Snider: Firing wasn't his decision

Posted: October 09, 2013

HE STARTED OFF like Jack Nicholson in "A Few Good Men," snapping at his questioners as if they were petulant employees, outraged at even the insinuation that another early-season coaching change was indicative of a franchise that had again lost its way, a franchise structured on short-term successes and volatile changeover.

Someone asked about going through 11 coaches over the last 20 years and Ed Snider practically sneered. "Why do you want to go back to all of those coaches?" the Flyers chairman said. "There was a reason each time. The general manager at the time, and Paul [Holmgren] now, made decisions. They felt that we needed coaching changes, and they made them. Period. That's it."

Not nearly. For nearly an hour, on the podium and off, the conversation went on with commas and question marks, but no periods. He was grilled about everything, why Peter Laviolette was fired just three games into the season, why another homegrown coach "steeped in the team's culture" would replace him, why he and his executives believe they have a roster that anyone outside of that culture should be excited about.

And when he finally recoiled a second time through the back doors of the Hall of Fame Club at the Wells Fargo Center, the sneer was long gone. Snider seemed as bewildered as the rest of us, content to drop this latest episode squarely on the lap of his latest general manager, sounding more like a frustrated fan of his team than he did its impatient owner.

"Paul Holmgren's the general manager," Snider said. "He hired the coach, and it's his job to evaluate the coach, not mine. I want to make that perfectly clear. A lot of people think that I come in and say, 'You've got to fire the coach.' No, I don't. I've never done that."

Now 80, Snider and his sergeants have succeeded for decades in framing the debate over whether the Flyers are the town's most successful or its most disappointing team. You've heard it, I've heard it: The Flyers almost always make the playoffs, the Flyers have been in the Stanley Cup finals six times since their back-to-back Cup victories. No owner spends more, no owner wants to win more, no one on earth suffers more when they don't than Mr. Snider.

It's all true and it has allowed him, until very recently, to escape much of the vitriol fans and media have heaped upon those running the Eagles or the Phillies, even as they too spend, care and suffer through near-misses.

Andy Reid survived 14 years here without a championship. Lightly regarded when he took the helm in 2005, Charlie Manuel almost made it through nine seasons despite the disappointments of 2009, 2010 and 2011 and the slide below mediocrity over the last two seasons.

The Flyers have hired and fired two coaches, Ken Hitchcock and Peter Laviolette, who won a Stanley Cup with another team. Hitchcock was let go eight games into the 2006-07 season, and now Laviolette has the record, with three games gone in this one. The Flyers fired another coach, Mike Keenan, who went on to win a Stanley Cup somewhere else.

Almost always after bouncing one of those pedigreed guys, they have promoted former Flyers weaned as coaches in their system. Guys such as Bill Barber, John Stevens, and now Craig Berube. Over their 11 coaches in a 20-season span, they have fallen in and out of love with systems and styles, have tried to be big and tough one year, slight and speedy within a few years of that.

Sometimes, they catch the lightning bug inside the bottle and reach the finals. In most of those cases, they were deemed overachievers, and faced a team that was significantly better on paper, the way the Blackhawks were in 2010. They did not churn through the best teams in their conference that year, either. Both Pittsburgh and Washington were upset in grueling early rounds.

No doubt you need luck to win a Cup. But the idea that the Flyers have been more unlucky than lucky over the 38 years is as great a leap of faith as believing the Flyers' problems traced to a coach who led them to the finals just three seasons ago. That team had Chris Pronger, Danny Briere, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. This one has Claude Giroux and a whole lot of guys who have created as much doubt about their potential as excitement.

"Unfortunately in the business we're in, the only way to find out is to make a change," Snider said. "You can't get rid of all the players. This is why coaches lose their jobs, and sometimes lose them because of the players. But we don't know that until we make a change. Sometimes we're right and sometimes we're wrong. We think our players are better than they've looked."

And if they're not? Since Holmgren built the roster, how does Snider evaluate the job his GM is doing?

"I'll let you know," Snider said before exiting. "Right now we think we have better players than we've seen."


On Twitter: @samdonnellon

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