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April 17, 2015

Berube's tenure a microcosm of everything that is wrong with Flyers

Flyers NHL
041715_Snider-Holmgren-Hextall_AP Matt Slocum/AP

Flyers founder Ed Snider, who passed away earlier this year, is flanked by president Paul Holmgren, left, and general manager Ron Hextall.

The writing was on the wall — and on the internet — for now-former Flyers coach Craig Berube. 

It had been there since the day he was hired, but only began coming into focus when the team brought in a new* general manager, Ron Hextall, one year later.

*Their third GM in the last nine years.

You see, most teams* hire a GM first, then a coach. That way, you allow the guy who will be controlling the flow of talent through the organization to put a coach in place who matches the philosophy of the team he plans on fielding.

*The Eagles also brought in a new GM this offseason, but their situation is a little different. We all know Chip's running the show over there.

It's the sensible way to do things. But it's not the Flyers way. 

Not this time at least.

Instead, the Flyers were banking on the fact that Hextall and Berube could coexist. After all, the two spent a combined 18 seasons in orange and black as players in the 1980s and 90s, including parts of six seasons as teammates. They are both deeply ingrained in the Flyers culture, one that is rapidly becoming less and less welcomed by those who believe winning Stanley Cups creates culture. Culture does not win Stanley Cups.

The problem for the Flyers, as has been well documented to this point, is that they're still trying live in the culture they created by winning back-to-back Cups in the 1970s. Not actively, mind you. It's not like their roster is full of enforcers, the kind that would make Dave Schultz proud.

But when they named Berube coach a year and a half ago, they were bringing in a guy who knew very little of life outside the Flyers organization. His resume was worthy of earning him the position -- Berube was set to take over the Phantoms before being named a Flyers assistant back in 2006 -- but that doesn't mean naming him the head coach was the right move. And in relieving him of his duties on Friday, the team more or less acknowledged that fact.

Hextall, who held a conference call with the media following news of Berube's ouster, said he believes his former teammate "is an NHL coach and will go on to be an NHL coach."

Just not with the Flyers.

The team also set another troubling precedent, one that could make Berube's potential replacements reconsider joining the Flyers. Their next coach will be their 10th in the last 18 years and all of them were over .500 for their careers behind the Flyers bench.

Terry Murray1994-97212.627
Wayne Cashman1997-9861.598
Roger Neilson1998-2000185.595
Craig Ramsay200028.500
Bill Barber2000-02136.621
Ken Hitchcock2002-06254.614
John Stevens2006-09263.521
Peter Laviolette2009-13272.586
Craig Berube2013-15161.553

Needless to say, expectations have been high for the Flyers, and they likely won't be lowered when they introduce their next coach.

Which leads to the ultimate question here: Will the Flyers go outside the organization to find their new coach? If you believe Hextall, ties to the Flyers organization won't factor into the decision.

"We’re looking for the right guy," Hextall said. "Whether he has connections [to the Flyers] or not is not going to be part of the equation. I don’t care about that. We’re looking for the best coach possible to coach our team moving forward."

No matter who the Flyers hire, they will need to be careful not to repeat the mistakes of their recent past: hiring a familiar face that never gets a honest chance to build a franchise. 

The three big names being thrown around are Mike Babcock, Todd McLellan and Claude Julien. The only problem is all three are currently employed by other NHL teams and may not be available in time for Hextall to make a decision, one he said will hopefully come before June's NHL Entry Draft.

If none become available, the Flyers could look outside the NHL to someone like Benoit Groulx of the QMJHL's Gatineau Olympiques. He spent two years coaching in the AHL as well, so he isn't a total stranger to the league, but more importantly he coached captain Claude Giroux in juniors and remains close to the Flyers star today.

He may not be a likely candidate, but Hextall did reiterate that head coaching experience at the NHL level is not necessarily a requirement.

"Well, I think in a perfect world that’s one of the things you look for, but that’s not mandatory," the GM said. "Again, we’re going to look at every candidate we feel merits looking at, and we’ll go through it from there.  Again, is it nice, yes… is it imperative, I’d say no."

So what happens if "the right guy" is someone engrained in the Flyers culture? Could fans look past that at this point and believe that they organization is indeed hiring "the best coach possible" or will they see that as just another attempt to maintain an all but broken status quo?

Take Phantoms coach Terry Murray, for example.

Murray not only played for the Flyers, but he also coached them to a Cup Final in 1997, behind goalie Ron Hextall. And while he's spent much of his career with the organization, including time in the early 2000s as a scout, Murray has also had stints as head coach in Washington (1989-94), Florida (1998-2001) and Los Angeles (2008-12). He has 499 NHL wins as a head coach in 1012 games and during his his time with the Kings, Hextall was working in the team's front office.

And Murray, thanks to his time in Lehigh Valley, holds a distinct advantage over some of the other candidates: familiarity with the Flyers' top prospects.

"Obviously with some of the prospects we have coming," Hextall said, "part of the thought process in the new coach is can he get the most out of young players, and is he open to putting young players in the lineup. So that will certainly be part of the thought process moving forward."

If that is indeed the case, hiring Murray would not be the same as what the team did when it promoted Berube.

But no matter who the Flyers hire, they will need to be careful not to repeat the mistakes of their recent past: hiring a familiar face that never gets a honest chance to build a franchise. 

"In the end, you’re looking for the coach that fits your team, obviously [that] thinks the same way to some degree," Hextall said. "In the end we’re looking for the guy who can take this group to another level not only short term, but long term."

That sounds great, but first we'll need some clarification on what "to some degree" means, as well as a promise that you'll give the next coach a chance to still be employed when the "long term" arrives.

Otherwise, it's going to be more of the same for the Flyers.