Bryan Murray, longtime coach of the Washington Capitals until his January dismissal, received a multiyear contract yesterday as general manager and coach of the Detroit Red Wings.
"I feel it's absolutely necessary to consolidate the positions of GM and head coach," Detroit owner Mike Ilitch said in a statement that announced Murray's appointment. "This gives Bryan Murray complete autonomy and total authority in all hockey matters."
Jim Devellano was kicked upstairs from general manager to senior vice president earlier in the week and Coach Jacques Demers was fired yesterday, although he had three years left on a contract calling for $250,000 annually.
The club scheduled a news conference Monday and Murray, attending a weekend party in Quebec to celebrate his in-laws' 50th wedding anniversary, said he had promised not to discuss the appointment until that time.
"Obviously, I'm happy and I'm excited," Murray said. "It's a tremendous challenge. Now that it's official, I can interview people and select people to work with me."
Although Murray takes with him the eighth-best coaching record (343-246-83) in NHL history, he becomes a rookie general manager at age 47. A report in Le Journal de Montreal indicated that Murray would agree to become general manager only if he was coach as well, but he said that was untrue. He also said there had been no discussion of how long he would retain both jobs before turning over the coaching reins to someone else.
"When talks first began, the discussion was about the general manager's job," Murray said. "Later on, we talked about coaching as well, but there was no stipulation on my part. Everything closed very quickly. That's why I'm here today and the press conference is Monday."
Murray said he had been happy as a coach and had not repressed any burning ambition to be a general manager during his years in Washington.
"I never set out to be a GM," Murray said. "As I was coaching over the last few years, I was always into evaluating and talking to and about players. I've had exposure in those areas and fair experience and I think I'm prepared pretty well. At times, maybe I'd think that somewhere down the road I'd like that to happen. But I would have been happy with just the coaching job in Detroit."
For a while, Murray was wondering about the future, after he was interviewed by Quebec, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia without nailing down a job.
"For a long time it was disappointing," he said. "Hearing the words, being there and being close, but not getting the job wasn't a pleasant experience. But I had a couple of other opportunities the last couple of weeks and things were looking up."
One of the men with whom Murray expects to be talking soon is Doug MacLean, his assistant in Washington. MacLean was sent to Baltimore at the time of the Capitals' coaching change, then was booted out of the organization in May.
"He could be in our plans," Murray said. "We've had a good relationship, he's hard-working and he's loyal. That's very important now."
Obviously, Murray will be forced to win over Detroit employees who were in the corner of Demers, a very popular figure.
When Murray was dismissed by the Capitals, he was replaced by brother Terry in one of sports' stranger flip-flops. Now the two will be facing each other across the ice.
"The second game of the season, we'll be playing against each other," Terry Murray said. "It creates interest for me and for the fans. It should be exciting.
"I'm very happy for Bryan. It's been a long six months for him, just sitting around. As the season was going on, I talked to him many times and he was bored. It was tough doing nothing. He had several other opportunities, he thought he was close in Philadelphia and it didn't work out. I'm glad this came along."
Demers became almost a cult figure in Detroit as his first two teams, in 1986-87 and 1987-88, reached the Campbell Conference championship. Demers won the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year in each season to become the first multiple winner. However, in 1988-89 the Red Wings lost in the first round of the playoffs and this season they did not qualify, finishing with a 28-38-14 record.
Demers held a news conference yesterday at his restaurant in Southfield, Mich., and said, "It's a sad day for me and I know for a lot of people in Detroit."
Of Murray, the Adams winner in 1984, Demers said, "He's a good man." Then Demers noted that he had phoned Murray after he was fired by the Capitals.
"I said, 'Bryan, you're a good hockey man. You'll bounce back. Don't get too down,' " Demers recalled. "It's strange, in all of this, to think about that."