Blue Jackets’ Coaching Search Prioritizing Fit & Culture

The search for the next coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets is well underway. The team is taking its time sorting through candidates and deciding who they want to interview.

Some names have surfaced in terms of who’s been interviewed. Gerard Gallant, Rick Tocchet, David Quinn and Brad Larsen have been mentioned as getting an interview. Other names such as Todd Nelson and Jukka Jalonen have cropped up as potential candidates also. It’s very likely several other candidates are in play including some that are still in the playoffs, such as former Blue Jackets’ captain Luke Richardson.

Wayne Smith Gerard Gallant Alexandre Picard Doug MacLean Don Boyd Columbus Blue Jackets
Will we see Gerard Gallant again with the Blue Jackets? (Photo by Sara Davis/Getty Images)

That doesn’t even include some of the bigger names like Bruce Boudreau or Claude Julien. The Blue Jackets certainly do not have a shortage of candidates to choose from.

As of this writing, interviews are still taking place and decisions are being made as to who will get a second interview. Considering that GM Jarmo Kekalainen said that hiring a head coach was his number-one priority this offseason, we can reasonably expect things to pick up very soon. Although an exact timetable is still not known.

Let’s Play “What Do We Know?”

In situations like this, we have to try to piece things together based on what we know. It’s a game I like to call “What do we know?” Simple right? This is a chance to step back and recap what we know at this point and see if there are hints out there as to how this could turn out.

If we put some pieces together, we have an idea of the kind of coach the Blue Jackets are looking for. If we apply that knowledge to who we know has been interviewed or is being considered for an interview, we can draw some basic conclusions that should help us prepare for what’s next.

We know that Kekalainen said at his end of season presser that he wanted a coach who would fit in with both the current situation and the culture of the Blue Jackets. This is a very important note to consider. It’s about setting the standard.

We know that the Blue Jackets as is are a young team with players who have limited experience in key roles. The ideal coach would have to be able to teach these players how to take their games to the next level while understanding mistakes are going to happen. A new coach is not coming into a Stanley Cup contender. They’re coming into a situation where it could take a couple of years if not longer to get where they want to go.

Questions to Consider

Ask yourself this. Does a coach like Gallant want to come back to the Blue Jackets in their current state? Or is Gallant more interested in a team who is ready to contend sooner? Both sides will see during their interview if there’s a match.

The same can be said for all of the candidates. Quinn worked with a young Rangers’ team and is someone that John Davidson is familiar with. Could he come in and be the voice the Blue Jackets need?

Tocchet has been a head coach in both Tampa Bay and Arizona. His time with the Coyotes was spent with a young roster who unfortunately didn’t get the results they wanted. Could he find success with a new opportunity?

Larsen is someone the Blue Jackets know very well. He also has the respect of the veterans on the team. The fact he was granted an interview tells you all you need to know about how they feel (regardless of your thoughts on the power play.)

There’s lots of questions surrounding all of these candidates. Not only do the Blue Jackets have to find the right fit, they want to find someone who will continue the culture that was started by John Tortorella.

No one can truly replace what Tortorella brought. But they can bring in someone who has the same kind of values. The ideal candidate will hold players accountable while possessing strong leadership skills.

Every candidate will bring something to the table in regards to values and leadership. But it will be up to the Blue Jackets to find the right coach who has the total package of all of those characteristics.

There’s a Reason Someone Became a Candidate

As we continue to learn who is going deep into this process, that’s what needs to be kept in mind. The coaches granted second interviews did enough in the sight of Blue Jackets’ management to put themselves in position to possibly win the job. That also means they brought a combination of fit and culture that the team wanted to know more about.

Consider this. When it was announced that Brad Shaw was leaving the Blue Jackets, he was not granted an interview. That was met with questions considering his desire to become a head coach. Why would the Blue Jackets not interview him? Whatever the reason, the team didn’t feel the fit was there despite him being on the bench for several seasons.

Now consider that Nelson reportedly got an interview. He’s been a head coach once (he replaced Dallas Eakins in 2014) and is now an assistant coach with the Dallas Stars. Why him? That’s because the Blue Jackets believe something is there. Whether it leads to anything is yet to be determined. But these kind of things are interesting to note.

Todd Nelson Griffins
Todd Nelson enjoyed good success with AHL Grand Rapids. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Nelson led AHL Grand Rapids to a Calder Cup victory. His teams there always had a track record of doing things the right way and enjoying success. Since it was in the AHL, teaching was a norm and something Nelson handled well. Looking at his situation from this lens shows why this interview makes sense. Those around the league I spoke to all think highly of Nelson and think he’ll be a head coach one day.

What to Watch For

As the days move on, watch for names of those who get an interview as well as anyone who might be eliminated from contention. With so many things on the offseason to-do list, the Blue Jackets know they must get this hire right.

Watch for teams eliminated from the playoffs. Names will surface soon thereafter if there’s someone the Blue Jackets are interested in.

The Blue Jackets have left no stone unturned. They are doing their due diligence in finding the right coach at the right time. They’ve acknowledged it’s a priority but they don’t have to decide tomorrow either.

So the next time you see a new name come up for the Blue Jackets in their coaching search, immediately think about fit as a teacher and fit within their culture. That’s what the team wants in their next coach. It also explains why others didn’t make the cut.

Fit and culture. That is at the heart of this search for the next coach of the Blue Jackets.