It was reported earlier today that the Great One, Wayne Gretzky, is stepping down from his position as head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes. Yahoo’s Greg Wyshynski has a blog up about The Wayner stepping down.
It’s often said that great players make lousy head coaches in sports, and Gretzky’s Exhibit A. This was a frustrating coda for a stellar career, like Jordan in a Wizards’ jersey. Today marks the day in which the Coyotes have a new chance to compete under new leadership, and the day The Great One starts bringing the focus back to his unparalleled successes in a hockey sweater on the ice rather than his failures in a suit behind the bench.
I’ve got nothing but mad love for Gretzky, as he was the reason I became a Kings fan when I was in high school. He put a face to an otherwise faceless franchise, and made it easier for the average fan to start caring about hockey. L.A. is a star-driven town, and Gretz was the biggest of them all.
That is why it’s time to bring Wayne back into the fold as part of the Los Angeles Kings.
Wait, wait, wait…. I know what you’re already going to say. “What possible good will it do to have him back in Los Angeles?” “He can’t coach, why bother?” “We’ve moved on.” Before all you puckheads get your compression shorts in a wad, hear me out. When the Kings brought back Luc Robitaille and made him President of Business Operations, it was the right decision. Luc helped revamp how the Kings did things behind the scenes. But more importantly, he became the face of the franchise, from the management side of things.
Dean Lombardi is a solid general manager, but every interview I’ve watched of him, he comes off as uncomfortable. Dean doesn’t give many interviews, and the ones that he does give are very business-like. Dean’s a suit, and as much as I find what he says in interesting, he also comes off as a professor teaching probability theory.
Luc, on the other hand, is perfect for that role. The public knows him because he’s played the game. Luc is very polished, and is very accessible to the fans. Plus, he provides that link to the Kings’ past that many franchises would kill to have. Luc’s the greatest left winger in the history of the NHL, how’s that for credibility?
Not only that, but Luc’s brought back one of the Kings true legends back into the fold: Marcel Dionne. For years, relations between Dionne and the club were fractured. It stemmed back from his faling out with then-coach Pat Quinn and then-general manager Rogie Vachon. During his rookie campaign, Luc grew close to Dionne and they remained friends. And when he was in a position, Luc brought Marcel back to the Kingdom, much to the older fans delight. Dionne now serves alongside Rogie as Royal Ambassador.
This is where I see Wayne fitting in. There’s no doubt the Kings have their coaching and scouting sorted out now, after years of disarray. And as much as Wayne is a competitor, he didn’t really have the same kind of impact in management that he did on the ice. I doubt he’ll get another gig coaching in the NHL, but he’s too big a star to become a scout or something else lower in an organization. That’s why Luc should extend an invitation to No. 99 to become another ambassador for the sport here in Los Angeles.
This town loves it’s superstars, and as much as old-school and hardcore Kings fans love Rogie, Marcel and Luc, Wayne provides the biggest opportunity to garner interest of hockey here in Los Angeles. Host hockey camps, shake hands, promote good sportsmanship, anything… if only Gretzky would be willing.
That’s why it’s also time for Gretzky to come to terms with his status as legend. It’s a hard thing to absorb, I’m sure. I really don’t know how I’d deal with that kind of hero worship. I’m pretty sure I’d want to remain humble. But he’s going to have to tear off that Band-Aid and bite the bullet. As evidenced by Luc, Marcel, Rogie and several other L.A. legends, there’s a way to accept that moniker gracefully and respectfully, without losing who you are:
Look at Magic Johnson. After a stellar career was cut short after retiring due to testing positive for HIV, Magic tried his hand at being head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers in 1993-94, and stepped down at the end of the season after L.A. failed to make the playoffs. He bought a percentage of the team, and now makes occasional appearances on behalf of the Lakers. He is beloved throughout LakersLand, and accepted his place in the basketball zeitgeist. His number hangs from the rafters of the Staples Center.
Tommy Lasorda is Mr. Dodger. After serving as coach of the L.A. Dodgers, Tommy tried his hand at being general manager in 1998, when Fred Claire was fired. At the end of the season, he handed the reins over to Kevin Malone. He continues being involved with the franchise to this day. Tommy is all Dodgers, all the time. Not only does his number hang at Dodger Stadium, his likeness hangs in the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.
How about UCLA’s John Wooden? Coach Wooden’s success on the court as coach of the UCLA Bruins is unsurpassed, and he’s treated like royalty, not only from Bruin alums, but across the college basketball landscape and beyond. He’s got awards named after him, buildings named after him, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He still retains the title of Head Men’s Basketball Coach Emeritus at UCLA. There isn’t a more respected coach in all of basketball, college or pros.
Gretzky is already etched on the Mt. Rushmore of the Kings franchise, let’s make it official. Bring Wayne back.