Ron Wilson, the only coach to take the Washington Capitals to the Stanley Cup finals, was in town Wednesday night with his current team, the San Jose Sharks, reminiscing about his five years in Washington.
"I remember the night in 1998 when we won the Eastern Conference in Buffalo and someone said, 'Don't hold up a trophy until after the Stanley Cup finals,' and I said: 'That's bunk. We won something; hold up that trophy,' " Wilson recalled. "And when we came back to our practice facility at Piney Orchard, the crowd to greet us stretched for half a mile. It was a magical night."
Four years later, Wilson was out as coach, fired by a longtime friend, Caps General Manager George McPhee, despite a winning percentage of .540 and two additional (losing) playoff appearances.
"But there is life after Washington," Wilson reminded. "Look, when presidents leave town, they don't stop living and working."
And neither did Wilson, who was hired by San Jose and has become the most successful coach in that team's history in nearly four seasons with a winning percentage of nearly .590. He's only 12 games short of coaching 1,000 NHL games.
If that speaks well of one former Washington coach, what about the good fortune that came to Norv Turner this week? The one-time head coach of the Redskins, who was canned by Daniel Snyder with three games left in the 2000 season and the team still in playoff contention, was hired Monday to replace Marty Schottenheimer (remember him?) as head coach of the talented San Diego Chargers.
Turner inherits a LaDainian Tomlinson-led Chargers team that went 14-2 in 2006 before losing to New England in an AFC semifinal game at home.
"It's obvious to me the expectations for this football team," Turner told reporters in San Diego on Monday.
That Turner would have landed such a coveted job is puzzling to some, what with his 49-59-1 record in seven years with the Redskins and 5-11 and 4-12 marks as head coach of the Oakland Raiders in 2004 and 2005, respectively.
But Turner got the job because his work as an offensive coordinator in Dallas, San Diego, Miami and San Francisco was so valued. Turner's critics have said he isn't a motivator and runs too loose a ship, but his supporters discount that.
"He was demanding and taught me how to play the game," said quarterback Trent Green, who played for Turner with the Redskins and now stars for Kansas City. "He has a personality without a wall. That's not a weakness but a strength. You can actually have a conversation with him."
I asked Green to identify Turner's strength: "He's a great play-caller with a wonderful feel for the game."
So why only one playoff appearance (1999) in seven years with the Redskins? "We were close several times, but the NFL hadn't expanded its wild-card playoff field and we barely missed out twice."
To those of us who admiringly watched Turner keep his cool and dignity through all the close defeats and disappointments in Washington, this latest opportunity gives him one more chance to prove the late Jack Kent Cooke right when Cooke said upon hiring Turner in 1994, "He'll go down as one of the most successful coaches in the NFL."
For Wilson, staying in the game means "seeing young guys get better" and developing relationships "that last forever."
Forever YoungIn a sense, that's what keeps Tom Young, an assistant coach on Eddie Jordan's Wizards staff, on the bench. Young, 73, is among many veteran coaches on benches throughout the NBA. For years, veterans Tex Winter and Johnny Bach worked for Phil Jackson in Chicago. Pete Carrill was on the staff at Sacramento after a successful head coaching career at Princeton.
"Veteran coaches provide a calming influence," said Ernie Grunfeld, president of basketball operations for the Wizards. "And there's no substitute for experience."
Young's coaching career began in 1958, when at 24 he became head coach at Catholic University, where he spent nine years. He was an assistant at Maryland for two years, head coach at American University for four and head coach at Rutgers for 12. One of his Rutgers players, Eddie Jordan, currently is his boss.
"What I enjoy most about being on the staff is the thrill of the games -- the ups and downs," Young said recently. "Nowhere else can you get the excitement of a win or feel the depression of a loss. I also hope my experience is a help to the team."
"Tom is as loyal and supportive as they come," Jordan said through a team spokesman. "I lean on him for his knowledge, expertise and experience."
· Road wins over North Carolina State and Clemson, followed by a convincing victory at home over Florida State Wednesday night, should ensure Maryland's return to the NCAA men's basketball tournament. "We just kept working, regardless of our record," Gary Williams said of his team's surge. Williams also credits the infusion of newcomers Greivis Vasquez, Eric Hayes and Bambale Osby. Should be noisy tonight at Comcast Center, with North Carolina in town.
· And with little fanfare, Joe McKeown's George Washington Colonials (No. 9) have established themselves as a top 10 women's team, not far from Maryland (No. 6).
· Matt Williams, a spokesman for Abe Pollin, points out Verizon Center, built privately by Pollin, will revert to the city in 2047 regardless of whether the City Council approves $50 million for improvements to the arena. Williams said the $50 million would go to renovations and upgrades to keep the 10-year-old arena "competitive with other venues in attracting major events." When I saw $400,000 will be spent on flat-screen TVs in suites, I wondered if Wilbon was involved in this purchase.
· If the Nationals are trying out 36 pitching candidates this spring, surely three or four of these guys might be good enough to throw behind John Patterson. I love the optimism of Manager Many Acta but wonder if the new ownership appreciates the attachment many fans had for Alfonso Soriano (now a very wealthy Chicago Cub) and Chad Cordero (on the trading block?).
· "Friday Night Lights" update: Not much football last week, considering we're in the middle of the Texas high school playoffs. But Buddy Garrity spoke for many of his fellow boosters around the country when he confessed to Dillon Coach Eric Taylor: "I'm a weak man, and I'm a sinner."