Gulls’ GM Gets Into the Hot Seat : Hockey: Don Waddell appoints himself coach when search doesn’t pan out.


When Gull Vice President and General Manager Don Waddell began searching this summer for a new coach for his International Hockey League team, he was looking for someone who could not only improve on a 30-45-8 record but provide a little excitement at the San Diego Sports Arena.

The phone rang regularly and the fax machine received resumes from all over the country, but all Waddell apparently had to do was look in the mirror to find his man. On Monday, the Gulls named him coach.

It makes sense that he would take the job. Waddell is in the second year of a two-year contract, and he wants to get that contract renewed.


So he’s taking matters into his own hands. It still bothers him that Gulls spent the first two months of their initial IHL season in second place in the Western Division then won only seven of 32 games after January.

The second-half slide put the Gulls in fifth place, out of the playoffs.

“I interviewed quite a few people,” Waddell said, “and I could have hired a lot of people. I felt the best solution was to go back to myself.

“There were times last year where I could not figure out what was going on on the ice. I felt we missed some things. I can’t blame it on coaching. But this year, I’m the guy who’s got to bring the players in plus coach them. And I can’t blame anybody but myself.

“I get involved. I motivate myself. I want to win, that’s the bottom line.”

Expect Waddell, 33, a former IHL all-star defenseman, to add a spark. During one game last year, he threw a chair out from the Sports Arena press box in protest of a referee’s call. At the same time, then-Coach Mike O’Connell--who was fired after the season--was accused of being too passive.

“He’ll be emotionally involved and he cares,” said left wing Robbie Nichols, one of four Gulls signed to return this season. “The difference will be black and white. Mike knew the game, but he wasn’t very emotional. He just stood behind the bench.

“I remember playing one of (Waddell’s) teams when I was at Kalamazoo. He threw a water bottle into the back of one of the referees. Hopefully, he’s a little less rambunctious now. But I think it’ll be an exciting year with him on the bench.”


Waddell was an assistant coach for two seasons and head coach/general manager for one season with the IHL’s Flint (Mich.) Spirits. One year before coming to San Diego, he was Flint’s director of operations. During his year as coach, the Spirits finished 22-54-6.

Instead of coaching the Gulls last season, Waddell hired O’Connell, who had one year left on his contract as a player with the Detroit Red Wings and no coaching experience. O’Connell recently was hired as an assistant coach with the Boston Bruins.

“It’s a little hard going from a player to a coach without getting too close to the players,” said Larry Floyd, the Gulls’ MVP and leading scorer last season. “Some days you wake up and you still think you’re a player.

“I know Donnie, in his own mind, didn’t think there was enough discipline last year.”

The Gulls also named Andre Lacroix, the club’s executive vice president, as Waddell’s assistant coach.

Waddell says cost-cutting was not a factor in the Gulls’ coaching selections and said the management budget is bigger this year. Lacroix, who played for the World Hockey Assn. San Diego Mariners in the mid-1970s and is the WHA’s leading scorer, had been an assistant coach the past eight seasons at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.

The Gulls had considered one other candidate over Waddell: former Red Wings coach Jacques Demers, who declined the offer. So Waddell has stepped in and made a pivotal career decision.

“I’m taking a pretty big chance at my hockey future,” he said. “It would be a lot easier for me to sit back and hire a coach, even if I didn’t think he was ready for it.

“If I can’t make it happen now, then maybe I’m not cut out for it. But I’ll put my six years of management skills up against anybody in our league.”

Nichols doesn’t think Waddell is taking such a risk.

“I think we’ll be successful,” he said. “When the guy that’s signing your checks is behind the bench, you play a little harder.”