It's always an exciting time when one is named head coach of a National Hockey League team. But when Tom Renney was awarded the position with the Edmonton Oilers on June 22, the 55-year-old admitted it was a bittersweet day.
That's because Renney was selected to replace Pat Quinn, his good friend who guided the team to a League-worst record of 27-47-8 in 2009-10. Quinn was reassigned within the organization to the position of Senior Hockey Advisor, while Renney was promoted from associate coach to bench boss.
"Initially, I had some mixed emotions with it, having it happen the way it did," Renney told NHL.com. "I admire Pat. But the bottom line is I'm here and it's my turn and I'm ready to go."
Naturally, Renney's biggest challenge will be to instill a winning attitude among players who didn’t win very often a season ago. But the new Oilers coach believes that attitude must be developed for every team in the League during training camp -- not just the ones coming off losing seasons.
"If you're a contender, you've got to be patient with the process," Renney said. "It's like taking a drink out of a fire hose. It's a slow and steady course. You have to stay with it and stay committed to it. You're going to have those moments where patience is huge. I want this team to be really good, really quick. But there is a timetable. I think that's what's most important here. I believe that as a coaching staff and as an organization, we have to bring it along the way we should."
The biggest positive from the Oilers' struggles last season was the ability to draft Taylor Hall with the first pick at the 2010 Entry Draft. Hall, who turns 19 on Nov. 14, had 40 goals and 66 assists in just 57 games for the OHL's Windsor Spitfires last season. His presence could help Edmonton rise up the standings faster than anticipated.
"Turnarounds take time," Renney said. "They take a large degree of patience. If you try to miss steps along the way or force it, it could certainly become detrimental. Having said that, you'd be amazed at how fast it can happen if everybody's on the same page and you are paying attention to the detail and what's required. In our situation, it's not about tweaking something. We're involved with some fundamental changes this year, and that's going to take some time."
Make no mistake -- Renney knows it's his responsibility to keep his young players' headed in the right direction. Sure, there will be some rough nights. But it's vital the Oilers return to the rink the next day ready to put the blades back on. Renney will be joined behind the bench by associate coach Ralph Krueger, Switzerland's Olympic coach, and assistants Kelly Buchberger and Steve Smith.
"I think by my nature, I'm someone they can draw a positive vibe off of," Renney said. "It's not BS. It's legitimate, it's real. The reason I say that is because I know how hard I work and I know what my own attention to detail is and how prepared and organized I try to be. I've never been one to be fearful of getting the very best people to help me. I believe we've done that again. I think the players are going to see right away we're a group of coaches they can really count on. The trick for us is making sure we give ourselves the same sense of our players."
Dave Tippett was able to accomplish just that with the Phoenix Coyotes last season, when he guided them to a 107-point finish and their first playoff appearance in eight years. Can the Oilers be inspired by what Phoenix did a season ago?
"No question," Renney said. "We can be inspired by them, we can be inspired by Chicago, we can be inspired by Pittsburgh, we can be inspired by Washington ... you know, all those teams had really struggled and were at the bottom of the League for a number of years and were able to draft well and put good clubs on the ice. It's a real good opportunity for us to identify with. Phoenix is a classic example, so is Colorado. I'll tell you right now, we want to be good as quickly as we can. There's no reason why we shouldn't think we're a playoff team, too."
It's that very belief that helped Renney guide the New York Rangers to three consecutive playoff appearances from 2006-08. Renney, who is fourth among coaches on the Rangers' all-time wins list (164), is excited about the opportunity to coach in another hockey hotbed.
"There's a little bit of a difference," Renney said. "They're certainly hockey markets, there's no question about that. That's the great thing about New York ... they have such a passionate fan base there. It certainly was a lot of fun being a part of that. (Edmonton's) a Canadian city. In New York, you always had your (18,500) in there for sure. You never had to worry about that. In Edmonton, you could have (28,500) pretty easily. They just love their team. They love the game and they're knowledgeable about it. There's a deep passion for the Oilers here, and it's important to identify with that.
"There's similarities ... the Rangers hadn't made the playoffs for a significant amount of time, and certainly the Oilers have come up short the last three years," Renney continued. "There are certainly similarities there. I think a real opportunity to maybe overcome the expectations that people have of us -- not only here in town, but also outside our city. I don't think we'll be seen as being too successful this year, and I guess I mean that in as positive a way as I could possibly say it. But it actually gives us a chance to go out and do our jobs and maybe make believers out of people. What I want to do is make sure we have a Stanley Cup effort here every single day. At least let's get used to what that's all about. Hopefully we can translate that into the real thing sooner rather than later."
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL