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Savran: Patrick shouldn't force style on coach

Saturday, April 19, 2003

Less filling! Tastes great! Column Lite.

As Craig Patrick begins the process of sifting through the resumes that will soon clutter his desk, he will be looking for qualifications he set forth as prerequisites for the position. Good teacher, strong communicator, acceptable grooming habits, whatever.

One thing that should not be part of the interview process is the candidate's ability, or willingness, to morph into what we've become accustomed to identifying as "Penguins hockey."

For years, the franchise's teams made the flying Wallendas look like ground slugs.

The Penguins' high-wire act was thrilling to watch, offering the highest entertainment quotient possible.

Now, that's no longer possible, and management must accept that.

Clearly it's the style preferred by Patrick and, of course, Mario Lemieux. But you can't win the Kentucky Derby aboard Mr. Ed, and any coach unable to figure that out after surveying the Penguins' locker room shouldn't be hired in the first place.

With the lone exception of Kevin Constantine, whose hiring was promoted by then owner Howard Baldwin, coaches have been hired with the caveat that they share the same philosophy as management.

Now, the philosophy and the hiring process must change.

Let the style of hockey be the decision of the coach.

It's a decision that should be made on the ice, not in the office of the general manager or the owner.

This time, allow the new coach to design the building.

Then management needs to provide the materials necessary to build it.

It should be a safe bet that the Penguins won't consult Pitt's administration on the finer points of conducting a search for a coach. You can argue for or against Pitt's choice, but there's little room for debate concerning the handling of the process.

Perhaps Pitt officials contacted or were contacted by more candidates than was made public. But, if not, their search should have been much more exhaustive, even if they thought Jamie Dixon was the best candidate north of the Mason-Dixon line, or at least north of Winston-Salem.

If only for the sake of appearances, had they granted interviews to John Calipari, Bobby Gonzalez or whomever, at the end of the day they could have said to their fan base, "We talked to some of the top guys, and we thought Dixon was the best choice."

That still may not have appeased everybody, but it gives the appearance that he was chosen over others, not as a compromise choice after Skip Prosser turned them down.

Not that the perception will help him when he's down a point to Syracuse with 10 seconds to play. But it would have raised the initial acceptance level of his hire.

After the first 15 games, you could count the number of Aramis Ramirez's RBIs on one hand. You would have needed both hands to count his errors. Consequently, you might need to take off your shoes to count the number of runs he has allowed as a result of his poor defense.

There have been plays that could have been made that weren't scored as errors. And double plays that weren't turned, which extended innings, which led to runs.

Can there be any doubt that he drags his last at-bat with him to the field? While thinking of the latest hitting opportunity lost, ground balls go whizzing by him.

He should get his head out of the clouds, batter's box or wherever it is, and get it into the game. If you let in as many as you drive in, it's a net gain of zero for the team.

The Penguins are telling anyone willing to listen that the collection of talent they've assembled in various minor-league, college and junior-hockey outposts is bursting like an overripe melon.


But based on the numbers posted by some of the players closest to graduating to the big club, you would be hard-pressed to believe it.

A player doesn't have to dominate at the AHL level to be productive in the NHL, but excelling at that level would be a better indicator than just hoping he might.

Just making the Penguins next season won't be terribly impressive. Making the Penguins better would be.

Perhaps, this group collectively will do that. But individually?

Not based on their performances at Wilkes-Barre.

I've got the perfect punishment for drunken idiots running onto fields of play. Lock them in a room with a lot of beer, no bathroom, and nothing to watch on television but reality shows. Come to think of it, that's pretty much all there is on TV anyway.

Stan Savran is the host of sports talk show from 3 to 6 p.m. weekdays on WBGG-AM (970).

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