Coaching changes typically don’t happen because everything is going great. Sure, there are rare occasions when a coach leaves a team on a winning note — either for retirement or to pursue a more lucrative/high profile job — but usually a coaching change signals that a team is not succeeding.
In some cases, the coaching change is accompanied by a sweeping change in personnel or team-building strategy. But in plenty of cases, the new coach is essentially asked to get more out of the same group of players — the ones whose performance dictated, at least in part, that the old coach was fired.
We have a lot of cases of the latter scenario playing out in the Twin Cities right now.
The Vikings fired offensive line coach Jeff Davidson and brought in Tony Sparano. They added some new personnel but basically they were asking Sparano to take the same players from a below-average unit and make it better. The results have been mixed, with deficiencies being masked in part because of Sam Bradford’s quick release and the defense’s dominance through a 5-0 start.
The Gophers fired offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover and brought in Jay Johnson. Anyone who watched the 14-7 loss to Iowa on Saturday can plainly see the offense is still struggling.
The Timberwolves changed from interim coach Sam Mitchell to Tom Thibodeau. Perhaps that felt like a more natural change because Mitchell was not a permanent hire, but Thibodeau is still being asked to do more with the same core of young players.
But there might be no greater example of a coach being asked to do more with the same group than the Wild and new head coach Bruce Boudreau, starting with the season-opener Thursday at St. Louis.
The Wild added Eric Staal as a top-six forward in the offseason. And the fourth line figures to look different this year than it did last year. But most of the top-nine forwards are holdovers from several years under Mike Yeo. Same goes for the defensemen and goalie Devan Dubnyk.
This was part design and part necessity. It makes a certain amount of sense to keep together a core that has helped the Wild reach the postseason in four consecutive years (including a playoff series win from an underdog role in two of those seasons). But it’s unclear just how much the Wild could have changed its roster (especially for the better) if it really wanted to, based on cap limitations and roster construction.
Essentially, the Wild’s biggest offseason acquisition was Boudreau — they type of proven, veteran coach the franchise eschewed with its previous two head coach hires.
The franchise is counting heavily on his offensive-minded approach to ignite a team that has seemingly struggled to score goals since it came into existence — and to ignite a Minnesota sports audience that has either taken for granted these playoff appearances or is tired of the Wild’s status quo (depending on your perspective).
Has the Wild overachieved, underachieved or properly achieved in the last four seasons? In this case, the change in head coach should at the very least give us a definitive answer to that question.