Joel Quenneville’s ending fitting for a coaching legend
Subscribe for unlimited digital access.
Try one month for $1!
Subscribe for unlimited digital access. Try one month for $1!
We’re going to miss “The ’Stache.”
Good old Joel Quenneville, the longtime Blackhawks coach, was fired Tuesday because, basically, the glory years are over and somebody had to take the fall.
What’s that old saying? You can’t fire the team, so fire the coach?
It won’t take long for nostalgia over those three Q-led Stanley Cup crowns in six years — from 2010 to 2015 — to infest fans’ minds and remind them of what they once had. They’ll think about Quenneville’s trademark mustache and his stern, gravelly, near-whisper of a voice with Canadian overtones and think, “Man, we had some hockey in this town.”
Quenneville came in as coach early in the 2008-09 season, and that’s exactly when the Hawks’ rise to success began.
Of course, other things had just happened, too.
Old-fashioned owner Bill Wirtz had died, his older son, Rocky, had taken over, new president John McDonough came in from the Cubs and a couple of whisker-less kids named Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews had arrived like ice presents from the great hockey stork.
“We had some pretty crazy highs,” is how Toews described the Quenneville years.
Boy, didn’t we.
Two million people for a hockey victory rally in June 2010? Why, that’s almost three-quarters of the population of Chicago. And there was a point where even Chicagoans who didn’t know a blue line from a beer line raptly followed every Hawks playoff game on TV.
Times were so good, and Q was so good, but everything ends.
Kane is playing as well as ever, but he’ll turn 30 on Nov. 19. “Captain Serious” Toews, a rock of a leader, is already 30.
Once stellar goaltender Corey Crawford is 33, and sometimes he seems to be in the game physically but miles away mentally.
And Quenneville himself, the man with the Fuller Brush front grille — once black, now almost snow white — is 60. That might not seem old when thinking about, say, baseball managers or CEOs, but it does when you’re replaced by a coach who is 27 years your junior.
General manager Stan Bowman did the axing, with McDonough’s and Wirtz’s blessing, and because Quenneville was so beloved in this town, there had to be a dramatic change.
What better way to make that point than by hiring a guy like Jeremy Colliton, 33, the untested-in-the-big-time former Rockford IceHogs coach who suddenly is the youngest coach in the NHL?
Colliton is the same age as Crawford, which is strange. And he’s younger than Duncan Keith, 35, and two other Hawks.
So salute to youth, rebuilding, new times and God knows what else. Mired in a five-game losing streak, the Hawks have fallen to sixth place in the Central Division. They missed the playoffs last year and were ousted in the first round in 2016 and ’17.
There’s another ancillary saying in sports: You can’t fire the whole front office, so fire the coach. Remember, Q didn’t make the trades, the draft picks, the salary-cap decisions, etc.
Oh, well, he’ll be unemployed for about as short a time as he desires. Maybe he wants to go fishing and play shuffleboard in Florida. But I doubt it.
Isn’t this how it always seems to end, the great times going down in a slow parade of wistfulness and regret, with a touch of anger?
How did it work out for Phil Jackson after his six titles with the Bulls? In some ways, it was incredible that he would leave/be forced out in rancor in 1998 — along with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen — after winning that sixth NBA championship.
Mike Ditka — the only Super Bowl-winning coach in Bears history — was abruptly fired in 1993 after 11 years at the helm. He choked back tears at the news conference, quoting scripture and stating, “This, too, shall pass.”
Ozzie Guillen? The only manager to lead the White Sox to a World Series championship since 1917 and the only one in White Sox history to lead the team to more than one division/league title was fired after eight seasons at the helm. His relationship with GM Ken Williams was intolerable, but Guillen went out mouth blazing.
“They should f—— fire me,” he said in his typical fashion. “Look at what I did. I got a great team that play like s—.”
At least Quenneville didn’t get the news the way longtime Hawks coach Billy Reay did. Reay came home from a road trip just before Christmas in 1976 to reportedly find an envelope under his office door that said he was no longer employed.
Good bye, Joel Quenneville.
You’re a good man in good company.