COMPLETE PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
Steve Ellman: First of all, welcome back hockey! Welcome back Coyotes fans! Today is a very special day for our Coyotes organization, for our fans, for our sponsors, the National Hockey League, and for hockey fans worldwide.
Today, I'm very proud to announce that our sports greatest player, ambassador and icon, Wayne Gretzky, will assume the role as head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes. In addition, Wayne will maintain his role as managing partner of hockey operations. Our organization has very high expectations both on and off the ice. With today's announcement, I think everyone in this room and worldwide would agree that we've raised the bar.
No one should be confused. Our organization is here to win. We're here to build a Stanley Cup organization throughout. Wayne's perspective will be shared now from behind the bench.
Janet, I would like to thank you and your family for supporting Wayne in making this decision. We are all very, very grateful.
So ladies and gentleman, I am very proud to announce Coach Gretzky.
Wayne Gretzky: Thank you very much and it's a pleasure to be back with hockey again. We're all excited that the NHL is back and the Coyotes are going to be on the ice in September.
I want to thank Mr. Ellman and his associate Bob Kaufman. There were a lot of hours and a lot of work, but at the end of the day, I'm thrilled at the suggestion of being the coach in this game, a great sport. I feel like what I do best is to be involved in hockey and I'm tremendously excited to be behind the bench.
As Steven said, my wife was very encouraging to me, in the sense that she knows how much I love the game. Her support in making this decision was tremendously positive. So, to her, thank you very much.
I'm really looking forward to the upcoming season. I'm really looking forward to coaching and setting our ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup.
I want to thank Shane Doan for coming down today, our captain, one of the best captains in hockey.
I'm excited about coaching some of the players that we've recruited over the past 12 months - some of them I've played with, other guys that I know. I look forward to the upcoming season. I want to thank everyone for coming today and look forward to a great year.
Rich Nairn: Thanks Wayne. Before we open the floor for questions, we want to remind everyone that Mr. Gretzky will be introducing his new coaching staff following the question and answer period. So without further adieu, the floors open for questions.
Q: Wayne, has it set in for you yet?
Gretzky: Oh, I guess it has. You know, over the last couple months, I've really been leaning more and more towards stepping in and taking on this responsibility. I'm really excited about it. Mike (Barnett) and I have had many conversations about the team and players that we've signed and players that we've recruited. I'm really excited to be back in the locker room and on the ice cause that's where I love to be. I'm thrilled to, sort of, be back on the hot seat and I'm looking forward to it.
Q: You mentioned the players that you've signed and the players on the team now. How much of a factor was that in your decision to say 'hey, I want to coach these guys'?
Gretzky: Mike and I talked about this quite a bit over the last 10 months. Last June, we went out and recruited, we feel, a pretty good hockey team. We added some speed, some character, and some talent. Yes, I'm tremendously excited to be part of this group. I think it's gonna be fun to coach this group of guys. I really look forward to sharing my knowledge of the sport and the game. I don't have to sit up top and watch. I can actually be on the ice - that's the part I'm looking forward to the most.
Q: Do you think the team is ready for this year or is there work left to do?
Gretzky: Well, we've always got work to do. But, you know, we'll do it together. I like the group of players we've brought in. You always look for changes, you always look to make the team better. But all-in-all I kind of like what we have. You know, it's an interesting sort of a year because everyone's missed 12 months. Coming out of the gate is an important factor. Some teams will probably come out quicker than others. We're gonna make sure that our guys are ready to come out of the gate as quick as possible.
Q: Did you talk to any old teammates or anyone for advice while making your decision to coach?
Gretzky: In a round about way. I didn't really call anybody for advice on it. I knew it was a decision I had to make. I was fortunate enough, this past May, we were at the Kentucky Derby. I spent a couple days with Pat Riley. He was telling me how exciting it was to coach and that I would probably love it. So those kinds of things were very encouraging. I've said to people over the past year that the most fun I've had, really, is coaching my son's baseball team and being part of that. I really found a passion for coaching and liking it. So, here I am today. I'm really looking forward to the whole challenge.
Q: Wayne, fans in a lot of NHL cities, particularly south of the border, there's the situation of trying to get fans back after a year off. Your decision to do this, does it have anything to do with wanting to help make a big splash, wanting to help bring attention back?
