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Esposé – The Task Of Being Jon Cooper

by Phil Esposito / Tampa Bay Lightning

Jon Cooper arrived last month to become the new head coach of the Lightning, and let me tell you, I think this will be a really good move for the Lightning.

The circumstances under which he came here were tough. I thought Guy Boucher did a good job, he’s a smart man and a good man, and I truly believe he will land on his feet. I don’t think it will be long before he gets another job behind the bench somewhere in the NHL.

As they say though, that’s the nature of the business, which sometimes, is not all that glamorous.

The reality now is that Cooper is head coach and I think he’ll do a great job.

I really didn’t know too much about him to be honest, except that he’s won everywhere he’s gone and I think that says a lot.

I spoke to him a little bit when he was introduced and I think his coaching philosophy is right on.

You look what he did with that team in Norfolk last season, and that was absolutely amazing.

A lot of those guys on that team are up here now, and they’re making an immediate impact. So, that tells you that they’re good players if they’re in the NHL just one year after being in the American League and having success, but it also says something about the coach who motivates each and every player and gets them ready to play.

One thing I noticed by listening to every player and watching their interviews is the phrase that repeatedly popped up.

Every single guy loves him, all they’ve said, is that they’ve never been on a team that is so together. And I have to tell you the truth. That is a direct correlation to the coach.

He’s a players’ coach, they kept saying, which means he relates to his players in a way that makes them want to play hard for him, it means that they respect him, and it means he adapts his style and methods to the players he has in order to get the best out of them.

You look at a guy like Scotty Bowman, one of the all-time greats, and he pushed his players to be great. Guys absolutely hated him, but they respected him, and they played hard for him and wanted to win because of it.

Here, when you look at this situation, guys love him. They’ve gone on the record and said they’d go through a wall for him.

When you have that type of atmosphere in the locker room, where everybody buys in, that can really take a team far. There have been teams I’ve watched that were good, not great, but good, who went far not because of talent but because they had a will to win, they were confident, and all the players believed in what the coach was preaching. To be honest, I see that same situation here with Cooper coming in.

When he was introduced, a lot of people questioned how he would handle the veterans, and so far, I don’t think he’s had a problem.

He has even said they’ve all been very receptive, but the bigger issue here is that these guys are all competitors. They want to win. Period. They want to win, and they will buy in to whatever the game plan is and do it because they don’t like to lose. It’s that simple.

I think it also helps that he came in right away and set the tone early for what he wants to do.

He hadn’t been here for even a few hours and already he was standing at the podium announcing that he was going to screw up Steve Yzerman’s draft pick. He was talking about the playoffs, of course, and that sort of confidence is what the players and fans wanted to hear.

It’s not only what they wanted to hear, but he meant it. He wasn’t just appeasing the fan base. This guy embraced the situation and came here to make the playoffs. If you’re a player on this team, and you’re just several points out of a playoff spot, and a new coach comes in and says he’s here to make the playoffs, then you’re going to respond.

So far, I’ve been pleased.

I think he’s done a good job so far, but honestly, I can’t stress this enough, I cannot wait for next year.

I cannot wait until next year to see what he can do after this team holds a full training camp, with some new guys inevitably coming in, and when we play a full season and we will have had the time to implement some new systems, make some changes and really see our team play the way I know they can play. Because right now, I know for a fact that this team can play better and is better than we’ve seen.

So, I wish Jon Cooper the best of luck for the rest of the season, I think it will be a good test for him to get his feet wet, and I really am excited to see this team next season and in the future.

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