New Philadelphia Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol is just the third coach in history to make the direct jump from the NCAA to his first gig in the NHL, and it hasn't happened at all since the 1970s.
Much has been made of this in the 24 hours since Hakstol was introduced as the new coach. People have worried about how Hakstol will be able to command a professional locker room, which is obviously a much different place than the college room he's coached for 11 years in North Dakota.
Ron Hextall's philosophy on this is interesting. Many will argue that having NHL experience on some level is more valuable than anything else, which implies that somebody with a few years under their belt as an NHL assistant coach is better suited to be a head coach in the NHL than a few years experience as a head coach at a lower level.
Not Ron, though. Here's his take on this:
Every head coach in the NHL at some point is a rookie. Right? That’s reality. Some of them go through the American league, some of them don’t. Some of them are NHL assistant coaches.
Quite frankly, if someone said to me you can bring in an NHL assistant coach or you can bring in a guy that’s been in college for 11 years as a head coach, I’ll take the head coaching experience. That’s the valuable part.
If Dave had never been a head coach, different conversation. Being a head coach, being the guy in charge, making the tough decisions, putting your lines together, the gut feels you have on putting the right players out at the right time… he’s got all that experience. Yes, it’s at a different level, but he’s got that experience.
It makes a lot of sense.
Being in command of a hockey team -- especially a college program like North Dakota, which is about as "NHL" as it gets at the college level -- is a very valuable thing. Sure, assistant coaches in the NHL learn from their head coaches, and they learn the NHL style -- everything from the lifestyle to the personalities to the spotlight -- from by coaching at that level. But do they learn how to truly manage a team, and how to manage an entire coaching staff?
Much is made of NHL experience, but look at it like this: In October 2013, was Craig Berube better suited to take over the Flyers coaching job than Dave Hakstol is right now? Berube played in the NHL and was an assistant coach in the NHL, but does that automatically make him more qualified to be a head coach in the NHL? Hakstol, meanwhile, has been a head coach at a major college program for 11 years, with their NHL-style facilities, NHL-level talent, and a fan base that's more rabid than most in the pros.
Take all of that with the ridiculous amount of success he had at North Dakota and it's easy to see why Hextall is confident in the decision to bring Hakstol to Philadelphia. That's not to minimize the difficult task Hakstol has ahead of him making this big jump from North Dakota to the Flyers. It's a big jump, and there will probably be some growing pains.
But ultimately, hockey is hockey, and Dave Hakstol knows hockey better than anybody.