Newly-appointed head coach of the Toronto Marlies, John Gruden, met with the media at the team’s development camp to discuss his new role behind the bench.
How did the conversations start that led you to the position of Marlies head coach?
Gruden: I was under contract with Boston, and they got permission to talk to me. That is kind of how it started. And then there is the interview process. I came and interviewed.
Everything is a process. Every professional team takes its time to do its diligence to hopefully get the guy that they want. I am excited about the opportunity.
What interested you about this opportunity at the AHL level?
Gruden: I just go back to the grassroots of the time I spent with my sons’ teams, the time I spent in Hamilton, and I was fortunate enough to get a chance to coach under Barry Trotz and Jim Montgomery in the NHL. It got me excited. It is an important time for these young kids to get that development, which I believe is one of my strengths.
Our job is to try to make them better players and more importantly, better young men. I am excited about that.
How much does the motivation to be a head coach again drive the decision?
Gruden: I can’t say I am a young 53. I got the support from my wife. All of our kids are out of the house. She gives me that support to be able to do what I love to do because she has sacrificed so much by sometimes staying home. She will be able to come with me.
Sometimes you get something in your gut, and you have to go with it. You take it head on and do your best with it. I don’t think there is any reinventing the wheel here. It is a fine game. There is a reason why these young men play it. It is exciting.
What did you pick up from Trotz and Montgomery?
Gruden: So much. The professionalism and the type of person Barry Trotz is — it is no secret why he will be a Hall-of-Famer. It is no secret why he is still in the NHL as a General Manager.
Jim Montgomery — that youth and that energy and his intelligence about the game and how it should be played.
I was very fortunate to be working with guys like that.
What was it like last year with the Bruins with the NHL record-setting year?
Gruden: It was an incredible year. It was historic as far as the record, but we all know there is a disappointment with the ending. It is a tough league. It is tough to win at that level. It is definitely encouraging looking back now that it’s gone away a little bit. It was a historic season for sure.
Have you been down to the Coca-Cola Coliseum to get a lay of the land a little bit?
Gruden: Yeah, I’ve been down there and been here [at Ford Performance Center]. It is an older building but is exciting because the amenities and everything you need is there. It is at your disposal. It’s exciting.
Having been a coach in Hamilton, how does it feel to be back in Canada and specifically Ontario?
Gruden: I really had a tough time going left instead of right coming over the bridge [laughs].
I had so much fun being a part of the people that brought me on board there. We have so much to look back on. We won a championship, you know? I still have relationships with the players and the people that brought me on board. It was special.
I am joking about going left or right. I had no problem going left.
Do you have a particular development philosophy?
Gruden: I think every kid is a little different. Some need a little work at something on ice or off ice, and that is our job to identify that. It is our job to help them get better with that.
I think it is a strength of mine to be able to identify that stuff, but at the end of the day, it is a partnership. We are looking forward to that opportunity to help these young players along.
When you were a player, were there coaches or a coach who was influential on how you coach now?
Gruden: I was the type of player that if I was in the NHL, I was just happy to be there. I maybe wasn’t there long enough.
There are reasons why certain teams were successful and certain teams weren’t. Coaches had the ability to each still. It seems so long ago, but you always try to take the bits and pieces and make it your own.
How often do you get confused with the football coach?
Gruden: A lot — all the way back to when I was playing college hockey at Ferris State University. He was a quarterbacks coach for the Green Bay Packers. I had just signed an NHL contract. I am like, “Who is John Gruden? It’s me!”
I would spend spring break in Florida with my in-laws, and he was with the Buccaneers. The FedEx guy was delivering something to me. He thought I was the John Gruden. He was like, “It’s only you.”
I have a few of them, but it is what it is.
When you look at your roster as assembled, are there any players that really excite you right now?
Gruden: I will be honest — I haven’t really dove too far into that with me just being hired on board a few days ago.
We are now looking to fill our staff. I am one person. There are so many people. You can see the great development coaches they already have in place. Everything is there for us.
I haven’t really dove into that too much, but I know the organization and how they are going to draft good players. It is exciting moving forward.
When do you hope to have the staff all filled out?
Gruden: I don’t think there is a timeline. Between myself and Ryan Hardy, it’s about getting the right guys here that will complement me and help out with the development of the young players.
How important will it be to implement the style that Sheldon Keefe implements at the NHL level?
Gruden: That is going to be important. Once Sheldon gets some time and the two of us [meet], we’ll have some time before the beginning of the season to see what he would like from us. It is important to know what he is looking for so that if guys do get called up, they have been taught the right way so they will be used to the same systems and the player is comfortable.