Q&A with new Wild coach Mike Yeo: 'I don't focus on results'
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Mike Yeo's last name comes from the word "Yeoman" -- meaning: performed or rendered in a loyal, valiant, useful, or workmanlike manner -- which seems appropriate for the youngest head coach in the NHL.
Yeo, 37, was initially considered a long shot to become the third head coach in Wild history. He has just one year of head coaching experience, spending last season with the Houston Aeros of the American Hockey League. But he won over the front office and owner Craig Leipold when given the chance to interview.
What do you now know about this job that you didn't prior to taking it?
MY: Not too many things, to be honest with you. I had a pretty good understanding of the team and the group of guys we will be working with. Obviously, I didn't know the additions we would be picking up along the way. Otherwise, I feel very comfortable with the preparation and the on-goings behind the scenes. These are things I have always been involved in, in the past, and fortunately, I've had that experience, and had a good understanding of the amount of time and commitment and work behind the scenes to make sure your ship is running smoothly.
Eleven years of experience at 37 years old is pretty rare.
MY: It is rare -- probably have to not be a very good player to make sure you're not playing hockey at 26 years old. It was probably the best thing for me. I had a career-ending injury and I was going to be an average player and I always wanted to be a coach, and I felt I could be a pretty good one. Again, it worked out pretty well for me. I ended up getting a great opportunity. At 26 years old, it's very rare to get your foot in the door coaching pro hockey. To be able to work with people that give you great experience and great opportunity to grow and develop - I'm pretty fortunate in that regard.
Was it you, was it people you talked to, that lead you to Houston opposed to remaining as an assistant in the NHL?
MY: I was very well aware of (what he needed to do to become an NHL head coach). Even when I first went to Pittsburgh, I sort of had the choice: Do I want to be the head coach in Wilkes-Barre, their American League team, or do I want to go up to the NHL? At that point, I felt it was very important to get the NHL experience, having not played in the NHL. I knew it was something I would have to do at some point. I believed I could be an NHL head coach, and I believe in my abilities, and more important though, I had a good understanding that was a path I had to take. And when that Houston job came open -- I wasn't searching around for jobs -- I always had it in the back of my mind. I had talked to Ray Shero (Penguins GM) a number of times, so when that job came open, and my relationship with Chuck (Fletcher), my relationship with Jim Mill (Houston GM), my relationship with Todd Richards at the time, and the fact that I had played in Houston, made it seem like the perfect fit.
Professionally, how much of a whirlwind has it been?
MY: It has. It has started to slow down a little bit now. Initially, your head is spinning; you're still trying to reply to all the text messages and emails. Just the whirlwind of bouncing around from place to place, just trying to map out a plan of how I am going to get organized and prioritize what needs to be taken care of. I'm at that point now and feel pretty good about the direction where we're going. This week has been really good for us. We have all our coaches in place and we have had some great meetings and we have really got the ball rolling as far as how we want to prepare, the type of plan we want in place, and how it is that we want to build the type of culture we want to put in place here.
How about personally with the family? I bet that has been just as crazy ...
MY: Not unlike many Americans, we have the great inconvenience of trying to sell a house right now in Houston. But that hopefully will take care of itself. But we have found a place to live here in town. We are going to be settled there in mid-August. So right now the family is up in Canada -- we have a cottage up in northern Ontario, so they're spending some good time up at the lake. I'm looking forward to making sure I get up there and spending a little time with them as well.
Saw your interview in the Fischler Report. I'm paraphrasing the quote, but you said something along the lines of, "I know exactly the idea what I want to take place." Can you expound on that, what the idea is?
MY: I guess I could kind of point at the Detroit Red Wings, or even the Pittsburgh Penguins. I think right now when people look at us and talk about the Minnesota Wild, a number of teams fall in that category ... people say maybe this is a team that could fight for a playoff position, maybe this a team that could battle its way to get in there and then you never know. I would rather be a team that at the beginning of the year that it's not a question if you're going to be in the playoffs; its maybe a question if you're going to win the Stanley Cup or not. To me, that's why we are doing it; we are trying to build a winner here. To me, if you want be a winner, you have to win. You have to be a Stanley Cup champion. You got to be that team at the beginning of the year everybody says that you got to watch out for. In order to do that, there's a lot that encompasses that: it's obviously what you do on the ice; it's also the culture that's created; how people conduct themselves; professionalism that they bring to the rink each and every day and the commitment level that they have. And again not just during the season, but the off-season, you hold yourself to a very high standard and hold your teammates to a very high standard, and again that's what we are trying to create here.
