John Tortorella has spoken a few times since taking the Flyers job officially, and I gotta say, I’ve loved everything I’ve heard so far.
I know this is just an introduction, and it’s easy to win press conferences, but this seems like a different Torts. Like an older and wiser Torts who is still a son of a bitch but has traded a bit of that edge for pragmatism. He still demands a lot out of his players, but knows when to back off. This seems like a less confrontational and more measured TORTS.
Couple of quotes that stood out to me from his first press conference, and then the recent appearance on John Kincade’s show:
He knows people are down on this team and franchise
From 97.5 the Fanatic interview:
“I don’t go searching and reading all that stuff but you I couldn’t help but hear it as I was going through the process of what people were thinking of the organization. And this is an organization that I have truly respected over the years because I’ve gone in there and played with different teams, and how they go about their business. I get it. And I’m honest about it. It’s been a little lost and it needs some direction.”
Translation: everybody knows this team is shit. I know this team is shit. But who cares? We’re gonna bust our ass to right the ship.
There’s no shame in admitting that this franchise is “a little lost.” That’s just a statement of fact. As long as nobody is in denial of that, then we can pick this thing up and get it moving again.
Torts dropped a similar quote in his introductory press conference about how much respect there is for the Flyers as an organ-eye-zation:
“Back in ’04 we were fortunate enough, I was coaching Tampa, we went through Philly to win a Stanley Cup, beating Philly in the Conference Finals. I remember telling my wife and I told Chuck (Fletcher) this story, ‘Man, that is a place I would love an opportunity to be in and coach.’ The passion of the people, the building, everything about the city. It was really neat for me. I remember one of my first meetings with Chuck when we started this, he wore a shirt with the emblem and I said, ‘That’s where I want to be.’ That’s an opportunity that I have right now as I speak with you. …Guys I couldn’t be more excited being a part of the Philadelphia Flyers. It may sound a little silly, but even when I was coaching other teams, I’ve always thought about that city, I’ve always thought about that team. I would hope to have an opportunity along the way.”
On the changing athlete
This is from the Fanatic interview:
“It’s an athlete where they want to be part of the decision making. They want to be able to communicate more with the coach and with the general manager. It’s a younger athlete in our game. You guys have followed sports, in any sport athletes go in cycles of who they are, how they are, how you have to treat them. I think it’s important as a coach, it’s our job where we need to adapt to them. I say that very carefully because you still have to hold your principles, you still have to hold your concept about how you go about it as a coach. But you also have to respect the athlete and let them feel a part of it. I think that’s where it’s at today. I really do. Some of it agree with, some of it I don’t, but we’ll have discussions along the way as we get into those experiences when I’m coaching them.”
I love this answer because it’s applicable not just to sports, but to the modern day workplace. People like to say the Millennial or Zoomer is “lazy,” or that they want to work only 3 months before asking for a promotion, blah blah etc, but the truth is that younger employees care less about cashing a paycheck and working a job. It’s more about a career. Employees in the sub-35 age range want to feel like they are part of something. They want a seat at the table. They want it to be a two-way street. We all worked for shitty managers who acted like we didn’t exist, and wouldn’t give us the time of day, and those types don’t get buy-in. They get poor morale. The modern-day younger worker will put time and effort into you if you put time and effort into them. You have to make people feel like they’re part of something, and then reciprocity takes place.
On finding a balance
This is from the intro presser, in response to a question about how an old school and demanding coach lets his players find their strengths:
“I think I’ve kind of come full circle here, players need to express themselves. You need structure. I think one of the most important attributes of a head coach is to find and teach the structure away from the puck. I work at that. I kind of get coined as that defensive guy. You can coin me anyway you want; you can say what you want about me. That is a huge part of winning. As you see in the payoffs right now, as you listen to some of the players talking about it in the playoffs right now. It’s a huge part of being who you want to be and I think it really develops a standard of being a hard team to play against. On the other side of that, I think you have to get out of the way. I do think we overcoach at times. It’s something I try to check myself daily as I’m dealing with the players, especially in the offensive part of the game. I don’t have the ability or the sight that offensive people have or the creativity that they have. I need to allow them to play, but it’s going to be a two-way street. It needs to be a two-way street, just show me that you’re willing to give us something away from the puck. Not going to turn you into a checker, but you got to show me and more importantly show your teammates that you’re willing to do some of the other stuff as an offensive guy away from the puck. Then you have something and I think that’s what develops the right camaraderie of a hockey club. It develops the right attitude of a hockey club and how hard you have to be. I think it starts with your top guys. It’s kind of a give and take there. It’s a teaching process as we go through and I am looking forward, already made some calls today, to having some meetings next week with some of the guys, to start this teaching of a standard and the mentality of what we’re going to be. It’ll be a conversation. It going to be a back-and-forth conversation because I want to learn about them as they will learn about me.”
I also love this answer, especially the admission that coaches can overdo it sometimes. It’s important to have that self-awareness, and understand when to back off. Different players require different approaches. The hard ass tries to make this a one-size-fits-all approach, and that doesn’t necessarily work.
And Torts is right about players needing to express themselves. You see this in rigid systems sometimes, when creative guys get shoe-horned into roles that don’t fit. Sometimes you need to just let Kyrie Irving do his thing. Throw Lionel Messi on the field and let him roam. Flair and creativity has to thrive.
I think Torts has knocked it out of the park so far. Yeah, the roster stinks, and Chuck Fletcher has boatloads of work to do, but from a philosophical standpoint it seems like this is an older and wiser Torts, who is less caustic and more measured approaching his mid-60s. We joke about retread NHL hires on this website, but as far as introductions go, this one has me excited. I’m fucking Flyered up.