Tuesday, May 13, 2008

San Jose Fires Coach Ron Wilson

The San Jose Sharks have fired coach Ron Wilson. Wilson was a success as the Sharks coaching for four and a half seasons to a record of 206-135-45 which has been erroneously reported as a .533 winning percentage in many places (including here - it is in fact a .592 winning percentage). Wilson is eighth all time in coaching wins and ninth in all time coaching games. He led the Sharks to the Pacific Division title this year. By all reasonable measures he did a good job as coach. And yet he was fired.

Wilson was fired because San Jose is yet to have significant post season success in his tenure. At least that is the commonly held excuse. In 2004, he led San Jose to the semi-finals. Since then, San Jose has lost in the second round three years in a row. That's right, San Jose has gone two or three rounds into the playoffs in each full season he has coached them. That should be considered successful. The problem is expectation. Because San Jose has been successful, people expect further growth. They expected a San Jose Sharks finals run. I am not sure why they should have expected that. I cannot think of any season where I thought San Jose was the best team in the league or the best team in the West Conference. There were a few seasons where I thought they were one of the better teams in their conference and with some luck might be able to make a deep playoff run. That luck wasn't there. Was it Ron Wilson's fault? I don't see any convincing argument for that, but nevertheless he is blamed. Blamed for what? For coaching a team that was so good that we thought it might make a deep playoff run, but had only (that's a good achievement!) made the final eight in the last three years.

For San Jose to do better, in terms of coaching, next season they will have to find a better coach than Ron Wilson. That isn't an easy task. It looks like the usual suspects on the NHL coaching merry-go-round are available. They can hire Joel Quenneville, Barry Melrose, Bob Hartley, Paul Maurice or some equivalent. In many of those cases it is a significant step downwards.

It is argued, incorrectly, that teams need to fire their coach every now and again because teams "tune out" the coach. That argument is poor. If Ron Wilson was "tuned out" when he led his team to the Pacific Division title, then I cannot see how being "tuned out" is a problem. Most teams are envious of the Sharks success under their "tuned out" coach.

The Sharks will have a change at coach. Change can be good and change can be bad. More than likely, the new coach will be a worse coach than Wilson. In that case change would be bad. That said, San Jose with a slightly worse coach should still be a good enough team that they might have a deep playoff run. Should that happen, I am sure we will all be there to give undeserved credit to the coach who happens to be there and applaud the move to fire Wilson.

Ron Wilson is a top candidate to fill other coaching vacancies in the NHL and a team will do well to hire him. You likely made a mistake if the coach you just fired is quickly hired by another team. The coach you fired should not be the best unemployed coaching prospect out there. That is no way to improve a team.

Finally, I want to speak about the outright statistical lie in the press release about Ron Wilson (that Sharkspage quoted. Ron Wilson had a 206-134-45 record as San Jose coach. The way the NHL calculated winning percentages this is a .592 winning percentage. It is quoted in the press release as a .535 winning percentage. You only get that value if you assume that all the regulation ties in his San Jose career are counted as losses - then he has a 206-179 record. This is not the way the NHL does this calculation. The Sharks or NHL people who released that press release are playing fast and loose with the definition of winning percentage. This is a problem with the way the NHL defines the stat. There is enough fuzziness in the definition to cheat in press release and although you are lying the lie is one that can be defended. However, if the Sharks must lie about Ron Wilson's success to give him a dishonestly low winning percentage, it goes to show how poor the decision to fire him is.

Here is the TSN story on Wilson's firing which also has the dishonestly low winning percentage in it.

The reason I started reading hockey blogs was that ll the major media outlets all quoted the same CP or other wire story and had nothing original to contribute.

By the way, how is the winning % calculated? I get .605 = 206/(134+206)

(206*2+45)/(2*(206+135+45)) = .592


The problem is regulation ties have replaced ties in the last few years making a situation where the "average" team is above .500.
Well at least Ron Wilson will hopefully be available to coach Team USA in Vancouver next year.
1) Coaches, much like players are judged by how they do/don't do in the post season when the games matter most. Fair or not, its reality.
If you judge people by poor methods you will make mistakes. San Jose made one.

For what its worth, only one team has won one or more playoff series in the last 3 playoffs. That team is San Jose. In fact they have a streak of 4 years winning at least one playoff series. That's not the normal way to evaluate playoff success, but it shows that San Jose has not been unsuccessful in the playoffs.
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