by | Jun 4, 1986 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Well, news of his firing caught a lot of people off guard, but the plain truth is this: Brad Park had a sword hanging over his head from Day One.

Jimmy Devellano was never wild about Park as coach of the Red Wings, and he was the one who hired him. “Charisma,” Devellano said Tuesday, when asked why he first chose Park. “I thought he had a certain charisma, a certain character he’d displayed as a player.”

So he gave him the job last December — fired Harry Neale in the middle of a dismal season and put Park in his place. It was one of those decisions that looked good for a fleeting moment, like a midnight marriage in Las Vegas between a showgirl and an insurance salesman.

And it never had a chance. You can’t put a tie on a hockey player and you can’t put a helmet on an executive. Jimmy D. and Brad Park are two different people — “oil and water” Devellano said — and neither one would ever forgive the other for what he was not.

“He did not care for me and I suspect the feeling was mutual,” Devellano said Tuesday. “I suspect the thing Brad liked least about me was that I never played in the NHL.”

“Jimmy D. has been in the front office his whole life and I’ve been in the dressing room,” Park admitted. “It’s two different philosophies.”

They would not mix. So Park, the former all-star defenseman, was fired Tuesday morning, after walking into Devellano’s office for what he figured was an impromptu meeting. But the timing was just theatrics. Before this hockey season had even ended — the worst season in the history of the Red Wings — Park had a red “X” across his face in the mind of Jimmy D.

And Jimmy D. makes the decisions.
‘Wasn’t enough discipline’

That’s mostly what you can draw from this latest hockey obituary. Jimmy D. is back in control. There was suspicion when Park was hired as coach and player personnel director, that Devellano, the general manager, was surrendering part of his ship. Being forced to share the wheel.

Not anymore. Devellano obviously has the authority to get rid of what he doesn’t like, and what he didn’t like about Brad Park was that he coached like a player.

“There wasn’t enough discipline,” Devellano said. “When people broke curfews I wanted them disciplined. I didn’t want rock music on after a loss. I didn’t condone patting guys on the back after a loss. There wasn’t enough butt-kicking.

“I don’t think it’s Brad’s nature to do it. Hockey came so easy for him. He was a superstar. But hockey is a battle, you’ve got to grind and discipline and work to be a team.”

All this from a man who never played the game. You can see why there were problems.

True, Park inherited a sinking ship and took it straight to the bottom of the sea. His Red Wings won only nine of 45 games. And he was suspended for six of those for encouraging his players to leave the bench for a brawl at Toronto.

He doesn’t deny being more a buddy than a beast as coach. “But,” he said,
“that was the plan. Taking over a team midseason is tough. I had to initially rely on guys playing for me on friendship.

“It was enough this year to try and change things on the ice. We had the worst record in the NHL. The plan was to become a harder disciplinarian this coming season, when we could start from the beginning.”

Forget it now. He’ll never get the chance. Jimmy D. still in charge

This much is undeniable: The Red Wings were embarrassing this past season. They were little more than a bus stop for players coming to and from the farm system. How many new faces? How many changes?

But if you’re going to shoot at Park, you better pull another arrow out of your quiver. Devellano cannot escape this thing unscathed. He hired the guy.
“Charisma” isn’t the most compelling reason for giving a man a coaching job.

Park probably never realized what he was getting into. He was only one year out of a Red Wings uniform. He wanted to be a nice guy to his former teammates
— “He kissed them you-know- where,” is the way Devellano put it — but that’s not totally unexpected, is it?

Jimmy D. should have seen this coming. And if he decided to hire him anyway, then Park probably deserved more time to grow into the job.

He didn’t get it. And you can bet the next guy won’t have more than “coach” next to his name.

The parting was not friendly. Park deserves better. But so do Red Wings fans. The main problem is a team that can’t win and if Devellano vs. Park was a power play, so be it. But that means the responsibility for a competitive hockey team falls on one man’s desk.

“Jimmy D. is the king of hockey in this town,” Park said, after his firing Tuesday.

And, for now, his kingdom is still a mess.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

Subscribe for bonus content and giveaways!