Employers seeking top-end employees sometimes use off-the-wall questions or stunts to elicit fresh responses from the applicant. Seahawks coaches have asked prospective draftees, like punter Michael Dickson, to engage in a staring contest to see how long he could go without blinking. It was test for intensity, because if a player blinks in the NFL, he’ll likely lose.
Former Mariners CEO John Ellis, fearing he was about to lose managerial candidate Lou Piniella, worked up an indignant look and said, “I think you’re afraid of this job. I think you think you can’t do it.” Ellis pushed the right button.
General manager Ron Francis offered up no such clever ploys in the hiring of Dave Hakstol as the Kraken’s first head coach. But he did admit to favoring long, two-part questions to see how Hakstol tracked information.
“The thing that really was impressive to me was the fact that you could tell he listened,” Francis said after the Thursday morning presser introduced the much-anticipated hire. “He would answer the first question very clearly and concisely. Then he would say, ‘As to your second question . . .’ , he would answer that very clearly and concisely.
“That told me he has very good listening skills, and very good ability to communicate. In hockey, there’s unique situations that come up fast in a short period of time. You have to listen to what the players are asking about and give them an answer.”
There’s also times when it’s important to know when to shut up.
As in the last several months, when the National Hockey League was abuzz with names of candidates for the Kraken vacancy. From Yellowknife to Gander to Los Angeles, fans and media offered up almost every popular hockey figure but Paul Newman.
“Dave just didn’t talk about it to anybody,” Francis said of the candidacy. “When you don’t do that, it doesn’t get out there.”
Huh. Is that how it works?
Who knew this trick?
Well, actually, one guy.
When Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke was running the Seahawks in 2010, nobody found out he was poaching USC’s popular football coach (his nickname: “King of LA”) practically until Carroll’s gum-snapping was heard as approached the podium for the first time at the VMAC.
Turned out that was the last time Carroll had nothing to say. Well, until Russell Wilson’s complaints about the 2020 season went public. But that silence was different. Kind of like the school marm who stared down the class’s smartest boy after he swore out loud.
Leiweke Thursday studiously avoided taking credit for the secrecy, or anything else about the hire, deferring to Francis, whom he hired two years ago.
“When you have a hockey hall of famer and two-time Stanley Cup champion, you step aside,” Leiweke said, referring to the resume of Francis. “All I know is after meeting Dave’s (wife and son) last night for the first time, I slept like a baby.”
Absent similar privilege, the rest of us must take the words of Francis and Leiweke about Hakstol’s virtues, because his NHL head coaching resume is modest, and as a player he never made it out of the minor leagues.
He coached the Philadelphia Flyers to a four-year record of 134-101-42 (.560), including two playoff appearances that each ended in the first round. He was fired part-way into the 2018-19 season after a losing streak, proving the Philly critics right; then-GM Ron Hextall, they said, was nuts for expecting a successful college coach to jump straight to a top job in the NHL. Hadn’t been tried in the NHL for 33 seasons.
The rhetoric is familiar for those who were around when the Seahawks hired Carroll. He also was an early pro disappointment, getting fired from the Jets and Patriots before discovering his coaching truths at USC.
Regarding the Flyers firing, Francis acknowledged that the length and pace of an NHL season was a hard adjustment for Hakstol, 52 and an Alberta native. He spent the previous 15 seasons coaching at his alma mater, the University of North Dakota, the final 11 as head coach from 2004-15. North Dakota reached the Frozen Four seven times, he was twice coach of the year, and had 30 players reach the NHL.
But college pucks, Hakstol agreed, wasn’t big-boy pucks.
“There’s a different rhythm to the National Hockey League,” he said. “On almost every realm, from the 82-game schedule to the pace of the daily business, to on-ice and the pace of the game. So the experience was very valuable. There are a lot of things that I solidified and really cemented in terms of my philosophies.
“There are other things where you grow, you learn, and you develop. All of those experiences, not just over the last six years, are very valuable in terms of how I apply those going forward. Especially with the opportunity here to work with Ron.”
Francis acknowledged his belief in the second-chance notion of coaching. Leiweke does too; in fact, he believes in third chances for expansion teams. When he was the boss of the Seattle Sounders, he hired Sigi Schmid, who had MLS tenures with the Los Angeles Galaxy and Columbus Crew, as the expansion team’s first coach in 2009.
The circumstances were different in each hire, but the results were similar: Schmid and Carroll were big winners. Does Hakstol share any similarities?
“Incredible commitments to their professions,” Leiweke said.
That point was underscored when, after his firing, Hakstol stayed in the league with the Toronto Maple Leafs for two seasons as an assistant on defense.
“It probably would have been easy for him, with his coaching track record in college, to go back and get a job in college, but he didn’t,” Francis said. “He took the hard way. He stayed in the game and worked as an assistant. He learned more, and that’s made him a better coach and better personality. “
Even though his first presser as Kraken coach featured more stoicism that eloquence, Hakstol made his points earlier to the right people.
“I view it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of something to build from the ground up,” Hakstol said. “Communication is going to be very, very important, not only over the next few weeks of building the roster but planning on how everything fits together.”
If he pulls it off, Leiweke will be 3-0 in Seattle coaching hires, a feat likely to get the executives trophy named after him.
Note: Based on the desire for more time, I am done with with a free-lance engagement with the Kraken, and back to my ways of ornery journalism.