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MIKE PENNER

Wilson Has No Interest in History

September 11, 1993|MIKE PENNER

Fifteen men have gone before Ron Wilson, taking the plunge into the Shark--and Senator--infested waters known as expansion hockey. They are older than Wilson, and they are wizened by their experience, and they can tell tales that would make a rookie coach's toes curl.

Their names and numbers are in the phone book, the advice is free, but so far, Wilson has refrained from calling a single one.

"I'm coming into this without anybody telling me how bad it is," Wilson said Friday, shortly after overseeing the first workouts in the history of the Mighty Ducks.

"At the draft, when my name was being rumored (for the Anaheim coaching job), guys from other teams who have been through this were saying, 'Do you really know what you're getting yourself into? It's going to be hell.'

"I don't want to hear that."

Besides, the NHL employs enough volunteers as it is, only too eager to remind Wilson that a smart man is the one who signs on as the second coach of an expansion franchise.

"You hear that all the time," Wilson said. He has tried his best to ignore it, or at least rationalize a response to it.

To wit:

"I look at this situation, and we have said that we want to be the Dallas Cowboys of hockey. Well, the Cowboys started right off the bat with Tom Landry, and he was there for 20, 25 years. I feel the same way here. They made a commitment to me, and we have a long-term plan we plan on following.

"If I hold up my end of the bargain, then I'm confident we'll follow our plan all the way out."

Unfortunately for Wilson, the NHL has no such Landry-esque model. If Wilson lasts the duration of his three-year contract with the Ducks, he will set a league record for longevity as an expansion coach. The current record holder: Bernie Geoffrion of the Atlanta Flames, 2 1/2 seasons.

"San Jose's coach is already gone," Wilson noted. "Gone in two years."

But two rays of hope.

"They made a commitment in Ottawa to Rick Bowness and the same thing with Terry Crisp in Tampa Bay. They've got long-term contracts. I don't think anything negative is going to happen there, because they're both good coaches, and they work hard."

And, in Anaheim, under Disney ownership, "we're in a different situation than some other teams because I think we're financially sound. This isn't going to be a half-year thing where we've got 6,000 fans in the building, and we've got to try to do something to stir up interest.

"That happens to a lot of teams, but I don't think it will happen here."

To whatever extent it may help him in 1995-96 and 1996-97, Wilson appears to be the right man to kick things off.

He's upbeat, a trait that will come in handy during those 12-game winless streaks.

He's patient, which will be useful during interviews peppered with questions such as, "Is a defenseman considered a forward, or is a forward considered a center?"

He has an imaginative sense of humor, which, one supposes, must be requisite No. 1 when coaching major league hockey players who call themselves Mighty Ducks.

For instance, Wilson has unofficially outlawed the use of the term "expansion team" in his dressing room.

"We're a new team," he reiterated for the benefit of the media Friday. "Just a new team. Expansion teams don't have buildings like this or facilities like this. Everybody who comes into this building is going to be drooling."

On that same subject, Wilson compares coaching expansion players--sorry, "new" players--to Pavlov's relationship with his dog.

"The biggest challenge is convincing people to do things that they've been told for the last five years that they can't do," Wilson said. " 'You can score. You can play. You can pass. You're not just a fourth-liner.

"You're breaking tradition, like Pavlov's dog. You ring the bell and give him food, then you ring the bell and don't give him food. The dog is conditioned to salivate whenever it hears the bell.

"It's the same thing here. When you keep telling someone 'You can't do it,' after awhile they believe it. Now you have to break them out of that, which can be very difficult."

In Ron Wilson's lab, thug Stu Grimson has to believe he's a first-line skater.

In Ron Wilson's lab, Steven King and Tim Sweeney have to believe they're pump-it-in marksmen, potential 25-goal scorers.

In Ron Wilson's lab, the Ducks have to believe they comprise a better outfit than hapless 24-point Ottawa or even respectable 53-point Tampa Bay.

"We're setting our sights on Tampa," Wilson said, "and even more . . . I can't predict how many games we'll win, but I honestly believe we'll be very competitive because we're so big."

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