The Wild was playing the 55th game of its 15th regular season on Saturday afternoon. When it lost, Mike Yeo became the team’s first coach to be dismissed during a season.
John Torchetti was summoned from Iowa to serve as the interim coach, even though the Wild’s farm club in Des Moines has been woeful. The Wild will be playing its 1,170th regular season game on Monday night in Vancouver and Torchetti will be the franchise’s fourth head coach.
This is a considerable contrast to Minnesota’s previous NHL franchise, the North Stars. They started as a franchise in the fall of 1967, and Charlie Burns became the team’s fourth head coach in the 182nd game of their history.
That’s counting Wren Blair twice. He was the general manager and coach in the first 74-game season, gave the job to John Muckler early in the second season [1968-69], took it back after 35 games, and then stepped aside again for Charlie Burns 32 games into the 1969-70 season.
Replacing a coach in the middle of a season might seem as though it’s a dramatic action with Yeo and the Wild. It was barely a headline on the front sports page of a Twin Cities newspaper during the first two decades of the North Stars’ 26-year existence.
To repeat: Muckler replaced Blair early in the 1968-69 season, Blair fired Muckler after 35 games and took the job back, and then Blair appointed Burns to replace him halfway through the 1969-70 season.
After which: Parker McDonald replaced Jack Gordon during the 1973-74 season, Gordon (then the GM) returned for 1974-75 only to replace himself with Burns, Andre Beaulieu replaced Ted Harris in 1977, new hockey boss Louie Nanne replaced Beaulieu with 29 games left in 1977-78, Glen Sonmor replaced Harry Howell 11 games into 1978-79, Muzz Oliver replaced Sonmor in 1982-83, Sonmor replaced Bill Mahoney in 1984-85, and Sonmor replaced Lorne Henning at the end of the 1986-87 season.
I think that’s all of them: Eleven in-season coaching changes during the North Stars’ first 20 seasons in Bloomington.
Muckler, Harris, Beaulieu, Mahoney and Henning were Yeo-like, in-season firings. Blair and Gordon replaced themselves, Sonmor ran into trouble with drink (for which he received treatment and became a sobriety crusader), and Howell quickly found out that he didn’t want to be a coach.
There was almost coaching stability during the North Stars’ last half-dozen years before they departed for the hockey hotbed of Dallas. The three coaches all made it through full seasons – one for Herb Brooks, two for Pierre Page and three for Bob Gainey.
That means the last in-season firing of an NHL coach around here prior to Yeo came on March 31, 1987, and it was an all-timer. Nanne fired Lorne Henning and replaced him with Sonmor with two games remaining in the regular season.
Louie was desperate to join the elite 16 clubs advancing to the playoffs in a 21-team NHL. The North Stars were locked in a battle for fourth with Toronto in the Norris Division, where all five teams were destined to finish below the 80-point mark that designated a .500 record.
Sonmor managed a tie with the Blackhawks and a loss in St. Louis. The Stars finished with the same 70 points as Toronto, but the Maple Leafs won the tie-breaker with 32 wins compared to 30.
The first two rounds were played within the division, and Louie’s theory that advancement was possible if the Stars could have squeezed into the playoffs was not misplaced. The Maple Leafs defeated division-winning St. Louis in the first round before losing to Detroit.
The Timberwolves have not been challengers to the North Stars when it comes to in-season coaching changes, although they have had five: Sidney Lowe for Jimmy Rodgers in 1993-94, Flip Saunders for Bill Blair in 1995-96, Kevin McHale for Saunders in 2004-05, Randy Wittman for Dwane Casey in 2006-07, and McHale for Wittman in 2008-09.
McHale replaced Wittman on Dec. 8, 2008. Since then, the coaches have stayed through their full seasons: Kurt Rambis for two, Rick Adelman for three (although he missed a portion of a season due to his wife’s health and Terry Porter served as coach), and Flip for one before his death.
Presumably, Sam Mitchell will get the final one-third of this season to see if there is more progression or if regression appears with the youthful nucleus.
Even with in-season firings becalmed in the chaotic coaching leagues of the NHL and the NBA in these parts, there has been a bit of history made in that area with other major sports entities:
Brad Childress became the second coach in Vikings history to be fired in-season on Nov. 23, 2010, with the Purple at 3-7. Dennis Green was the first, and that came with one game left in 2001 – and with The Sheriff insisting that he had resigned.
Tim Brewster became the first Gophers football coach to be fired in-season on Oct. 17, 2010 with a 1-6 record. Dan Monson also was the first Gophers’ men’s basketball coach to be fired in-season on Nov. 30, 2006, although it was passed off as a resignation.
Jim Dutcher did resign in-season on Jan. 26, 1986, after the U of M administration decided to forfeit a game at Northwestern following a rape accusation against three players in Madison, Wis. The three were later acquitted.
The Twins? I jotted down the in-season managerial changes from memory:
Sam Mele for Cookie Lavagetto in 1961 (season one in Minnesota), Cal Ermer for Mele in 1967, Frank Quilici (at age 33) for Bill Rigney in 1972, Johnny Goryl for Gene Mauch in 1980, Billy Gardner for Goryl in 1981, Ray Miller for Gardner in 1985, and Tom Kelly for Miller in 1986.
All those in-season managerial changes were firings, other than Mauch’s sudden resignation in late August of 1980.