Wheat Kings owner/general manager Kelly McCrimmon announces his decision to step down as head coach. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
Respected around the Western Hockey League for his shrewd moves in the front office, Kelly McCrimmon has more time to bend the ears of his fellow general managers now.
The Wheat Kings' hiring of former Ottawa Senators bench boss Cory Clouston as their new head coach on Wednesday frees up McCrimmon to pay more attention to his roles as the team's owner and GM. A two-time WHL executive of the year, McCrimmon said despite all of the years he spent in the dual coach/GM role, this is the ideal situation.
"I've said before there would be a time where we would go back to the more traditional structure with a full-time coach and general manager being two different people," said McCrimmon, who has coached the team since firing Mike Kelly late in the 2003-04 season, posting a 294-177-35 record since then. "I thought about it a year ago and yet with the transition I felt our team was going to go through, I didn't think it was fair at that time to bring a person in, and I think hindsight likely demonstrated that that was a good decision."
After a slow start last season, a Wheat Kings team decimated by graduations from the 2010 Memorial Cup squad matured as the winter went on, finishing with a 32-31-1-8 record before losing a hard-fought, first-round playoff series to the Medicine Hat Tigers.
As much as the Wheat Kings' progression led McCrimmon to his decision, another key factor was the emergence of a candidate with the credentials of Clouston, a former coach with the WHL's Kootenay Ice who spent two and a half seasons in the National Hockey League with the Senators before being let go this spring.
"Cory's availability was obviously what gave this decision legs," McCrimmon said. "We had talked two or three days after he was let go in Ottawa. We knew that he would have a process to go through, interviewing with other NHL teams for opportunities that might become available and it was as simple at that time as 'If the music stops and you don't have a chair, lets talk.' And really, outside of some casual conversation along the way in between, it really never came together until just kind of the 20th of July onward is when we started talking and ... it did feel like it made some sense."
With a young core of talent, McCrimmon said he's excited to see what the upcoming season will bring, but he admits he'll miss certain aspects of coaching.
"I think probably game nights. That's the closest you get to playing the game is coaching the game and you have a different perspective as a coach than you do as a manager," said McCrimmon, who has had two stints as the Wheat Kings' head coach and is second to Bobby Lowes in most club victories with 330.
"And yet, I coached seven years, that's what this run has been and never planned on coaching at all. I dive into things and I know that I'm excited about channelling my efforts to other areas of the organization and look forward to doing that and am excited about the upcoming season."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 4, 2011 B1