A Q&A with former Coyotes coach Dave Tippett on his new gig in Seattle
Dave Tippett didn’t quite make it to one year of retirement before he was back in the game he calls his “safe place.” The Seattle Time reported Monday that Tippett has been hired as a senior advisor for the Tod Leiweke-run group bidding for an NHL expansion franchise in Seattle.
Tippett’s oldest daughter, Nicole, lives in nearby Bremerton with her husband, Tim Brown, and their three kids, Brody (8), Wyatt (5) and Rylin (1). His wife, Wendy, is currently at the couple’s summer home in Minnesota, but she expects to join Tippett at a place they are renting in Bellevue. ArizonaSports.com caught up with Tippett on Monday for a Q&A on his year off, his vision for the Seattle franchise and what his future might hold.
Did you have conversations with other teams about their head coaching vacancies this offseason and did they progress very far?
Tippett: “I had some conversations but I decided I was going to take this time off. I wasn’t close to doing anything.”
What have you been up to in the past year?
Tippett: “I did a little bit of consulting for the St. Louis Blues and a couple of junior teams, but I really took a year to step back a little bit. I played a lot of golf, did some traveling, spent some time with the grandkids. It was a good year – a really good year. I golfed. I got my handicap down to a 6 or 7. I got a tan. I didn’t looked stressed out. We went to Hawaii a few times. We spent most of the time in Kauai. About six weeks before the volcanic eruption there, my wife and I went and did a bunch of hiking on the big island. We were probably a half an hour from that big eruption.”
What were you doing with the Blues?
Tippett: “I knew all of their coaches there, Mike Yeo, Darryl Sydor (no longer with the team), Steve Ott and Craig Berube and I knew [general manager] Doug Armstrong well from Dallas. He was just looking for another set of eyes in training camp and I went in and just got to know their organization a little bit. It’s really helpful to go in and not just see how coaches work but see how everything else works. I liked spending time around Doug Armstrong. He’s a really good general manager and really has a pulse on his team.”
On a personal level, how exciting is this job for your family?
Tippett: “With Tim being in the Navy and gone a lot, my daughter is like a supermom. She’s got the three kids and she sells real estate so she’s going all the time. Being up here and being able to see them more often is obviously a huge benefit to being up here. When you’re coaching, you don’t get to see them enough. They’ve got busy lives. This allows you to have a little more of a real relationship.”
It’s been almost one year to the day since you parted ways with the Coyotes on June 22, 2017, on the eve of the NHL Draft in Chicago. Can you provide any more insight into that decision?
Tippett: “It was just time for a change. I felt that I needed a change. You get tired of trying to fix it. It was somebody else’s turn. I thought it was time to take a step back and enjoy life a little bit.”
Did you expect to get back into hockey quickly?
Tippett: “I expected to do something else. I’ve been in hockey for a long, long time. It’s almost like going back to your safe place, but I did enjoy the year off and the ability to do some things that are off the schedule. When you’ve been on the schedule your whole life, to get off the schedule is intriguing, but I was going to work again. It was just that taking some time was the right thing to do.”
When the Seattle news started gaining steam, did it immediately interest you?
Tippett: “No, but a couple months ago, Tim Leiweke gave me a call out of the blue. I worked with him in Los Angeles (as an assistant coach from 1999–2002). He was the president of the team there. He was just inquiring what I was up to and said they were looking to try to do something here and there might be a way for me to help out. It quieted down for a bit and then they hired Tod Leiweke, Tim’s brother, so I spoke with him a little bit. They have come to the point where they’re really trying to push this through and they’ve got the arena deal close to done. The more I talked to Tod, the more intriguing it became.”
What intrigues you about this opportunity?
Tippett: “The people you work with here are really good people and they’re really passionate about doing this thing right. There’s not many people who get the chance to build from the foundation up. They were looking for a hockey opinion, not just about the hockey itself but building a culture of hockey and building the infrastructure, building a new arena, building a practice facility. That’s all intriguing.”
It’s an imperfect comparison, but how much can you draw on your experiences in helping build the Houston Aeros, Dallas Stars and the Coyotes?
Tippett: “It’s just like as a player, you learn from every coach. It’s human nature. You learn from every experience you go through. For example, when you’re thinking about the design of a practice facility. Well, I’ve spent my whole life practicing in those things so when you walk around you think, ‘hey, I really like that idea’ or ‘that’s a waste of space.’ There are a lot of things like that that really intrigue you.”
What is at the core of your philosophy for building a franchise from the ground up?
Tippett: “The ability to build the culture from the ground floor so you’re not going somewhere and needing to change everything. When you look at situations like this, the relationship between the team and community is really important and that comes first.”
What are the possibilities for you from here? GM? President of hockey operations?
Tippett: “I told them that the GM position is probably not something I’d be interested in, but a vice president’s role or a hockey operations role is something where you get to touch a lot of different areas. More than anything, again, to be on the ground floor of an organization starting up, there’s just lots of upside, lots of intrigue and it really pushes me in a different way that is exciting.”
You had said previously that the coaching fire still burned in your belly. Did a year off alter your perspective on what you might want to do?
Tippett: “Yeah, you certainly think about. Like I said, just getting off the schedule for the first year of my life, it was different. For me, I’ve always been a builder and the building process, whether you’re building or molding a team as a coach, or building a house or building a motorcycle (a Tippett hobby), there’s an element of satisfaction that goes with that. Building a franchise is the same.”
Does the coaching fire still burn in your belly?
Tippett: “I would lie to you if I said I wasn’t watching the playoffs and thinking about it. You see the energy in the building, like in Vegas before the puck drops. There’s lots of good memories of that nervous energy and being in the game as a coach or a player. I haven’t ruled out the coaching side of it if something comes up down the line.”
What does your timeline look like now? What is on your agenda first?
Tippett: “First, they need to get official approval from the league and they are working toward that. I think [commissioner] Gary Bettman has come out and said it will be some time in the fall, which is probably the timeline that is realistic. In the meantime, there is a lot of work to be done on the infrastructure here. Probably a year out, you start putting together your hockey staff. Those are all things that come after the official announcement. For me right now, it’s less about hockey stuff and more about infrastructure if you are going to have a hockey franchise. I’m just kind of in the background looking at some ideas that might be helpful if they do get it.”