The pro sports world is inherently exclusive and insular, but there may not be many pro sports franchises out there as insular as the Philadelphia Flyers.
The team is now in its 52nd year. The two men who currently hold the reins behind its hockey operations have been part of its history, whether as players, coaches or executives, for all but three of those years. On the team’s front office page, the pair appear as the first two names listed below Comcast Spectacor CEO and Chairman Dave Scott: Paul Holmgren is President and Bob Clarke is Senior Vice President.
Both former players have displayed incredible resiliency and staying power with the organization. Both have left and returned multiple times, and both have been awarded higher posts after being relieved of duties in another role.
Hundreds of players and dozens of front office and managerial staff members have come and gone since Clarke was first drafted in 1969. Since then, 1993-94 was the only complete season that neither he nor Holmgren was employed by the franchise. As the Flyers amble through a lost season towards what looks like their 12th missed playoff appearance and 43rd straight season without a Stanley Cup, here’s the timeline of the duo’s enduring involvement over the years.
1960’s: The Flyers (and Clarke) Appear
October 1967: Flyers make their debut
June 1969: Clarke is drafted by the Flyers in the second round after being passed over in the first because teams were concerned about his diabetic condition. He makes his NHL debut in October.
1970’s: Early Glory, Holmgren Drafted
May 1974: Led by Clarke, the Flyers defeat the Boston Bruins and win their first Stanley Cup Championship. They repeat in 1975.
June 1975: Holmgren is drafted 108th overall.
August 1979: Clarke is named player-assistant coach and is forced to relinquish the captaincy due to NHL rules. Bill Barber becomes captain.
1980’s: Near Misses and Role Shuffling
December 1982: Clarke, having given up his on-ice coaching role, assumes captaincy again.
February 1984: Holmgren is traded to the Minnesota North Stars.
May 1984: Clarke retires and is instantly hired to become the Flyers’ fourth-ever GM. He names Mike Keenan head coach.
Summer 1985: Holmgren retires from playing and becomes the Flyers’ assistant coach.
Summer 1988: Keenan is fired by Clarke after a second-round playoff loss. He took the team to two Stanley Cup Final appearances in his four seasons behind the bench, and goes on to take the Chicago Blackhawks to the Final before winning a Cup in one season with the New York Rangers. Holmgren is named head coach.
1990’s: The Managerial Rise of Holmgren and Clarke
April 1990: Jay Snider, team President and son of founder Ed Snider, fires Clarke from the GM role. ”We had the same goal – to win the Stanley Cup,” Jay Snider said. ”We disagreed on how to do it.” Clarke becomes the GM of the Minnesota North Stars.
December 1991: Holmgren is fired as coach after another disappointing start.
June 1992: Clarke leaves the North Stars, briefly returns to the Flyers as Senior Vice President. Holmgren is hired as head coach of the Hartford Whalers.
March 1993: Clarke leaves the Flyers to become GM of the expansion Florida Panthers. This begins the longest stretch (16 months) in the last 50 years that neither he nor Holmgren is employed by the Flyers.
June 1994: Clarke leaves the Panthers, again returns as Flyers’ GM. Over the next 12 seasons, he hires six coaches and fires five of them, including Barber, his former linemate.
November 1995: Holmgren, having resumed head coaching duties after a stint as the Whalers’ GM, is fired by Hartford. He returns to the Flyers to become Director of Pro Scouting.
Summer 1997: Holmgren is elevated to Flyers’ Director of Player Personnel.
Summer 1999: Holmgren becomes Clarke’s Assistant General Manager.
2000 to Present: The Old Guard Realigns
November 2006: After a dismal start to the season, Clarke resigns as GM and is named Senior Vice President (again). Holmgren replaces him as GM. Head coach Ken Hitchcock is fired and replaced by John Stevens, the first of three coaches named during Holmgren’s seven-and-a-half year GM tenure. The last is Craig Berube, assistant coach and one-time Flyers enforcer.
May 2014: After a first-round playoff exit, Holmgren is named team President, anointing former Flyer Ron Hextall as GM.
November 2018: Holmgren fires Hextall.
Here to Stay
Today, the pair seem as entrenched in the organization as ever. Two years after Holmgren was promoted to team president, Ed Snider lost his fight with bladder cancer. Though the towering chairman had previously stepped far away from team operations, his passing seemed to leave the franchise’s future firmly in the hands of his two old allies.
Scott, the Spectacor CEO, is a business-first executive who learned hockey secondhand from Snider and the rest. During the press conference announcing Hextall’s firing, Scott expressed confidence in the team president and his decision. “He’s an experienced leader,” the CEO said, citing Holmgren’s 40 years with the team.
“I just felt, in the best interest of the organization, it was time to look for a new voice with a different mindset that can push the team to the next level,” Holmgren explained. A week later, the franchise hired Chuck Fletcher, a longtime NHL manager whose career began in 1993, when he was brought on as an assistant by Florida Panthers GM Bob Clarke.
A childhood hockey player who never grew up to be big and strong, so ended up a writer.