- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 26, 2009

In second careers, great ones not so great

When Wayne Gretzky retired from the NHL in 1999, he held 55 league records.

He didn’t set any more in four years as coach of the Phoenix (soon to be Hamilton?) Coyotes.

Gretzky announced this week that he will step down as Coyotes coach and director of hockey operations, adding an ethereal name to the list of superstar players who couldn’t replicate their on-field success once they moved behind the bench or into the executives box.

You can’t really blame the team for offering the job to “The Great One,” though; he was already in the building (as part owner) and the league was coming off a devastating yearlong lockout and needed the help of the sport’s biggest name. Not to mention the franchise hadn’t made it out of the first round of the playoffs since its days on the Canadian prairies.

Based on the track record of one-time star athletes as coaches and execs, however, it was a long-shot move. D.C. fans know. Ted Williams had an unremarkable three years as manager of the Washington Senators before they hopped on a one-way flight to Texas. Otto Graham coached the Redskins to a 17-22-3 mark from 1966 to 1968. Slingin’ Sammy Baugh went 18-24 in three seasons as coach of the AFL’s New York Titans and the Houston Oilers. And players tabbed Frank Robinson as baseball’s worst manager in both of his seasons with the Nationals (though, to be fair, it was a tie the first time).

More recently, Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas, Hall of Famers with a combined five NBA titles as players, managed only one NBA Finals appearance in six years with the Indiana Pacers — and Thomas never even made it past the first round. Matt Millen built the worst team in NFL history. Michael Jordan shot air balls with Kwame Brown and Adam Morrison and has yet to assemble a playoff team.

So Gretzky has plenty of company.

Perhaps he could have taken a lesson from the man he supplanted as the NHL’s greatest scorer. In 1972, the expansion New York Islanders needed a coach, so they offered the job to the recently retired Gordie Howe. Howe, always a gentleman (except in the corners) politely declined — then returned to pros to score 189 more goals.

He said what?

“I just said, ‘What are you planning on doing with that? Do you realize the repercussions?’ ”

— Edmonton Eskimos GM Danny Maciocia on defensive tackle Xzavie Jackson, who stormed out of practice Thursday after a brawl and returned brandishing a shovel

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