It’s just over six weeks until the Brandon Wheat Kings open training camp and the question remains: Who will be the WHL club’s head coach?
If you read between the lines, it appears the Wheat Kings may go with a familiar face.
"I’ve had conversations with a handful of different people, but not an in-depth interview process at all," said Wheat Kings owner and general manager Kelly McCrimmon, who has been without a head coach since firing Cory Clouston in May. "And I’ve had a pretty good idea in my mind of how I wanted to handle this from the outset and I am working towards that."
Either McCrimmon has someone in mind who he trusts enough to hire without bringing him in for a formal interview, or he is leaning towards filling the position from within the organization, as he has stated was a possibility from Day 1.
Odds are McCrimmon himself will return to the bench, or longtime assistant coach Dwayne Gylywoychuk will finally get his shot.
"I said from the outset that I was going to look internally first," McCrimmon said, confirming that he has spoken with both Gylywoychuk and fellow assistant coach Darren Ritchie about the options he is considering.
"Dwayne and Darren both have, I think, really developed as coaches in our organization and I’ve met with both people ... Past that, I am not going to comment on who I did or didn’t talk to."
While Gylywoychuk couldn’t be reached for comment yesterday, the former Wheat Kings defenceman has previously stated that he would like to be considered for the position. For his part, Ritchie confirmed yesterday that he is not a candidate for the head coaching role, but it’s a position he aspires to fill in the future.
"For sure it’s something that I want to do in the future, (but) right now I am happy being an assistant," Ritchie said, adding that he would welcome more responsibility than he had as part of Clouston’s staff. "I think as an assistant you always want a bigger role, you want to do whatever you can to help the organization get better and if that’s me taking a bigger role, I am obviously ready to do that."
Ritchie has been with the team for five seasons, moving into a full-time role for the first time last year. Meanwhile, Gylywoychuk has worked as an assistant coach with the club since 2003, including serving as McCrimmon’s right-hand man during the seven-plus seasons that he was head coach from spring of 2004 until the end of the 2010-11 season.
McCrimmon chose to step aside in the spring of 2011 and hired a high-profile former NHL head coach in Clouston — with mixed results. Despite top-end talent like WHL most sportsmanlike player Mark Stone and fellow 40-goal scorer Michael Ferland, the Wheat Kings slipped into an extended slump after the Christmas break — losing six in a row on home ice at one point — before rallying to finish with a 39-28-1-4 record. The Wheat Kings upset the Calgary Hitmen in the first round of the playoffs, but were swept by the Edmonton Oil Kings in Round 2.
Clouston remains without a job at this point, although he is believed to be a candidate for the vacant Victoria Royals head coaching position.
After signing a two-year deal with the Wheat Kings last summer, McCrimmon is on the hook for the second year of Clouston’s lucrative salary unless he takes another job. However, McCrimmon said that is not delaying his decision.
"They are completely independent events," he said.
After a one-year break from coaching, McCrimmon could be itching to return to the bench, where he posted an impressive record of 294-155-22-29 since replacing Mike Kelly in the spring of 2004, including four 40-win seasons and a 50-win campaign in Brandon’s Memorial Cup year in 2009-10.
Whatever he decides, an announcement is close.
"We will make a decision soon," McCrimmon said. "It’s nearing completion."
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