It is an off-season process that goes back to Dallas Eakins’ time with the Toronto Maple Leafs organization. In the summer, when other head coaches may be out enjoying what little down time a hockey career can afford them, Eakins is out searching for that next piece of information to help make him and his team better.
“It will never end,” the Edmonton Oilers head coach said. “If I am fortunate enough to still be coaching when I am into my sixties I will still be doing this. I am not going to be a guy who just sits back and puts my feet up and says I basically know how to do everything here and we’ll just keep running this along. I am always going to be looking for a better way to enhance our program. It’s something that will never end.”
In his endless search for his own self improvement and overall professional growth, Eakins turns to other coaches, and not just in hockey. In this year’s summer of learning, Eakins chose to visit with Dallas Cowboys Head Coach Jason Garrett and his staff. On the syllabus? A closer look at how Garrett interacts with his larger staff, and dealing with the media attention the Dallas market boasts.
“I targeted the Cowboys because they are a team that is a highly followed with a ton of media. They’ve got a ton of supporters and a lot of critics. I thought with the media machine that follows the Cowboys it would be interesting to talk to Jason Garrett about it. Secondly, I wanted to see how he handles such a huge staff and a huge amount of players and how all of that comes together, how it moves through practice and how their weeks were scheduled. I looked at how they’re training their guys and I looked at their whole operation.”
Eakins also visited University of Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel to see how he was able to help rebuild their program and how he manages his own staff.
“He took a program that was suffering and he, over time, has turned it into a very successful one and one that looks like it’s going to be a top program,” Eakins said.
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“I met numerous incredible coaches. This just isn’t about Jason Garrett and Gary Pinkel. Each one of these men has over 20 coaches working underneath them and guys of unbelievable experience and personalities. You end up taking a lot of information in and you sit back and see if it applies to your trade and to our teams.”
Eakins sees the growth of NHL coaching staffs from where they once were. As those staffs continue to grow larger, head coaches will have to evolve their management techniques. That is the thought process of why Eakins chose to shadow and learn from football coaches.
“Our staffs in hockey are slowly getting bigger and bigger,” he said. “Some teams didn’t even have strength coaches and now teams have two and three. Some teams used to have just one assistant coach. Now most teams have three assistants. We’ve added an analytical part to our hockey operations staff. We currently have one video coordinator and he has an assistant under him. The therapy part of hockey is expanding. It was an easy thing for me. I just took a quick look around for who had the largest staffs and it was football. It was a very easy choice to make.”
By shadowing football staffs, Eakins has even more respect for their attention to detail in dealing with the large groups of personnel.
“The attention to detail for both of the football teams was incredible and it’s because you have a coach running a staff of 20-plus coaches, strength coaches, video guys, he’s got his athletic therapists and then under that at these training camps you’ve got (around 90-100) players. If there is any weak link anywhere on the staff then it will crumble and it will crumble quickly. It was interesting to watch the interaction with the head coach, with the assistants, with the associates and the special teams and all of the coaches and how that all comes together, how detailed it has to be and how they speak to the players. It was reaffirming on some levels we’re on the right path. We've got to continue on with those things and then there are some things we may want to tweak.”
For Eakins, this summer has not only been educational but it has also fortified his belief that the team is doing a lot of the right things to progress forward.
“Some of this is not so much getting something new but it’s reaffirming that we are doing a lot of things right and we are preaching the right attributes of building a good program.”
The information gathering for the bench boss will of course continue, renewed each and every season.
“I’ve always been reaching out and doing my best to have an open mind on different ways to do things or see things and see if I think they can apply to my hockey teams. In the end it is never so much for me, it ends up being for the players and it’s all about preparing these players to win and giving them an edge in the game.”