coach and GM during those years.
Abel wanted to fire Harkness, but Bishop and owner Bruce Norris sided with their college man, Harkness.
Abel resigned in protest, and Harkness was promoted to GM. Minor league coach Doug Barkley replaced Harkness behind the bench.
Defenseman Gary Bergman recalled years later that the moment he met Harkness, he knew the team was in trouble.
"He showed up at my house that summer," Bergie said, "and he starts rearranging the furniture in my front room, using them as hockey players. He was trying to sell me on his hockey theories. My wife peeked in, saw the state of the room, and shook her head.
"I knew we were in trouble."
Boy, were they!