“The league has been especially brutal on its coaches this season. We should have seen it coming, when Chicago fired Denis Savard about a week into the campaign. It started then, and hasn’t really let up.”


Fire the coach!

When all else fails — or even when just a little bit fails.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are the latest NHL team to render the ziggy. Michel Therrien got it Sunday, barely eight months after leading his team to the Stanley Cup Gosh Darn Finals, no less.

If that’s what happens to a Cup Finalist less than a year later…

It’s easier, they say, to can the coach than change all the players. Even though, ironically, it’s probably the players who are the cause for the coaching change to begin with.

Therrien was too tough on his players, it’s been theorized. Too strict with the discipline. Too rigid in his insistence that everyone — EVERYONE — play defense. Well, the nerve.

Time to change the messenger.

Former football coach Bum Phillips said it best.

“If they want to fire you, they’ll think of a reason. You’re too nice. You’re too mean.”

And this: “There’s two kinds of coaches: them’s that have BEEN fired, and them’s that are GOING to be fired. And I’ve been both.”

Therrien’s dismissal was accompanied by the usual excuse: his players were beginning to tune him out. Now, Therrien has only been on the job in Pittsburgh since midway through the 2005-06 season, when he took over for Eddie Olczyk, who now gabs into a microphone (and quite nicely, I might add) for network TV hockey coverage. So this was Therrien’s third full season — and the last one of those, as I said, featured a berth in the Cup Finals. Yet three years is like dog years: it might as well be 21, if you’re talking about the patience GMs and owners exhibit with their coaches.

Fire the coach!

So that’s what you can look forward to, if you’re a coach in the NHL. You can look forward to making it to first runner-up, and still end up getting canned less than a year later anyway.

The league has been especially brutal on its coaches this season. We should have seen it coming, when Chicago fired Denis Savard about a week into the campaign. It started then, and hasn’t really let up. Tampa Bay gave Barry Melrose about a month. And that after luring him from his broadcast lair, making a big show of it.

Therrien will be replaced by someone named Dan Bylsma, who was minding his own business, coaching the Pens’ top minor league affiliate, when Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero called him up to The Show. The replacement of Therrien with the minor leaguer Bylsma is a repeat of how Therrien himself came to be the Penguins’ coach; he was coaching in the minors when Olczyk was ziggied. Bylsma, 38, is a former NHL player and assistant coach, and a little research revealed that he was born in Grand Haven, Michigan. Fancy that.

Bylsma immediately started saying things that sounded just like a new coach who’s trying to make an immediate imprint, which he is, of course.

“With the strengths we have, we should be able to go into buildings and make teams deal with the quality of players we have at every position,” Bylsma was quoted on ESPN.com. “I look at a group that can win games right now, and we need to do that. We can do this, but the players have to believe we can do this.”

Yadda, yadda, yadda — right?

And, as scripted, Shero played the role of anguished executioner thusly: “I didn’t like the way, the direction, the team was headed. I’ve watched for a number of weeks and, at the end of the day, the direction is not that I wanted to have here. I wasn’t comfortable, and that’s why the change was made.”

“I can’t quit, you fired me!”

For sure, the Penguins have struggled, especially lately. The straw that broke Therrien’s back was a grisly 6-2 loss in Toronto on Saturday — a game in which the Penguins led, 2-1, going into the third period. Last week I wrote of how feeble the Penguins’ effort was when the Red Wings manhandled them in Pittsburgh on national television. So it’s not like the Penguins don’t have their troubles, because they do. No question. They’re having an awful time of it this season, trying to regain that mojo, and the playoffs are beginning to edge further and further from their grasp. Therrien, I’m sure, can’t be judged an innocent, either. The buck has to stop somewhere.

It all just serves to re-prove a time-worn axiom — one succinctly stated by former Pistons coach Earl Lloyd, shortly after becoming coach following Butch van Breda Kolff’s self-ziggy way back in 1971.

“It’s funny,” Earl said. “But when you sign on to become coach, you’re also signing your own termination papers.'”

Fire the coach!

It can’t hurt…right?