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Fired Crawford thought issues had been resolved

Coach acknowledges "difficult meetings" with GM Lombardi, but he is still stunned by the Kings' decision.

June 12, 2008|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

Fired Kings coach Marc Crawford acknowledged that there were "difficult meetings" at the end of the season with his boss, General Manager Dean Lombardi, an obvious byproduct of a highly disappointing showing on the ice.

Still, Crawford thought they had moved past those concerns.

"I was wrong," Crawford said in a telephone interview with The Times on Wednesday.

That was brought home when Lombardi informed a stunned Crawford on Tuesday that he would not be returning for a third season behind the Kings' bench.

The Kings finished well out of playoff contention in Crawford's two seasons, and were second-to-last overall this season, for a combined 59-84-21 record.

Crawford, who has 470 NHL victories as a head coach over 13 seasons with three teams, said his staff came over to his house Tuesday to commiserate and that he was heartened by a telephone call from captain and veteran defenseman Rob Blake.

Not only does the 47-year-old Crawford have a year left on his contract, but he revealed that he has an option year on top of that.

"I still want to coach," he said. "I think I'm a very good coach. I'll get back on the horse."

Crawford took the high road and said he respected Lombardi's decision and acknowledged he "didn't do a good enough job" as the team's coach. He also said he felt comfortable with management's decision to accelerate the youth movement, adding, "I was OK with that."

"I love everything about this team, great ownership, great fans, great young players," he said.

Another key issue of concern was whether his coaching style was too abrasive and unforgiving in terms of going forward with the Kings' youngsters. Crawford, who won a Stanley Cup while coaching a veteran group in Colorado, rejected that notion.

"No way was that the case," he said. "My style has been very successful. For me to change who I am is just not right. The younger players played great."

As for his successor, he spoke highly of his close friend and longtime associate coach Mike Johnston, who was with him in Vancouver as they rebuilt the Canucks.

In Tuesday's conference call, Lombardi said Johnston was a contender for the coaching vacancy, and Crawford thought that Johnston was set to talk with Lombardi on Wednesday in a series of meetings with the coaching staff.

There are four other coaching vacancies in the NHL and among the hot prospects are minor league coach Kevin Dineen and Kitchener junior coach Peter DeBoer, although DeBoer has been linked to the position in Ottawa.

Crawford gave Johnston an unqualified endorsement, saying: "He's one of the best hires I've made."

And, a day after his firing, Crawford was able to show a sense of humor. "We've been together the last eight years," he said of Johnston. "It's about time he gets rid of me."

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lisa.dillman@latimes.com

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