Gretzky: Well, first of all, I have an investment in the team and an ownership stake in this team and I felt like I was the best person to coach this team. Obviously that had a say in it. You know, we started this five years ago. We built an arena when nobody thought we would. Mr. Ellman has been resilient over these five years. We finally feel like we've got a pretty good hockey club here and I want to be a part of it. Simple as that.
Q: Wayne, how will you balance this job? You're also managing the 2006 Canadian Olympic team.
Gretzky: I talked to (Hockey Canada president) Bob Nicholson, he was the first call I made, after I talked to my parents, to actually tell him I was taking all this responsibility. I wanted to tell him before anybody else got to him. But, it really won't change. I don't mean this in an arrogant way, but Team Canada itself is kind of a cookie sheet now. It's run by a whole staff of coaches and Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini. We all work together as a group, so one person doesn't run the team. We'll keep that together. We'll keep the group together. I'll probably, if anything, get to see more hockey now because I'm there every day with our team and I'll be able to see other games. So, if anything, maybe it'll be beneficial for me.
Q: Wayne, you talked about having success with the team financially. How do you see your role as a coach in reaching out to sponsors and fans and kind of being officially the corporate face of the franchise?
Gretzky: No different than I did before. I took part in any sort of functions that the Coyotes wanted me to be a part of. I'll be doing the same thing except now I'll be there as the coach, too. That all goes hand-in-hand with running our organization. We're always reaching out to try to sell more tickets and make corporate sponsors happy and that's part of the day-to-day process. Every city is a little bit different this time because we did miss a whole year. We definitely have to win some people back, there's no question about it. It's gonna take time. It's not gonna happen over night. Quite frankly, you know, some people might never come back, but we hope we can reach out to people the best we can.
Q: Wayne, you've had so much success playing and managing. Are you confident that it'll be the same behind the bench? And not to be in any way, shape or form negative, but how much do you think about, 'what if it doesn't go well'?
Gretzky: I never thought of that whatsoever. I heard people say 'Why would you want to do this?' And my answer was 'Why not?' It's what I love. It's what I know. I said this earlier, Glen Sather was the best coach I had and what made him good was his confidence in what he did. I believe that I'm gonna be a good coach. It's gonna take, obviously, more games behind the bench. The more experience you get the better. I think it's kind of ironic that when I broke into professional hockey at 17 that I was told that I was too small, and too slow, and that I wouldn't make it to the NHL. And now, it's kind of flip-flopped. The sense is, 'well, you can't be a good coach because you were a great athlete'. So, I don't know. I kind of think that, you know, I wasn't naturally gifted with size and speed. Everything I did in hockey I worked for and that's the way I'll be as a coach. I will work hard, prepare hard. I'll introduce my staff here in a little bit. I think I have a good group and we're gonna work hard together.
Q: Coaching is obviously a grueling job. It takes a lot of hours. What, at the end of the day, convinced you to take on that pressure and all it's demands?
Gretzky: Two things. One - my love for hockey. I wanted to be in the game, simple as that. Two - I wanted to feel the energy and the excitement again of competing. Being in the locker room, being with the players, I'm excited about that part of it. Yeah, it's not gonna be easy every day. Some days are gonna be tougher than other days. But, I look forward to this as a new chapter in my life. I'm really excited about it. Our team's gonna play hard, we're gonna be ready to play every night. With the new rules we have in the league now, we like our speed and our size, so I look forward to it.
Q: Is there a concern, Wayne, that every city you go to, particularly north of the border, that it's going to be, not to say a traveling circus, but you're going to be so much the focus of attention wherever you go that'll be somewhat of a distraction to the team?
Gretzky: You know, ultimately, people are gonna watch the players. Players are the guys people pay to see and pay to watch. You know, I guess that's just part of being Wayne Gretzky. People are gonna want to do interviews and people are gonna want to get autographs and that sort of thing. That's just part of who I am. It's not a big deal. The focus is the hockey team and everything that goes with that.
Q: What kind of coach will you be? What kind of style?
Gretzky: What kind of coach? Well, I really believe in common sense and I really believe in the basics and fundamentals of the game. But, we're gonna be a team with speed. We're gonna be a team that's unselfish. We're gonna be a team that works together. Simple as that. You know, I don't expect each guy to be something they're not. Each guy's there for a purpose. Each guy has a responsibility to the team and that's what I'll expect out of each and every player.
