Sunday, May 25, 2008

Therrien: If you want to have some success, you have to change everything

Michael Farber has a story in SI this week about the road the Pittsburgh Penguins took to reach the Stanley Cup.  One section of the article really stood out for me.   

Farber writes that the turning point for the then-last place team came in Jan 2006 when, after a Pens loss, head coach Michel Therrien described his team as "pathetic" and "soft," saying "half of the team doesn't care.  I really start to believe their goal is to be the worst defensive squad in the league...."

[Here's a clip of the press conference where he made the comments.  Note his sincerity and genuine frustration.  His comments are clearly authentic.]

According to one Pens player, "We weren't too happy. I don't want to say that it had to be said, but honestly we were a country club. We had missed the playoffs four years in a row. We'd lose seven of eight, win two, lose three more, and after the game we're like, O.K., so we lost to Edmonton, let's go play Columbus tomorrow. This was a wake-up call."

At the professional level, only a respected, veteran coach could make these statements.  A coach has to have the trust and respect of the lockerroom before making a comment like this or he risks losing the team.

The player's quote ("We were a country club.  This was a wake-up call.") is interesting because it shows that the guys on the team accepted what Therrien said.  They were waiting for him to take a stand, put his foot down, and challenge them.  They needed discipline.

Of course, it was a slow climb out of the valley.  At the end of the season during which Therrien made his statement, the Pens won just 22 games.  A year later, the team reached the playoffs.   And, 12 months after that, they won the Eastern Conference title, their first since 1992.

Here's what Therrien told an AP reporter last week about his comments back in 2006:

"When I came to Pittsburgh, the team was in last place.  When you're in last place, there is a reason. They had good players, but the commitment, not only defensively, but the all-around commitment was not there.  If you want to have some success, we had to change everything: the attitude, work ethic, and commitment, because we were going the wrong way."