It's June, but Gladiators coach Jeff Pyle is on a road trip. This time it's not yet another jaunt to Columbia, but rather the Grand Canyon with his wife and kids. But he took his cell phone with him, which he'll use after the weekend is over to call Chicago Wolves GM Kevin Chevaldayoff and express his interest in the coaching opening with that club -- the one created when John Anderson was hired by the Thrashers.
"I think the world of the organization," he said of the Wolves. Leaving Gwinnett for Chicago is not an issue, as a coach often has to move around to further his career (how about Germany to Mobile, Alabama?). "I've moved my whole life," he said. Pyle has two sisters and a brother who live in Minnesota and his wife's family lives in California. His two children are young, grade school aged. This being June, there wouldn't be any pulling them out of school.
Pyle wanted to talk about Anderson as much as himself. He said he was happy for him and Anderson deserved a chance. "Johnny knows those kids," he said. "He can get them to respond." He said for Anderson it's not about ego. Then he gave what must be the ultimate compliment among coaches: "I'd play for him."
He pointed out that he and Anderson think a lot alike, which led into me asking if he'd be willing to play Atlanta's (new) system if asked. He said he wasn't tied to one system, that if things aren't working, you change them. "If that's what Atlanta wanted to do, we'd do it." He pointed out that a lot of organizations are starting to do that from the top down, like the Islanders. He said that in Gwinnett, neither Atlanta nor Chicago had ever asked him to play a certain way. He said he tried some of their things anyway though, like trapping for a bit last year. It worked for a while, he said. "Yeah, we'd give it a shot," he said of using a playbook from above. "But if it's wrong I'd have no problem telling them." He gave the example of the long-debated question of whether Chad Denny should be a defenseman or forward. Pyle thought he developed as a defenseman over the course of the year. "Let him focus on it," he said.
Regarding Gwinnett, he said he loved the organization, "but it's hard in this league." There are so many directions he gets pulled in, so many hats to wear, that he doesn't get to focus on coaching as much as he'd like. Teams are short-handed a lot, the road trips are long. In the A, you can be more focused on the coaching part.
Then came the part of the conversation where Pyle starts to tell stories from the past. You get him talking long enough, it always happens.
I asked how long he had known Chevy. He said he met him when he was just starting out as a coach in Grand Rapids. Pyle was like the third assistant there, "and not qualified for the job," he said. He bumped into Chevy, who was looking for Bob McNamara, in the hallway. Pyle knew who Chevy was so he struck up a conversation. Years later, when Pyle was coaching the ECHL Mobile Mysticks, he had a player named Dave Craievich, who had played a few games for the Wolves. Chevy wanted to call him up. With about 10-15 games left in the season, the Mysticks were struggling to make the playoffs, and being the kind of team guy he was, Craievich wanted to stay and help the team. "Chevy got pissed at me," Pyle said. "I told him that I had offered for Craievich to go, and he didn't want to. I told Chevy, 'I can't make him go.'" That year, the team did squeak into the playoffs, but lost miserably in the first round, as Pyle recounted in clear detail.
Obviously Chevy got over the Craievich matter as time passed. Pyle said he's always treated him great, and treated Gwinnett great. He said the Wolves were a perfect affiliate, and that he wasn't saying that just to be a kiss-ass.
Regading Todd Nelson, currently an assistant with the Wolves, Pyle has commented in the past during the Traverse City tournament (where they coach together) how well they get along and see things the same way. He had a story about Nelly too. Again it was from the same period in Grand Rapids, and Nelly was a player. Over the course of that year, Pyle went from being and eye in the sky and making game tape to coaching the power play and penalty kills. Nelly credited Pyle with turning his season around, but Pyle didn't agree. "He told me, 'I had no confidence and you patted me on the back,'" Pyle recalled. "I don't think I had anything to do with it, but that's the way he remembers it."
Pyle sounded ready to work in any capacity, assistant coach or lead. He said he wouldn't be too worried about it. "It's all about winning and finding a way to support each other."