Q: When you played, you didn't bite your tongue when it came to dealing with officials at times. Are we gonna see that same fire in you behind the bench that we saw on the ice?
Gretzky: Oh yeah. I'm sure you will. (Laughs) You know, I don't know any other way. You've got to have emotion. That's the way I played hockey - with emotion. That's the way I'll be on the bench. The good news now is that I can enjoy the game and not get nervous. Watching the game is when you get nervous. When you're part of the game, you just do it, and you're not nervous. It's a strange feeling, but, yeah, I'm gonna have emotion. That's the way I was as a player and that's the way I'll be as a coach.
Q: Having played in L.A., do you worry that playing where the weather is nice during the winter will make it a challenge for the players to work as hard as other teams?
Gretzky: There's no question. The element of the weather is a big change for a lot of people. I know when I went to L.A., you have to pressure yourself. The pressure has to come from within. It's a different responsibility you have to take on. But, Tampa Bay proved last year that if you play hard and you work together as a team and you have the same goal of winning the Stanley Cup Tampa Bay proved that living in Florida didn't seem to hurt their hockey team. So I think that in a lot of ways it can be used as a crutch or an excuse. But the reality is that it's nice when you can get up every morning and smile and the weather's beautiful. You just expect the guys to prepare and come to work hard every day. Simple as that.
Q: Being higher profile than other coaches, do you feel you have more responsibility than other coaches?
Gretzky: No, I think we all have a responsibility to the game. Everything I have in my life is because of the National Hockey League. I make no bones about that. And yet, I'm a small part of going forward with this game. No one individual is bigger or better than our sport and it's always gonna be that way. But, everyone can contribute, everyone can help. I said this last year, one good thing about our game, when we do come back, and now we're here, is that our players are good guys and understand what their roles are. They're good in their communities and we're fortunate we have nice people in our sport. So we all have a role to do.
Q: How hands on will you be and how important will it be to have people around you that have different coaching experiences?
Gretzky: Listen, there's only one way to be a coach and that's to be here all the time. That's pretty simple and basic and that part of it is exciting for me. As I've been through my career as a player, and Team Canada and now here, I don't think one person is bigger than anyone else within an organization. So the coaching staff and the associates I've put together were for a reason. They'll have a responsibility and they'll be as big a part of this as I am. Moving forward I'm thrilled that these three gentleman have reached out and said that they would stay on board with me, come on board with me and be part of the Phoenix Coyotes heading toward the future.
Q: How tough of a family decision was it to come back and coach?
Gretzky: You know, we're in a tough situation because we have teenage children and a two-year-old and a five-year-old. So family and responsibilities is sort of a juggle. You know it was my wife over the last few weeks, who was tremendously strong in encouraging me to coach. She knew I loved to coach and I loved to be part of the NHL. It was her that was really the driving force behind it. When I actually did come to a decision it was probably on Saturday night and Steven was in Italy. That's kind of when I first told him, O.K. I would officially step into this.
Q: You mentioned Glen Sather. Who else will you draw from?
Gretzky: Oh, I think you draw from all your coaches. You know, each and every guy has something really unique or special that they brought to the table and so I was, in some ways, fortunate to play for different organizations and different coaches. You take the good from each of them. You know listen, there's no perfect coach in the world out there. Coaches are human too. Mistakes are made. But fundamentally, if you're sound, you eliminate as many mistakes as possible.
Q: Wayne, did you get a bump in salary or as part owner is that something you talked about?
Gretzky: Yeah, I guess so.
Q: Do you think your presence on the bench will add more of a heightened atmosphere and create pressure for the players?
Gretzky: Well listen, if it does that's good. You know, our team needs to understand pressure and the importance of winning. To be a team that's going to be watched and, you know, the expectations are gonna be higher. That's pressure that comes with the territory. I think it will be good for our team. It will make us a better team. So, no, I'm not worried about that and I don't think our players are. I mean, guys like Nedved, who played in New York, understand. You know, this will be good for our team. It'll be more pressure and higher expectations and I think that will be good for our team.
Rich Nairn: Any more questions? Our head table will be available following the press conference. Thank you, gentleman.