Flyers Fire Simpson And Look To Start Over - Again The Coach Was To Bring Discipline To The Team. But The Playoffs Eluded Them. Rumors Again Are Of Bobby Clarke.

Posted: May 21, 1994

The Flyers rearranged the deck chairs on the Titanic yesterday. Five weeks after the ship sank again.

After missing the NHL playoffs for a fifth straight spring, the Flyers decided that Terry Simpson was not the man to lead them again next season.

So yesterday, five weeks after the regular season ended, they fired their third coach in three years.

In dismissing the tight-lipped, stone-faced, gum-chewing Simpson after only one season, the Flyers took the latest step in their unchecked downturn and created the shortest coaching tenure in the history of this city's once- proudest sports franchise.

In the last five years, the Flyers have gone through upheaval in their front office, at least two major renovations of their roster, the acquisition of $21 million superstar Eric Lindros and five losing seasons. The club that was a flagship of the league from 1975 to 1987 has failed to qualify for postseason play for more consecutive years than any other team in the NHL.

Simpson was hired to change that. He was asked to lead a group of undisciplined but talented young hockey players back to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

It didn't happen. Simpson, who once suggested that he had about as much pizazz as a bowl of cold cereal, arrived in Philadelphia in anonymity and basically will leave the same way, unknown and unmourned.

Amid all this turmoil, the one constant for the Flyers is that the legendary Bobby Clarke always seems to be waiting in the wings.

As he may be now.

With the office of Flyers president vacant, some players - and certainly many fans - long for Clarke, the general manager of the Florida Panthers, to swoop in and somehow restore the luster to a team once proud to be the Broad Street Bullies.

Indeed, there are indications that Clarke, the greatest player in the history of the franchise, will return to his old team next season as president and part owner.

Clarke has said all week that he could not comment on that possibility, and Panthers president Bill Torrey said Thursday that Clarke was still under contract to the Panthers.

However, it's no secret that Flyers owner Ed Snider wants Clarke back in Philadelphia - soon.

Clarke, 45, became the Flyers' general manager in 1984 and was fired by then-president Jay Snider in April 1990. After two seasons as general manager of the Minnesota North Stars, Clarke returned to the Flyers as a senior vice president. He left that job before this season to become general manager of the Panthers.

In the absence of a team president, general manager Russ Farwell would hire a replacement for Simpson.

Head coach of the New York Islanders in 1988 and an NHL assistant coach since then, Simpson had been advertised as a disciplinarian. Halfway through a disappointing season, his young players stopped listening to his instructions.

Simpson, 50, from the western plains of Canada, lasted just 84 games. His record was 35-39-10.

"We've gone through the process and evaluated what happened last year," Farwell said after a five-week front-office consideration of Simpson's season.

"I tried to assess what we could expect this year, and we weren't sure enough that we would see anything different from Terry's approach this past season. I didn't feel we could go forward from that."

So now, five weeks before the NHL draft, the Flyers are without a coach. Or a team president - Jay Snider officially severed his ties with the club on March 1 and has not been replaced.

When the Flyers will announce the hiring of their fourth coach in four seasons is anybody's guess. Farwell said: "We're certainly a ways away."

Farwell gave Simpson the bad news Thursday night. Simpson could not be reached last night. Farwell said he took the news hard.

"It wasn't fully a surprise to him because there's been a lot of speculation," Farwell said. "I can't say he was happy about it, but I don't think it totally shocked him."

Simpson, who had two years left on his contract, has not been offered another position with the club. Simpson had replaced Bill Dineen, who coached the Flyers for less than two seasons - the second-shortest coaching tenure - and then was reassigned as a scout.

Yesterday, Farwell offered few clues about who might replace Simpson. The assistant coaches, Farwell said, will be chosen by the new coach. Simpson's assistants, Mike Eaves and Craig Hartsburg, are candidates for the new coaching staff but have been given permission to seek jobs elsewhere.

Among the candidates who seem likely for consideration are Jay Leach, coach of the Hershey Bears, the Flyers' affiliate in the American Hockey League; Terry Murray, former coach of the Washington Capitals; Barry Melrose, coach of the Los Angeles Kings; Larry Robinson, assistant coach of the New Jersey Devils, and Al Sims, assistant coach of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

Simpson's predecessor, Dineen, had been a relaxed, grandfatherly coach. Simpson was brought in to instill discipline into a young, immature team, one that featured hockey's next superstar, Lindros, and a collection of promising youngsters and grizzled veterans.

Specifically, the Flyers wanted Simpson to teach his prolific young goal- scorers to play defense and keep the puck out of their own net.

Didn't happen, though.

It was 20 years ago Thursday that the Flyers won the first of their back- to-back Stanley Cup championships. Back then, they were the toast of Broad Street.

Today, in a league in which 16 of 26 teams make the playoffs, no team has gone longer than these Flyers without a postseason appearance.

At the end of this season, the players admitted giving up on Simpson. They won only three of their last 11 games.

Farwell said he wants to hire a disciplinarian who can inspire the players to follow a new system. And the age of the coach is not important.

"We're looking for a firm coach, not necessarily a taskmaster, a disciplined man that players will fall (in line) under," Farwell said. "How the team responds to him, that's the element we need."

Getting the players to respond to his system was a big problem for Simpson. The former assistant coach in Winnipeg tried to persuade the Flyers to play a defensive system that created offensive opportunities from solid play in front of their own goaltender.

But after an 11-3 start, the Flyers fell apart. They were the only team in the NHL to have three players score 90 or more points. But they allowed 314 goals, the fourth-highest total in the league and second-highest in the Eastern Conference.

Off the ice, Simpson was unable to bridge the gaps that separated the players. Some of them complained about a lack of responsibility by the team's top players. Others said there was little sense of unity among the players.

Farwell said he didn't see that as much as he saw a team that never really defined itself.

"I was fairly sure that Terry was the right guy, and I thought his style and background and everything would work," Farwell said. "But there were times that we didn't seem to be jelling.

"I don't think there was any time (during the season) that I didn't feel he was the right man for the job. But I wasn't happy with the result."

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