Certainly the landscape of the Western Conference can still change, but for the most part the teams are who they are going to be. Are you a playoff team right now?
MY: You know what, I refuse to answer the question. No disrespect. But it's just that there is a lot of talk about the playoffs. To me, we have no business talking about the playoffs until we become a very good team. You're going to hear me say it many times: I'm a big believer of focusing on the process, whether it's a player and individually what he needs to do to have success or whether it's a team and what you need to do to have your success -- whether it's for one game or whether it's the course of the season. I believe in the process, and the first step of the process for us is to form an identity; to really establish a sense of purpose of the way we are going to go out and approach each and every game. When you do that, you start playing consistent hockey. And when you start playing consistent, good hockey, that's when can start talking about being a good playoff team. So, for me, that's just a result of us doing all the other things. So, right now I want to focus on us doing those things well.
Let me try it this way. You pointed to the Red Wings and Penguins -- not exactly breaking news here, but the Bruins are the champs. How far away are you from the Boston Bruins?
MY: That remains to be seen. I believe in the personnel we have here. I'm very excited about a number of kids we have coming up. I haven't had a chance to be behind the scenes; to see how our team deals with adversity; to see the commitment level that we have right now. How long is it going to take us to get there? I'm not sure. I'm extremely confident we will get there, but it's very difficult to put a time frame on it because I do expect some road bumps along the way. Again, it remains to be seen how we are going to handle those things, and how long it will take to build those habits and try and create the culture.
Any coaches you try to mirror yourself after? Mike Babcock was a guy you mentioned earlier ...
MY: I'm a big fan of him. I love his passion, and he exudes a great confidence in himself. I'm a big believer that your team is going to take on the personality of your coach or your coaching staff. And I think you can see that with a team like Detroit. I think you can see it with a team like Pittsburgh. Many others (I'm a fan of) -- Dave Tippett (Phoenix Coyotes) -- the structure and detail his teams play with. Minnesota fans will love this one: being in Pittsburgh I got to be a big fan of Mike Tomlin (Steelers head coach and former Vikings assistant). Just the way he conducts himself and the way he gets respect from his players. I was very impressed with him.
Fine line though because if you talk to some Steelers, they won't exactly say he's a player's coach. It's a very fine line: commanding respect, but not ripping to shreds a locker room with guys not respecting you because you're too over the top.
MY: That's not my style. I'm not a guy that is going to get my finger in a guy's face and scream. That's not me. That's not who I am. I believe I like to be treated with respect and I know the players feel the same way. And I will always be that. I will always be true to myself. As far as I am concerned, I have made a commitment to this organization to do whatever I can to make it good. I really want the players to like me, but at the same time it's more important to think of the entire group; what's best for not just that particular player, but also the rest of the guys in this dressing room; all the staff; all the fans; and everybody else. Sometimes you're going to have to do some things that aren't popular with one guy. But, again, you have to look at the big picture. But having said that, I believe my personality -- I really just get to try to know these guys and I think they will get a sense that I really want them to accomplish great things, individually and obviously as a group. I'm pretty sure these guys will come to trust me and they'll understand that my intentions are for the best of them.
Did you ever think the dynamic of this locker room would change so fast - Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Darroll Powe and Mike Lundin. Did you ever think that that many acquisitions would take place so quickly?
