One of the great sporting headscratchers in the last decade was the Tampa Bay Lightning's decision to hire ESPN NHL analyst Barry Melrose to be their head coach in 2008, a full 13 years after he last stood behind an NHL bench. The mulleted one's stint as Lightning head coach was nothing short of a disaster. Melrose was fired after 16 games and the ugliness continued afterwards with Melrose and Lightning ownership throwing barbs at one another including the fired coach saying, "I hope Tampa Bay doesn't win a game in the next year."
Just as fast as you could say Vincent LeCavalier, Melrose was back on ESPN less than two months after his Tampa Bay dismissal and moved on with his television career analyzing the NHL like nothing ever happened.
But Melrose's time on the Lightning bench interrupting a lenghty television career remains one of the stranger stories in recent memory. And it just so happens Barry Claus dropped a Christmas gift off at ESPN.com with a published excerpt about his Lightning tenurefrom an autobiography Melrose released this fall. In the excerpt, Melrose confirms what we all knew - it was never going to work from the start.
"Tampa Bay was an impossible scenario for a coach. The players knew it was a screwed-up situation, and I knew it was a screwed-up situation. The owners knew I wasn’t going to change, and I knew they weren’t going to change. After a short period of time, they decided I wasn’t the type of guy they wanted to run their team. I think they consulted with the players. The players didn’t really like the way I was doing things, either, so it was an easy thing for them to let me go.
Today’s players are very powerful. When I coached the L.A. Kings in 1993, there was one millionaire on the team. In Tampa Bay in 2008, there was only one guy on the team who wasn’t a millionaire.
You can’t have it both ways as a coach. You can’t be a disciplinarian and a buddy. You can’t be disciplining guys, trying to convince them to do what you want, and have them out socializing with the owner. My termination was the right call because it wasn’t going to work and everyone could see that.
Calling it quits early was probably the best thing for me, because I could get on with my life without a long interruption, and could pick up with ESPN where I left off."
A couple questions immediately come to mind. Why would ESPN.com publish an excerpt from Melrose's book more than two months after it was released. Also, why would you publish it on Christmas Day if you were hoping to draw any publicity for it? Honestly, I had no idea Barry Melrose even wrote a book until I saw a tiny headline well down the ESPN.com front page last night. You would have thought Barry Claus would have found a way to get more publicity for his autobiography than the days of hype ESPN gave Billy Crystal for Parental Guidance. Oh well.
Regardless, it seems like those wounds haven't fully healed as Melrose still does his best to deflect the blame onto owners and players while sliding in the fact that he knew it was a "screwed-up situation." Melrose is good on television and he never should have left in the first place. His TV career at ESPN has lasted more than four times longer than his tenure as an NHL coach. Being dismissed from Tampa Bay and returning to Bristol was the best option for all involved.
Besides, dressing up as Santa Claus and handing out imaginary presents for the purposes of television and making sporadic appearances on the rare chance ESPN talks hockey has to be a much less stressful life for Barry Melrose.