McNamara Entering Season Twelve

July 25, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Bob McNamara will begin his 12th season at the business helm of the Grand Rapids Griffins in October as the only general manager the American Hockey League franchise has ever known.

Despite McNamara’s longevity, his job hasn’t remained static over those dozen years, and the upcoming season brings him more changes.

McNamara has to absorb a new Collective Bargaining Agreement the AHL signed this month with the Professional Hockey Players’ Association, and he has to do so at a time when his personnel duties are changing.

For the first time since the Toronto native came here from the Cleveland Lumberjacks, McNamara is not hiring the coaching staff. The responsibility for selecting the head and assistant coaches this year went to the Detroit Red Wings, the Griffins’ National Hockey League affiliate.

Last week the Red Wings announced the hiring of Mike Stothers as the seventh coach in the history of the Griffins. Stothers spent the past five seasons as coach of the Owen Sound Attack in the Ontario Hockey League. Jim Paek returns as assistant coach.

Outside of his relationship with Dan DeVos, who owns a majority of the Griffins with his wife, Pamella, McNamara probably isn’t closer to anyone in the franchise than his head coach. Greg Ireland, who McNamara handpicked to replace Danton Cole in 2005, was fired by the Red Wings last month.

The dismissal came even though Ireland won 60 percent of his regular season games, led the Griffins to the playoffs in his two full seasons, and had another year left on his contract. McNamara called Ireland, who joined the team as an assistant coach in 2003, a “tremendous representative” to the community, and said he was thankful for all Ireland had done for the organization.

Detroit gets to choose the coaches as part of the renewed affiliation agreement the two franchises are about to sign, presumably for four more years. The Red Wings’ choices will go on the Detroit payroll, eliminating those expenses for the Griffins.

Although McNamara isn’t making the selections, he said Red Wings GM Ken Holland and Assistant GM Jim Nill sought his input into the coaching choices. He said he was comfortable with his role in the process and was certain the franchise would be able to move forward with whomever the Red Wings named.

“Obviously, financially it helps us. The Red Wings are taking on the financial burden of the coaches, but at the same time, they have a little more control of the development of their prospects and that’s important for them,” he said.

McNamara said the new CBA gives his franchise and the AHL continued stability, as the three-year labor pact likely means there won’t be any lockouts or strikes like the NHL and Major League Baseball have experienced.

“We have a strong relationship with (the union), and we understand that the players make this thing go. Consequently, we’re very willing to work with them on any of their needs,” he said.

“We sat down and came up with something that pleases everybody, and there really hasn’t been any discord between the players and management. This new CBA provides us with a few new benefits.”

One lets the Griffins add another veteran player to the lineup, which largely consists of what the AHL calls “developmental players” for the NHL. At least one player now can have up to 320 games of professional experience, an increase from the previous 260-game limit.

But McNamara said the biggest benefit from the new pact is a major restructuring of the revenue-sharing formula for the Calder Cup Playoffs. This season the league will pay a fixed amount into the players’ pool for first-round games and another 32.5 percent of ticket revenues for all succeeding rounds. The change means the Griffins will be able to afford to do more promotions during the playoffs’ first two rounds, which the team hopes will result in bigger playoff crowds.

“This new CBA provides us with more latitude in terms of coming up with different promotions that gives us the ability to do things that doesn’t cost us additional money or cost us the ability to put more people in the stands,” said McNamara, who earned an economics degree from the University of Notre Dame and was a goaltender on the school’s hockey team, in the AHL, and in the International Hockey League.

New AHL franchises in Moline and Rockford, Ill., and in Cleveland should help to contain the Griffins’ travel expenditures this season. McNamara said the team can now bus to Moline instead of flying to Omaha, as the franchise relocated to the Illinois city. And if the schedule allows, the Griffins could ride the bus to Chicago, Rockford, Peoria and Moline on a single road trip.

“Certainly, it helps us geographically. We still have our trips to Manitoba, San Antonio and Houston that we do have to fly. But it puts more of a concentration in the Midwest, which essentially helps us,” he said.

The Griffins had a good season at the turnstile last year, drawing 274,657 to the 40 home games. That figure was up 5 percent from the previous year and was the first increase since the 2002-03 season. Coming on the heels of that success, the front office has cut prices for season tickets by an average of a third for the upcoming season, and added a few perks for ticket buyers in the hope that sales volume will make up for lower ticket prices.

The franchise also had a stellar season in the community, raising a record $320,000 for area charities last year. Over the past five years, the team has helped to generate nearly $1.5 million for local causes and organizations. The Griffins open at home on Oct. 20.  

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