Yesterday, two NHL head coaches lost their jobs. Amazingly, neither one was named Scott Arniel or Randy Carlyle. The infamously foul-mouthed Bruce Boudreau was sent packing in favour of Capitals legend Dale Hunter, while Paul Maurice was fired from the Carolina Hurricanes for the second time in his career and was replaced by Kirk Muller, best known for his days playing for the Devils and Canadiens.
This kicked off some discussion over how coaching jobs are rarely safe in the NHL. Sure, Boudreau’s Capitals are in 8th place in the Eastern Conference, but they’re also only 3 points back of first in the Southeast Division and the underlying numbers suggest they’re likely to trend upward in the near future. So, time to put money on Dale Hunter for the Jack Adams, I guess.
The longest serving coach in the NHL right now is Lindy Ruff of the Buffalo Sabres, who started with the organization in 1997. This means he’s been with the team longer than any of the players, which is a rarity. Next is Barry Trotz, who started coaching the Nashville Predators in 1998, the same year David Legwand was drafted and played one game. After those two, however, the tenures get a lot shorter: Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings and Randy Carlyle of the Anaheim Ducks both started coaching in 2005 out of the lockout.
Babcock is extremely unlikely to lose his job, but Carlyle might be on thin ice: the Ducks have lost five straight and are just one point ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets while sporting a worse goal differential. If Carlyle gets fired, the next longest serving coach would be Alain Vigneault of the Vancouver Canucks, who was hired just five years ago.
Hammering the point home is the oft-repeated fact that Guy Boucher, hired just last year, is now the longest serving coach in the Southeast Division.
This got me thinking: are NHL coaching jobs the least safe in professional sports? How do the tenures of NHL coaches compare to those of the NBA, NFL, and MLB? There seems to be a belief that NHL coaches don’t last as long as coaches in other sports, that they have the shortest leash in professional sports.
It turns out that’s not the case at all.
The longest serving head coach in the four major professional leagues in North America is Gregg Popovich, who has coached the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs since 1996. The next longest tenured coach in the NBA is Doc Rivers of the Boston Celtics, who has been with the organization since 2004. The NBA saw 8 new coaches hired this year.
In the NFL, the longest serving coach is Andy Reid of the Philadelphia Eagles, who has been their head coach since 1999, and fans are currently calling for his dismissal. He’s followed closely by Bill Belichick, who has been the head coach of the New England Patriots since 2000. 6 coaches have been hired in 2011 in the NFL.
As for Major League Baseball, which is known for its tradition and history, it has seen a remarkable amount of turnover. The longest serving manager is Mike Scioscia of the most ludicrously-named team in professional sports: The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, which translates to The The Angels Angels of Anaheim. He’s been their manager since 2000, with the next longest serving manager being Ron Gardenhire of the Minnesota Twins, who has been their manager since 2002. As of now, the 2012 MLB season will see at least 5 new managers.
Admittedly, 2011 has seen 9 new coaches in the NHL, with a couple of other coaches in trouble, but they also have 2 of the 3 longest-serving head coaches in North American professional sports.
26 out of 32 teams in the NFL, 26 out of 30 in the NBA, 27 out of 30 in MLB, and 26 out of 30 in the NHL have had new coaches/managers hired in the last 5 years. If we shrink that to the last 2 years, the NBA has the highest percentage of coach turnover, with over half of their teams, 16 out of 30, hiring new coaches. Baseball is next, with nearly half, 14 out of 30, with the NHL close behind at 13 of their 30 teams hiring new coaches. The NFL has the lowest percentage, but 11 of their 32 teams have still hired new coaches in the last two years.
It turns out that job security is an issue in all professional sports, not just the NHL. All four of the major professional sports leagues in North America have a large amount of turnover at the head coaching/managing position.