NEW YORK – Tom Renney is bracing himself for his first game against the New York Rangers since being fired as their coach less than a year ago.
Now an associate coach with the Edmonton Oilers under Pat Quinn, Renney will be on the opposing bench when the Rangers come to town Thursday night.
“I’m going to have a hard time looking at the logo and not identifying with it,” said Renney, who spent four years as Rangers coach before being dismissed in February. “I’m going to see familiar faces and be happy to see them again and all that kind of stuff, but I want to beat them. There is no question about that.”
Always a diplomat, Renney didn’t leave New York yelling and screaming and pointing fingers. He thanked general manager Glen Sather for giving him the job after a not-so-good first head-coaching stint with the Vancouver Canucks.
Without complaining, Renney merely lamented not getting the opportunity to get the Rangers out of the 2-7-3 slide that cost him his job.
“I didn’t see the end coming because I really and truly believed that we would turn it around,” Renney said Tuesday when the Oilers visited Long Island. “You’re never that naive where you don’t think that anything can happen at any time, that’s always there, but not to the point where it consumes you or disrupts your ability to pay attention to your job and be yourself.
“I really felt we would get the opportunity to do it right, to correct it. … I really felt like quite honestly the team was ready to respond again.”
Renney was immediately replaced by John Tortorella, whose bombastic style is in direct contrast to Renney’s more mild-mannered tone.
Whether a swift kick was necessary to jump-start the team is open for debate, but with a few late-season roster additions, New York made it to the playoffs. The Rangers even had a 3-1 series lead over Washington in the first round, before letting it slip away in a disappointing seven-game loss.
“I think I was certainly treated fairly. I love Glen,” Renney said. “I really wanted Glen to have success. I wanted him to be proud of his team, proud of me, and that’s the biggest disappointment of all.”
Renney served many roles with the Rangers during his nine years. He spent two seasons as the team’s director of player personnel in which he oversaw the amateur scouting operation, he moved up to vice-president of player development in 2002, and became interim head coach in February 2004.
The interim title was dropped that summer, and Renney posted a 164-117-0-46 mark as head coach. He led the team to three straight 40-win seasons and three consecutive playoff appearances after a seven-season absence.
Renney admitted he is somewhat relieved his first game against the Rangers is in Edmonton and not Madison Square Garden.
“Yeah, kinda. I loved it here. I was disappointed to go,” he said. “I really identified with the city. I went through a life experience as only the people here could have with 9/11 and I really felt like I was part of it all. It’s too bad, but I’m good.
“Believe me, I’m not sitting here crying over spilled milk or anything like that. I’m really great and life is good, there is no question about that, but I really enjoyed it here.”
Renney never really considered taking another job with the Rangers. In his core he is a coach, and a head coach at that.
He said only the opportunity to work with Quinn, who as Vancouver Canucks GM hired him as coach in 1996, convinced him to take an associate coaching role.
Renney left the Rangers with a lot more confidence in his ability behind the bench than he did when he was let go by the Canucks.
“I will be honest with you, it is different,” he said. “I think I learned that I’m a pretty good coach. Coming out of Vancouver, I came out of there wondering am I right? I was certainly disheartened and disappointed.
“I didn’t have that feeling this time. I honestly felt like I could turn it around. And why wouldn’t you feel that way? If you don’t feel that way, then don’t take the job.”
Renney said he had two voice mail messages waiting for him the day he was introduced with Quinn and the new Oilers coaching staff.
At some point, whether it is in Edmonton or somewhere else, Renney would like to again be a head coach. He is proud of his accomplishments, though he regrets how the Rangers let a playoff series slip away against Buffalo in 2007.
New York never advanced past the second round under Renney.
“Sure you evaluate this thing and that thing and you look at yourself,” he said. “I don’t think I ever found myself really (angry). We were hurt, my family more than anybody, and I took this opportunity to show my wife and my girls what standing tall looks like and what taking a shot looks like and having the dignity to deal with that and not throw people under the bus and just deal with it head-on.
“I was the head coach, period. And that’s that. I looked at it as an opportunity to help my kids understand that life isn’t always what appears to be fair and you’ve got to go with it.”