Penguins GM insists new coach Johnston was no afterthought

| Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, 6:54 p.m.

It took Jim Rutherford a minute, but he finally figured out how to operate the electric blinds in his new office at Consol Energy Center.

Then he looked out the window and smiled, a near perfect summer complete.

In fact, only one aspect from this summer seems to make Rutherford bristle, that being the notion that Mike Johnston wasn't his first choice to coach the Penguins.

That's not exactly the case, according to the general manager.

“It's not that he wasn't our first choice,” Rutherford said. “When I was preparing to interview these different people, I was told that he (Johnston) had the Vancouver job. That's why we didn't interview him in the first week.”

The Canucks job, however, never belonged to Johnston. Rather, Willie Desjardins, then the coach of the Dallas' Stars AHL affiliate, was essentially assured of being named Canucks coach even as he interviewed with the Penguins, according to Rutherford.

“I got halfway through the Willie Desjardins interview and realized that he had the Vancouver (job),” Rutherford said. “The next day, I called Mike and set up the meeting. He was never an afterthought. I was just told he was locked into Vancouver.”

Rutherford made waves when he told the Tribune-Review during the search that “the guy I had is going in a different direction,” which was a reference to Desjardins.

Johnston, he insists, was always an attractive candidate, and after working together for two months, he feels even stronger about his new coach.

“I feel that this has worked out the best it could for the Penguins,” Rutherford said.

Aside from being elated with his new coaching staff — assistant coach Rick Tocchet will coach the forwards and design the power play, and Gary Agnew will focus on the team's defensemen and penalty killing unit — Rutherford is delighted with the men working beneath him.

Associate general manager Jason Botterill and the team's three assistant general managers — Tom Fitzgerald, Bill Guerin, and Jason Karmanos — give the Penguins one of the largest management teams in professional sports.

Rutherford isn't concerned about hearing too many voices.

“Not at all,” he said. “I'm so comfortable with it because I've done this job for so long. If we were in the early stages of my career, I'd probably be concerned about it. (But) these guys all have careers and goals. My job is not just about managing the team. It's also managing people in positions. I like every one of these guys. It's going to be a very strong front office.”

Rutherford is so secure with his ability to manage the Penguins that, in fact, he is encouraging the four men beneath him to debate many facets of the operation.

“They all may have different opinions on different issues,” Rutherford said. “That's what I want. If they don't have different opinions, I might as well do this job by myself. I want different opinions. I want to sit them in a room. I want to watch them and listen to them debate. At some point in time, I say, ‘Time is up. Let's make a decision.' ”

So far, Rutherford is satisfied with every one of those decisions.

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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