It’s hard to say when the seeds of this move were planted. Yeo had been under fire in pretty much every season he’d coached at some point, so you really could pick any point.
For me, though, the antenna went up about 2 ½ months ago. The Wild was in the midst of a mini-slump, and Yeo tried to shake things up at a practice. Veterans Zach Parise and Ryan Suter indicated afterward that they weren’t crazy about the approach, with Suter uttering the line, “It’s easy to coach and be a leader when things are going good.”
That was an indication of tension between Yeo and his two best players — guys who are on long-term contracts and mean a lot to the franchise.
The Wild actually went on a nice run right after that, but it lasted only about a month. The team hit a nastier skid after that temporary respite — a slide that included struggles from many key players — and Yeo won’t get any more chances to pull the team out of it.
The most impressive thing about Yeo as a coach had been his ability to survive. As noted, he was on the hot seat (or at least the brink of it) plenty of times. But until Saturday’s news, he was the longest-tenured current coach in the Twin Cities among these six teams: Wild, Timberwolves, Twins, Vikings, Gophers football and Gophers men’s basketball.
That distinction now goes to none other than Richard Pitino, who was hired fewer than three years ago. If we’re only talking the four pro sports, it’s Mike Zimmer (hired barely two years ago).
It’s rare to stay in a job a long time these days without getting questions about job security. I guess all you need to do is win three WNBA titles, like Cheryl Reeve (hired in December 2009 by the Lynx).
John Torchetti, promoted by the Wild to be interim head coach, has the perfect nickname for this franchise: Torch. Because right now, there are two directions things can go:
1) Torch lights a fire under players and he rallies the Wild to at least make the playoffs, keeping some semblance of the status quo intact for next year and beyond.
2) Torch proves this wasn’t Yeo’s fault, the Wild sinks even further and after the season the Wild burns things down with a major staffing and roster overhaul.
There is precedent in this market for the latter, and it isn’t pretty. Remember the 2004-05 Wolves, the 2010 Vikings and the 2011 Twins? All of them kept rosters intact from a successful season the prior year. All of them failed badly in the year stated, and two of them fired coaches midyear.
And all of them are just finally starting to pull out of the abyss in their own ways.
So as bad as the past six weeks have been for the Wild as an organization, the next two months are even more critical for this year and beyond.