Fired. Re-hired. And fired again.
That’s the short, simple version of John Gruden’s story when it comes to his most recent stint in the Ontario Hockey League. As the inaugural head coach of the OHL’s Flint Firebirds, he was victimized by the antics of team owner Rolf Nilsen.
Nilsen reportedly fired the coaching staff – Gruden included – when his son Hakon Nilsen wasn’t receiving adequate playing time, according to the owner. After the league interjected, Gruden and the rest of the coaching staff was reinstated. However, it didn’t take long before the elder Nilsen fired his staff again and proceeded to get himself suspended by the OHL.
While Gruden left the Firebirds with a 15-31-0-6 record, his efforts didn’t go unnoticed. It didn’t take long before the Hamilton Bulldogs hired Gruden as their head coach for the 2016-17 season.
“Going through the search, I kept coming back to this guy,” said Bulldogs president and general manager Steve Staios in the Hamilton Spectator. “He has a presence, he’s a great communicator, he’s respectful, he’s caring.”
Gruden’s had the opportunity to coach numerous players who’ve gone on to play in the NHL and who will get a chance to play there including Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews while as an assistant for the U.S. National Team Development Program.
Gruden did have a short stint in the NHL as a player. While his stint in Flint was surely shorter than he would’ve liked, the opportunity in Hamilton will certainly open the door for him to grow as a coach.