It came down to pride and maturity. And honesty from others.
Marc Crawford, after all, could have waited and waited, continuing to pursue the NHL head coaching position that has eluded him since Dallas fired him in 2011. He’d gone through at least 10 job interviews over the years, four in Montreal alone, a number in Florida that left him so confident he was going to get that job he went out looking for a good tie to wear to the introductory press conference.
Why give up the hunt now?
Calgary and Anaheim are still looking for coaches. Other teams, like the Islanders, Capitals and Stars, are still digesting playoff disappointment. The entire situation in Los Angeles involving unsigned head coach Darryl Sutter is murky, to say the least.
Crawford knew other head coaching hopefuls would never accept an assistant’s job. Heck, he knew that Guy Boucher, had Crawford received a head coaching position, wouldn’t agree to be an assistant.
In other words, Crawford knew that to take a lesser job, he’d have to be willing to swallow his pride and deprioritize his ego.
So on Monday, he signed on the dotted line to be Boucher’s new associate coach in Ottawa, getting himself back to North America after years coaching in Switzerland — including this year in Zurich where he guided the presumptive No. 1 pick in this summer’s NHL draft, Auston Matthews.
“Ottawa is the right thing for me. I’m going to enjoy where I’m at, enjoy this new experience,” said Crawford in an interview with Sportsnet. “This is a good, good job. It’s a good organization, a small organization. It’s a good opportunity, I like Guy a lot, and we’ll work well together.”
The 55-year-old Crawford was also grateful to Anaheim GM Bob Murray and Calgary GM Brad Treliving for interviewing him but then not stringing him along.
“I had good talks with both of them about the possibilities,” said Crawford. “They both gave me honest answers. ‘Marc, move forward.’”
In Boucher and Crawford, two refugees from the Swiss league, the Sens hope to have added a tandem at least the equal of what Minnesota got in Bruce Boudreau. That it was Pierre Dorion Jr. doing the hiring was a neat little closing of the professional circle for Crawford, for it was Dorion’s father, Pierre Sr., who recommended to Cliff Fletcher that the Toronto Maple Leafs hire Crawford to coach their farm team in St. John’s, Newfoundland a quarter-century ago.
“I really like Pierre Jr.’s honesty,” said Crawford. “He was important to the process because he knows I can help not only Guy but also in some other areas. He pushed hard to get me to consider more than just the financial rewards that were greater in other places. He was right. This is a great fit for me and my family, and I believe for Guy and Pierre.”
Both Crawford and his wife have parents who could benefit from having them in closer proximity, and children looking to establish futures in North America. The family needed Crawford to come back to this side of the Atlantic to work, and he needed to as well.
“I’ve been trying to get back into the league for five years, and I was so close so many times,” he said. “I’m back in the show. and that’s great.
“But I’ve learned you’ve got to be focused on what you’re doing. I’ve been around long enough to recognize you can have other thoughts, but they’re no use to you.”
As soon as Boudreau’s hiring was announced Saturday night, Crawford got a call from Dorion saying he was hiring Boucher as the head coach, and that Boucher wanted to talk to him. It was a conversation they’d had many times in Switzerland.
“He was always saying, ‘If I get a job, would you come?’” said Crawford. “And I always said, ‘Yes I would.’” Later, Dorion and Sens executive Randy Lee called, and then on Sunday, Crawford spoke for 45 minutes with Ottawa owner Eugene Melnyk.
“That’s where I got the sense this could be really interesting,” said Crawford. “(Melnyk) is a really interesting guy.”
On Monday morning, the two sides negotiated, and a deal was reached two hours before Boucher was formally announced as the new head coach of the Senators. The two men met Tuesday night for their first official coaching discussion about what they plan to do with the Sens.
Crawford will head over to the world championships in Russia on Friday to participate in an international coaching symposium.
He still hopes to be a head coach again one day but he’s seen close friends like Mike Murphy and Mike Kitchen take other jobs after being NHL head coaches, ending up satisfied with the professional and personal results.
All he had to do here, he understood, was park his ego at the door.
“It’s called maturing,” said Crawford, chuckling.
So Ottawa gets a more mature Crawford than when he left five years ago, a coach who realizes he might never have got into that infamous screaming match with Scotty Bowman had he not lost the steadying influence of his assistant coach Joel Quenneville the previous summer, a coach who learned a different way to be close to his players in Switzerland by, in some cases, babysitting their children with his wife.
It’s taken Crawford a while to get back to the NHL. The guessing here is he’s back for good.