Brother Karsh's Column for LetsGoPens.com
June 13, 2003
So, can he coach?
It's the easiest question to ask based on such scant experience and, if an answer could quickly fill in the blank, the whole story would wrap itself up in a nice little package. It would also let Penguin fans quickly and quietly return to another extended offseason of frustration, although that story's better left for another time.
Sadly, there is no immediate answer to the already well-worn question regarding the Penguins' new head coach (their fourth in the last six years, if you're keeping score). However, it seems safe to say that if the above ends up being the only question to take center stage this offseason, the terrorists win.
Or something like that.
That Ed Olczykor as he's better known to Fox Sports Pittsburgh viewers, The Great Edzohas no coaching experience is only part of the larger story and to concentrate solely on whether he will or will not succeed is to unnecessarily narrow your depth of field. It also suggests that he was only hired to coach the team when it's undoubtedly not that simple.
With this hire, the Penguins have immediately put themselves in a win/win situation with regards to the coaching they'll get on the ice. This team was miserable last season and by all accounts they're going to be just as miserable next year as well, perhaps even more so. The expectations are so low that if Olczyk can simply avoid, say, getting caught kissing college co-eds, betting big money in an NCAA Tournament pool, or guiding the team to more than a couple of ten game losing streaks, his tenure will probably be considered a success.
To be sure, that's not asking a whole lot, but that's where this team is these days. Still, it begs the question, if his performance behind the bench isn't the primary reason for his hire, what is?
The answer probably, regrettably, involves basic public relations.
For years now the Penguins have treated public relations the way a six year-old treats dental hygiene. There's a lot of hemming and hawing, some shuffling, some backpedaling, and then the occasional tantrum. It's one of the reasons the Penguins often appear less like the cuddly water-fowl that inspired Walter Lantz to create Chilly Willy and more like one of those doped-up birds at the zoo who does precious little to earn the twenty-spot you dropped at the door.
Cursedly, it's not as if the Penguins have just been losing the P.R. campaign in Pittsburgh for a few months. No, they've been losing it for a few years. They've become so well-versed in the art of floundering that at times they make the Pirates look like they've got their act together.
The truth is, you don't need a Harvard MBA to understand the basic financial landscape in Allegheny County. Your MBA can stand for 'Master of Burger Administration' and it can have come courtesy of a kids meal at an Eat 'n Park and you will still be more than qualified to grasp the fact that a new arena for the Penguins is a good thing for more than just this hockey team. Why? Because unlike Heinz Field and PNC Park, a new Igloo would not be dedicated solely to one tenant or one sport. You put far fewer car shows, conventions, and Christina Aguilera concerts in baseball stadiums than you do in multi-purpose arenas. Not to mention what events invariably do when they can choose between a new building with modern amenities and one that may be an architectural marvel, but is still decades out of date.
Yet the Penguins seem unable to make this case to save their flightless little hides. And that's just part of the problem.
The rest involves the Penguins' stiff-upper-lip approach to the fact that the structure of the NHL is quietly running them out of business and that they staunchly refuse to get past their mission statement that was penned in 1984 and simply states, "Mario = $avior."
So along comes Edzo. Someone who like his predecessor, will work cheap, is grateful for the opportunity, and comes from the Penguin family. But where Rick Kehoe was a step up from Ivan Hlinkain that Kehoe spoke English as a first languageOlczyk is a step up from Kehoe because he's ready, willing, and able to both speak up and speak out.
Yes, despite the efforts of so many to elevate the Toby Petersens of the world to the status of cult hero, Olczyk may currently rank behind only Mario Lemieux as the most recognizable and articulate member of the Penguin flock. And while that may seem a rather specious reason to hand someone the keys to your hockey team, don't forget the Penguins' state of affairs.
As General Manager Craig Patrick succinctly stated it when he announced Olczyk's arrival, Olczyk is someone who is "the perfect guy for our situation." A "situation" that is, by the Penguins' own admission, "survival mode."
For the Penguins it's not about winning the battle, it's about not losing the war.
Most of the coaches that fans and perhaps even players wanted to see up for this job wanted nothing to do with it. So the Penguins gave the position to someone who not only wanted it, badly, but to someone who would sell it, daily.
There is, of course, a downside to a move like this. It is that, once again, it appears that Craig Patrick is incapable of looking beyond the palace gates to fill an organizational vacancy. Also, the exhaustive search for just the right person we were all lead to believe was underway now rings with about as much truth to it as Patrick's claims after the Alexei Kovalev auction.
Oh, and this does nothing to allay the fear that the Old Boy Network in Pittsburgh is alive and well either.
But whereas Rome might have burned in a day, it sure wasn't built that way. Thus if hiring The Great Edzo is merely the installing of a P.T. Barnum-like showman, someone who has the ability to get the town to step right up and lend an ear because no one will want to miss the fantastic spectacle that's about to start in Pittsburghwell, if that's the case, frankly, it could be a whole lot worse.
After all, when you're trying to introduce the term 'public' to the term 'relations,' the relationship has to start somewhere.
Brother Karsh appears weekly at LGP.com during the season and still struggles to cope with the vast right wing conspiracy that provides television commentators preferential coaching consideration over Internet columnists.
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