- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 14, 2002

Former Washington Capitals coach Ron Wilson yesterday termed his five-year stint with the team "a bizarre accomplishment" in a day and age when the shelf life of an NHL coach is relatively short.
Wilson spoke about his tenure as the Caps coach for the first time since he was fired last Friday when friend and general manager George McPhee gave him the news.
"I was and I wasn't surprised by the dismissal," Wilson said by phone.
The coach said he thought "everything was fine" when he left town last week to attend to personal business. Things seemed to change quickly.
"I guess people have the right to change their minds," said Wilson, who led the Caps to a 192-159-51-8 record in his five years. "But in the end you have to hold yourself accountable for how the team performs."
Only two current coaches, Scotty Bowman in Detroit (9 years) and Paul Maurice in Carolina (7), have been with their teams longer than Wilson was. And only Bryan Murray, with 672 games, coached the Caps in more games than Wilson (410).
"These things happen, it goes with coaching," he said. "You have to accept responsibility for failure. I don't view anything negatively."
No successor has been named.
Wilson, who was dismissed with a year left on his contract, said it became apparent the players stopped listening to his message, an inevitability in any coach's career regardless of his sport.
"At some point [the players are] going to tune you out," he said. "There are only so many ways you can fix things. I guess I found new and unique ways to extend it, being able to get in five years."
Wilson admitted it wasn't easy to play for him, especially when a player didn't perform up to expectations.
"I felt that if I didn't find ways to upset players, then I hadn't done my job," the 46-year-old said. "Players said that I was never pleased with what they did and maybe there were times when I said the wrong thing at the wrong time. But the job is never done until you've won [the Stanley Cup]."
Wilson is the only coach in club history to lead the Caps to the Stanley Cup finals, where Washington was swept by Detroit in 1998. However, the club has yet to win another playoff series since that season. This season the team added scoring sensation Jaromir Jagr, a move many observers saw as the key to unlocking the door to a championship, but the team didn't even make the playoffs.
"We almost pulled it off there at the end of the year," Wilson said, noting that the Caps missed the playoffs by one victory. "And I'd like to think if we had made it we'd still be there today, still playing."
Despite his unexpected termination, the coach will take away some positive memories from his days as Caps coach.
"I'm proud of the fact that I had an impact on some of the players' careers," he said. "Some of them had career-best years with our coaching staff [of Tim Army, Tim Hunter and Dave Prior]. What I look at is, our goal is to try to improve every player and I know we tried. And while we were here, there hasn't been one player who was ever in trouble with the law."
Wilson doesn't have any plans. He wants to sit back, think and reassess his options. He has been prominently mentioned as a candidate to return to his first head coaching job, in Anaheim, where Murray recently stepped down as coach and assumed the job of general manager. Wilson would not rule out any possibility right now.
The coach believes the recent turn of events wouldn't affect his friendship with McPhee.
"George was able to separate the personal aspects from the professional and I can, too," Wilson said.


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