At what point does management pay the price for mediocrity?
When Dean Clark was fired as head coach of the Prince George Cougars on Tuesday, he became the fifth man to suffer that fate since the local Western Hockey League franchise applied the axe to Ed Dempsey in October of 2003. The dumping of Dempsey was followed by the hiring and firing of Lane Lambert, the hiring and firing of Mike Vandekamp and the hiring and firing of Drew Schoneck.
In between Schoneck's release and the announcement of Clark as head coach in April of 2009, Wade Klippenstein served as bench boss and is still with the organization as assistant general manager and director of player personnel.
Between the start of the 2003-04 season and the end of the 2011-12 campaign -- a stretch of nine years -- the Cougars never finished higher than third place in the B.C. Division and compiled a record of 238-366-19-25. During that same period, they missed the playoffs five times. The four times the Cats did advance to the post-season, they were knocked out in the first round three times and made it to the Western Conference final once, in 2007.
The numbers and facts are far from awe-inspiring.
This season, the Cougars are limping along again. Heading into Wednesday night's home game against the Prince Albert Raiders, their record sat at 14-26-2-4 and was the primary reason for Clark's dismissal.
While the circumstances surrounding the firings of Dempsey, Lambert, Vandekamp, Schoneck and Clark varied slightly, an underperforming team was typically at the heart of the decision.
Now, is it possible that all of the above gentlemen were bad coaches? No, it's not.
To different degrees, they all had the qualifications for the job. Clark himself was a proven winner in the WHL before he arrived in Camp Cougar three-and-a-half years ago. Prior to his stay in Prince George, he had a regular-season record of 382-253-61, numbers that put him 12th on the league's all-time wins list. Clark also had 61 playoff victories to his credit and, in 1999, guided the Calgary Hitmen to the WHL championship and an appearance in the Memorial Cup.
On the day of Clark's hiring, Cougars general manager Dallas Thompson had this to say about him: "He is a very good coach. He's been to a Memorial Cup and he's excited to come here. He's proven he can handle a lot of challenges in his coaching career and come out of it with teams that are winners."
Clark didn't just forget how to coach once he got here. Neither did those other guys.
In the most basic of terms, a coach is only as good as the players he has at his disposal. Over the past 10 years, the players in Cougars uniforms simply haven't been good enough and that falls at the doorstep of management.
Mostly it falls at the feet of Thompson, who was the team's assistant general manager when Dempsey was fired, and took over as GM from Daryl Lubiniecki seven months later, in May of 2004. The general manager may rely on his scouts and his director of player personnel to stock his rosters, but, ultimately, he's the one responsible for the final product.
Prior to Wednesday's tilt against the Raiders, Thompson's record as GM stood at 222-358-14-28.
It seems well past the time for him to be held accountable for the failings of the Cougars.