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On June 9, 2015 the Detroit Red Wings
introduced Jeff Blashill as the 27th head
coach in franchise history.
The 41-year old Blashill became the
first Detroit native and first American
head coach in team history.
The Detroit Cougars/Falcons/Red Wings employed only six coaches between
1926--1968 from their inception into the post-"Original Six" expansion era
including two player coaches (Art Duncan and Duke Keats) in their inaugural
season of 1926-27 when the team played home games in Windsor, ONT.
HoFamer Jack Adams was coach and general manager of the franchise from
1927--47, then as GM hand picked his three replacements with the third,
HoFamer Sid Abel, eventually assuming the role as coach/GM.
When the "Darkness With Harkness" years of coach, then GM Ned Harkness
arrived in 1970, a total of 11 different coaches were in charge behind the bench
until Bruce Norris sold the franchise to the Ilitch family in 1982. Three of those
coaches (Doug Barkley, Alex Delvecchio and Billy Dea) had multiple tenures.
DID YOU KNOW there were really 28, or perhaps 29 coaches in Detroit
Associate Coaches Dave Lewis and Barry Smith shared head coaching duties
for the first five games of the 1998-99 regular season while HoFame boss Scotty
Bowman convalesced from off-season surgery.
Lewis eventually became Bowman's successor in 2002 for two seasons so he
counts as one of the 27. However, while Smith might be #29, because he was listed
as an "associate coach" Smith wasn't counted in the official Red Wings head coaching
roster and thus, he isn't the 28th coach we're referring to.
In the fourth season of Ilitch ownership the team hit rock bottom winning only
17 games for a franchise record three different coaches.
Veteran coach Harry Neale took over at the start of the 1985-86 season
and had no answers in how to turn around a team which had reached at least
the first round of the playoffs the previous two years under first Ilitch coach
Nick Polano. Neale went 8-23-4 and was abruptly canned 35 games into an 80
Neale, a former head coach for Ohio State University, in the WHA with
Minnesota and New England and for the NHL the Vancouver Canucks, never
After his Detroit dismissal Neale immediately became a longtime TV color
commentator for Hockey Night in Canada, the Toronto Maple Leafs and
Buffalo Sabres. In 2013 Neale entered the Hockey Hall of Fame as a broadcaster
with the Foster Hewitt Award.
Neale was replaced as Detroit coach on 12/30/1985 by former New York
Rangers, Boston Bruins and Red Wings HoFame defenseman Brad Park.
Park had an even more pathetic record than Neale, going 8-29-2 to finish
out the 1985-86 season before getting fired and replaced by Jacques Demers,
who was spirited away from the St. Louis Blues by Detroit.
Park's frustrations in coaching the hapless team he'd played for just eight
months before often boiled over.
Once, when asked by this reporter about in game strategy, Park exploded
questioning the questioner's ability to question him. While I concede HoFamer
Park may have known more about hockey than I did, as a former college coach
I wasn't one to join the other reporters in a generalized post-game quiz. I was
certainly both qualified and entitled to ask detailed questions about what moves
he made and why.
A shouting match followed and ended when I spit out, "I've outlasted 11 coaches
and I'll outlast you!"
Almost 30 years and seven Red Wings coaches later, I'm still here and Park is long
gone. Like Neale, he never coached again. I rest my case.
However, another Park frustration boiled over during his Detroit coaching tenure
and led to a six game NHL-imposed suspension. That's what prompted the 28th (at
that time the 20th) Detroit head coach.
Filling in during Park's suspension as interim head coach in 1986 was assistant coach
Belisle had no better luck than Neale or Park. The Wings went 1-5-0 under his
For the next five seasons the official Red Wings Media Guide posted Belisle in
its list of coaches. Then, for the 1991-92 season, some careless proofreader
omitted Belisle from the all-time coaching roster. His name has been missing
Because of that error, Park's Red Wing coaching record is incorrectly listed as
9-34-2 for the 1985-86 season's final 45 games.
A lifetime hockey man, Belisle was often overlooked.
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