"There is a bit of a difference (between coaches), but hockey is hockey no matter what rink you're in. If you can have success coaching in one league, the game doesn't change that much when you come up here. You are maybe dealing with a few more egos here and there, but the game is the same."
It reminds me of a 1988 press conference in Rapid City, S.D., to introduce Flip Saunders as the head coach of the CBA's Rapid City Thrillers where I had been named GM a few days earlier. Flip's predecessor was Tom Nissalke, a former ABA and NBA coach of the year.
Just before the press conference got started, a TV sports reporter pulled me aside and told me candidly that he thought Flip was in "way over his head." [Looking back, I'm sure he thought the same thing of me.]
I'd known Flip for years. He'd played for my Dad at the University of Minnesota. I loved his quiet confidence and sense of humor. After college, Flip coached at tiny Golden Valley Lutheran College, winning 92 of 115 games. His teams were 56-0 at home. After Golden Valley, he worked as an assistant at Minnesota and at Tulsa. He had plenty of experience.
But this reporter discounted Flip's previous success. I'll never forget how he kind of rolled his eyes when I told him that Flip had previous head coaching experience. "Yes, but that was at a small college. This is pro basketball," he said.
Perhaps to the surprise of that reporter, Flip did pretty well in Rapid City. During his time in the CBA, he won more than 250 games, a couple of CBA titles, and two Coach of the Year awards. Not to mention what he's accomplished in the NBA where he's won 60 percent of his games (587-396) and has missed the playoffs just twice in 13 seasons. Only 22 other coaches in NBA history have more wins than he does (and nine of them are in the Hall of Fame).
Not bad for a guy who was "in over his head."