MY: I had no idea that somebody could make as many good moves as that. So, it's exciting. Coming in and mentioning to Chuck (Fletcher) the type of game we would like to play; what it is we would like to try and create here -- a team that is really tough to play against. So, you look at the players that we have acquired since my hiring, and these guys really fit the bill for what it is we are trying to do here. And there is different ways to do that -- you can't be just a defensive team and you can't be just an offensive team. You have to be able to do things well and you have to have different pieces to the puzzle. That's what we have added. You look at the four guys brought in and every guy brings something different to the table. When you're putting it all together, or when you're piecing that puzzle, that's what makes you a good team at the end. Everybody brings what they do really well and they do it consistently and then you become a good team.
Over/under Dany Heatley goals -- 40?
MY: See, you're doing it again. I don't focus on results. Whether it's a team or individual, you can hurt yourself that way. If he goes into the season and says he's got to get 50 goals and now he's going into the game and maybe he starts to cheat, and maybe he starts to put more pressure on himself. What if he has gone five games without a goal? Where as if he can just really have a clear picture in his mind of how it is he is scoring goals; what it is he is doing when he is scoring those goals and then if we can drill that into him every game -- go out and do that, then he is going to score a lot of goals. I will sit here and say I fully expect him to score a lot of goals next year. But for me to say he's going to score 40 or he's going to score 50, I'm not going to do that. More important to me is how many times can we get Dany Heatley to play his game and play it really well.
DW :I had two buddies tweet me, 'Did you see the behind-the-scenes show on Yeo?' They didn't know a whole lot about you, but now they're in love with you. What kind of feedback have you gotten since that show aired?
MY: I got a few censored comments, a few bleeping comments, so kind of was surprised when I watched that. I didn't realize I did that as much, and I'm going to have to watch that obviously. But the feedback has been great. I didn't know what to expect. It's funny: you put a mic on for the first five minutes, you're thinking about it and you're very conscious of what's being said. Then, all of a sudden, the game starts and you forget it's there. When I watch it, it's very real. I'm very grateful that the comments have been very good and the feedback has been very good because that's who I am; that's true to whom I am. I'm a passionate guy. I feel I'm very methodical. I am emotional, but I feel I can control my emotions, given what the situation calls for. If I feel our team needs more life, more emotion, or if I think our team needs more of a calmer presence, I believe I can do that as well. I thought the show was fantastic and I thought the show was able to capture some of those things. I'm grateful that it portrayed me in what many people thought was a very positive way.
Is there anything about you that would surprise us, personally or professionally?
MY: I don't know. I don't know how much people know about me yet. I'm pretty open. I don't try to keep things in too much. I'll be the first person to laugh at myself. Again, I believe in just being your self. So, I'm going to do what I can to show people who I am, and what I can bring to the table. There won't be too much hiding with me, that's for sure.
We're not Toronto, or Calgary or Vancouver, but you're going to be scrutinized. Are you ready for that?
MY: I am. I would be absolutely lying if I didn't say I want every fan to love me; to think I was the greatest coach, and every reporter to think I was the smartest guy in the league. I'm also not foolish enough to believe that's going to happen. That's part of the job. To me, if I'm going out and doing the things I have to do day in and day out, then hopefully this team will get to where we have to go. And when we get there, that's when all that stuff comes out. I've been a part of a team that won a Stanley Cup and I've had a chance to see the bumps in the road and the dips and the adversity you have to go through, and there's going to be downtime here too. And when that happens, people look for answers and look for reasons. I'm fully aware of that and fully accepting of that. I believe once we get through those and get to the other side of where we want to go to, that's when hopefully you get rewarded with that stuff. But that's not why I do it anyway. I do it because I love the game. I do it because I love to win, and hate to lose.
In summation, your style of play, and what can people expect to see?
MY: We're going to be fast. We're going be physical. We're going to be aggressive. We're going to be detailed, structured, and defensive. When I talk about our game, we're going to be a team that goes north with the puck quickly. We're going to be a team that tries to get to the offensive zone as quickly as we can and we want to play in the offensive zone. We want to stay there for long periods of time and force the other team to defend. But when it's time and we don't have the puck, we're going to defend the right way. We are going to play a real structured game, a real detailed game. I'm a big believer that the two go hand-in-hand: the better you play defensively, the better details and habits you have in your game, the more you're going to have the puck, the more often you're going to get the puck in situations where you can counter attack or catch the other team in a bad situation.