Texas Stars Fire Coaches, Ruin Lives*

Recently-deceased illustrator Bil Keane’s insipid single-panel comic strip “Family Circus” features a recurring character who causes mischief and mayhem at the expense of the family’s children. This trickster appears only long enough to flee the crime scene, and its only describable feature is the white unitard it wears, which boasts its name on the front: “Not Me.”

Who knocked over the plant?  “Not Me,” says Billy.

Who got crayon on the walls? “Not Me,” says Dolly.

Who’s responsible for the Texas Stars’ last place finish this season? “Not Me,” says team General Manager Scott White.

Did he actually say that? Yes– indirectly. Monday’s firing of first year coaches Jeff Pyle and Jeff Truitt shouted a big “Not Me” for the entire organization, or rather a “Not Us, Them!” After all, someone needs to be held accountable for a 31-win, 29th place season, and it sure as heck isn’t going to be anyone who has been around long enough to take credit for when the team was good.

WINN ‘ER GO HOME

Look, The Two Jeffs couldn’t win games, they couldn’t draw crowds, they couldn’t develop talent, so out the door they should go, right?

Yet the terse, 109 word press release announcing their unemployment said nothing about why Pyle and Truitt were canned, nor should anyone expect it to, but let’s not for a moment confuse the job of an AHL coach with that of a coach who is expected to win hockey games. Coaches in the AHL bear the burden of being curators of the parent team’s precious prospects, readying them for what is hoped will be long, prosperous and –for players and owners –lucrative careers in the NHL.

In many respects the AHL is little more than a series of very fancy and well-organized scrimmages, making Wins a filthy and misleading metric.

Conveniently enough, Pyle and Truitt did not win very often anyway. But as coaches and competitive people, they, along with the players and fans, wanted to win. Even the AHL ownership group wanted to win, assuming a strong link between wins and profits. No one wants to pay to see a losing team!

Well, almost no one. Attendance under coach Pyle’s Texas Stars was the highest it has ever been, averaging 5,470 fans per game– or 130 more per game than last season. In fact, the last ten home games attracted an average of 5,558 fans despite the fact that the team was in dead last, despite the fact that the team had no playoff hopes, and despite the fact that the team won just two of those games.

ARREST THAT DEVELOPMENT!

If they weren’t fired for failing to win, and they weren’t fired for failing to draw crowds, maybe they committed the worst sin of all, and stymied the development of blue-chip prospects like Scott Glennie, Brenden Dillon, and Matt Fraser.

Except Fraser was pretty good. With 37 goals, he was second in the AHL. From a developmental standpoint, Glennie was even better. The reviews on Dillon’s NHL debut against the St. Louis Blues in the last game of the season were positively gushing. Jordie Benn, the former CHLer who seemed doomed to play second-fiddle in the Benn Family Philharmonic, has emerged as NHL-ready. Colton Sceviour has developed into the team’s most complete player. And the next time Ryan Garbutt sees Cedar Park ice, he’ll do so from the Dallas Stars luxury box.

With the exception of Sceviour, all this occurred on Pyle’s watch.

PTO’S FROM TOP TO BOTTOM

When one considers the problems Texas had on defense, in goal, and in offensive depth, and one looks at the personnel solutions given to Pyle by Scott White, one might be surprised Texas won the 31 games that it did. This season White was handing out PTOs like they were shares of Webvan: Berube, Brodie, Campbell, Case, Connolly, Layton, and Lowe, together combined for 52 games and 2 assists.

In 2009-2010, Ned Lukacevic and Cody Chupp together equaled that point production in only 11 games.

In 2010-2011, Kael Mouillerat himself did it in just six games.

The PTO numbers were so bad this season that a conspiracy theorist might suspect Scott White of deliberate sabotage. I’m not a conspiracy theorist however. Nor do I think the man is remotely so cunning or clever. But it does make you wonder if he has lost his skill for finding the right players. Now, I’m not presuming he has this skill, I’m borrowing it from his texasstarshockey.com bio, which proudly boasts that White was “instrumental in building the Texas Stars 2009-10 inaugural season team, which made a run to the 2010 Calder Cup Finals.”

If he takes credit for having built that one, he should accept the blame for building this one.

Instead, he found a handy set of scapegoats in Pyle and Truitt, and we are meant to infer from their pink slips that the causes of all the things that went wrong this season have been removed by White and Company. Fans hesitant to renew their season tickets, and sponsors reluctant to back a loser, can now open their wallets, confident in the knowledge that this cutthroat group of hockey oncologists has thoroughly resected the malignancy.

Who really believes that?  Not me.

PS: Special thanks to Carl Phinney

* The title refers to a Facebook comment posted under the announcement on the Stars’ page that the coaches had been fired; a young girl named Sue wrote “U people just ruined my life!!!!!!!!! Mr.Jeff pyle’s daughter was my best friend and now they r moving back to georgia!!!!!!!”
 
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