What we learned from Sharks head coach press conference

Quinn: “We want to bring back that winning culture that’s been here for a long, long time.”

One of the final check boxes for the San Jose Sharks’ off-season has been checked, as former New York Rangers head coach David Quinn has officially been named the team’s new head coach. Tuesday morning, the organization hosted a press conference to formally welcome Quinn to San Jose.

Sharks general manager Mike Grier wasted no time in explaining the decision to hire David Quinn. Though the organization spoke with many qualified candidates, Grier emphasized the fact that he, Hasso Plattner, Jonathan Becher and Joe Will were confident that Quinn was the one for the job:

“[Quinn] had two terrific interviews with Joe and myself. I think he’s had a lot of experience at many different levels, which is something that meant a lot to me.”

Grier also acknowledged his own individual history with Quinn on both personal and professional levels, but assured that it wasn’t the deciding factor in the hiring. However, Grier did note some administrative advantages the two might have coming into the organization:

“How I see the game and how [Quinn] sees the game, they kind of mesh well together. That’s not to say that we won’t push and challenge each other if we see things differently, to help us get better, but it’s definitely a part of it. Quinn, he’s been through it before with the Rangers, so I think he has a good sense of what wins in this league and how you have to play, so our visions definitely lined up together.”

Quinn echoed Grier’s enthusiasm for introducing him to the organization, as he saw it as an opportunity to hit the ground running alongside someone he was already familiar with. “One of the things that drew me to this job was an opportunity to work with Mike. Mike and I have known each other for a long time — I have a tremendous amount of respect for him professionally, but more importantly, personally. Mike’s done some good things here in the first few weeks, and I’m looking forward to working with him.”

An upside Grier cited was Quinn’s experience working with younger players, both in his experience coaching in the NCAA, as well as a more global stage with USA Hockey.

“You see the job he did with the group behind the Olympics and the World Championships — he got a lot out of those players. I think everyone would agree that neither one of those teams were a highly-skilled team — I think the Olympic team was the youngest team at the tournament, but they went undefeated through the preliminary round. He gets the most out of his best players, he knows how to manage his best players, and he believes in some of the player development principles that I believe in. When I put it all together, he was really the best choice for this job.”

However, a rather generally-held concern surrounding Quinn’s hiring was the perception of how he utilizes his rookie players in the line-up. With many younger players in the system going up and down between the Barracuda and Sharks in seasons past — particularly this past season — questions were raised regarding how the new bench boss would handle it. To Quinn, this particular concern came as a surprise, as it was the first he had ever heard of it.

“I’ve coached a lot of younger players. I think if you want people to be better, you’re going to be demanding but fair, and that’s always something that I’ve tried to appropriate in my philosophy, to be demanding but fair.”

Quinn also explained that part of his job — and coaching philosophy as a whole — isn’t to necessarily keep players in positions where they’re the most comfortable. Instead, players “aren’t necessarily going to be doing the things they’re [most able] to do to continue to have success,” therefore aiding them in becoming more adaptable, versatile players.

“We’d always kind of jokingly say ‘at the end of the day, coaches are human nature fighters’ — you’re going to ask people to fight human nature.”

Grier came to Quinn’s defense on the topic as well, drawing examples from his time in New York in order to present a broader perspective on his decisions.

“Whether you’re an 18-year-old kid in the league or you’re a veteran 35-year-old, accountability is for everyone. I think David did a really good job handling that, keeping everyone accountable, and keeping his dressing room intact. If he had just started giving Kakko and Lafreniere first-line shifts and power play shifts, the Kreiders and Zibanejads of the world would not have been happy about it, so I think he handled the situation with young players as well as he could.”

In regards to a coaching synergy between the Sharks and their AHL counterpart, Quinn assured that it would be relatively seamless, as he had a standing relationship with head coach John McCarthy from their time at Boston University.

“The fact that he and I have a previous relationship and an awful lot of respect for each other personally and professionally, I think that will make our relationship with the Barracuda unique. Obviously, our communication will be consistent, often, and there will be no surprises with what’s going on with our AHL team. Any decision we make will be well thought out and well-informed.”

As previously established, Quinn sees the game of hockey in a nearly identical way to Grier: aggressive and fast-paced. Most importantly, Quinn wants to instill the idea that the Sharks are “a tenacious, fast team that plays on top of people — taking away time and space, a structured team that plays with freedom,” noting that most coaches in the league prefer a slow-paced game — a perfect contrast. Quinn also underscored the importance of effort in order to fill in some of the glaring offensive holes of past seasons.

“I don’t think there’s a more effort-driven sport than hockey. It’s played in a very small area, it’s very fast. Effort can overcome a lot, and I think if you want to be more productive offensively, part of it is effort-driven, but there are also things you can do tactically that can put your team in a better position.”

As for Quinn’s coaching philosophy, it’s no surprise that he values having personal relationships with both the people he works alongside and works to lead.

“My coaching philosophy has always been relationship-driven. I don’t care what you do in life, if you don’t have a connection to the people that you’re leading — whether you’re the manager of an office or coaching a hockey team — you’re not going to get the most out of people. Regardless of the level, when the people you’re leading know you care about and want what’s best for them, you’ve got a much better chance in getting the most out of them.”

Quinn also spoke to the more personal side of building relationships with players, but also finding the balance that comes with it:

“One of the things that you’ll learn is managing personalities — when to stay on top of people, when to back off. To me, the number one responsibility I have as a coach here is managing our players and putting them in a position to have the most success they possibly can, making them the best players they can possibly be. I think you’re always trying to find that balance as a coach — sometimes you have to be hard on them, sometimes you lay off of them.”

He also mentioned the value he puts in collaboration — that is, getting input from other people on the direction of the team and applying it where it’s possible.

“That’s one of the things I learned in New York: balancing the information, balancing the opinions you get from people and really coaching to your personality. Doing that has put me in a position to get where I am today, and I think that’s important for anybody, no matter what you’re doing.”

Speaking of his time with the Rangers, Quinn emphasized that this opportunity won’t simply be transplanting all of his strategies from his time in New York onto the Sharks’ roster. While it would be easy to do, he knows that no team is the same — especially having worked in several different leagues at this point in his career.

“You have to coach the team you have. From a coaching standpoint, you have standards — coaching DNA, I would like to call it — that will never change. I also think you have to have adaptability with the roster you have, so there are certain things that we’re going to demand that we did with the Rangers that we’ll demand here, but there may be a different approach in some of the things we do or don’t do based on our personnel.”

He had similar remarks when speaking about his time coaching in the NCAA and the US National Team Development Program:

“I think every coach draws from their experiences, and I’ve been very fortunate to coach at different levels, whether it be the US National Program in Ann Arbor, Michigan, or where my background started at the collegiate level. I think it certainly helps when you are connected to the youth, understanding what players at that age are going through — not only professionally, but also personally. A 22-year-old NHL player isn’t immune to the other challenges of a 22-year-old who’s not playing in the National Hockey League, and I think it’s important for the coach and the people in the organization to realize that. Without question, those experiences helped me to deal with younger players.”

Overall, Quinn has high hopes for the organization and the direction it’s headed in. It’s clear he has a plan for the team, and expects to see it through.

“With an opportunity like this to work with Mike, Joe and Jonathan, we certainly know what’s in store for us and ahead of us, but we want to bring back that winning culture that’s been here for a long, long time. We are certainly going to put together a team that you’ll be proud of, one that you’ll want to watch, and we’re very optimistic about the team we’re going to have this coming season.”