Being an interim head coach is never easy. The title itself implies something previously went wrong with someone at the top during the flow of a season, and that was certainly the case when Bob Boughner took over the Sharks on Dec. 11, 2019 after Pete DeBoer got sacked.
The once-mighty Sharks were floundering, in desperate need of an about-face the front office hoped radical change could provide. San Jose improved but not enough to make a real playoff push. The Sharks even failed to qualify for an expanded, 24-team playoff format designed to restart the NHL season after pausing it due to the coronavirus pandemic, with a long offseason ahead to sort out their issues.
Finding a head coach definitely is one, though after doing due diligence, it’s possible the Sharks simply lift the interim tag off Boughner’s title.
“We have time to build the staff that’s best going forward for this team,” San Jose general manager Doug Wilson told NBC Sports California’s Brodie Brazil. “Bob has certainly got the inside track. … We’re still in the middle of that process. We’ll be very thorough.”
Players don’t have the ultimate say in that decision, but they were impressed by what Boughner was able to do after taking DeBoer’s place.
“I don’t think he entered a very easy situation,” defenseman Erik Karlsson said Thursday in a video conference with local reporters. “He did the best he could with what he had. He clearly thought about what he needed to fix immediately, and also had a long-term plan even though his future was uncertain.
“I think he did the right thing for the team and the organization moving forward. I think he did everything he could to be the best coach he could be. I think we got a boost from [him], but I think we were a little bit too far gone to really be saved.”
The Sharks were 15-16-2 under DeBoer and 14-20-3 under Boughner, though the latter dealt with season-ending injuries to Karlsson and Tomas Hertl and played several weeks without captain Logan Couture.
Boughner helped improve a porous defense and held players accountable for poor play and missteps. Long-tenured defenseman Brent Burns was impressed by Boughner’s effort, seeing a change in his style after returning to the team following two seasons as head coach of the Florida Panthers.
“You could see there was a difference in him from being a head coach during the time he was in Florida, but he was still ‘Bougy,’” Burns said. “He has all those positive things that made him great as an assistant. He learned to be a head coach, so he evolved and became a bit more authoritative. He has the ability to interact with guys like he’s still a player. He’s a great communicator. He gets what’s going on and sees it, but at the end of the day, he has a little bit of that "fear of god" in him.
“I think he learned a lot from Pete, learning from a great coach. He was great before, but you could see he evolved and was better. The atmosphere he creates is good. That’s tough to say with how sh--ty everything was going, but he did a great job with where he was at and where we were at.”
Boughner already knew most of the longer-tenured Sharks, but also found a way to connect with younger players.
“I learned a lot from him,” defenseman Mario Ferraro said. “He held me accountable out there and gave me a lot of advice as a young player in the league. I like the way he coaches and, if I were to make a mistake, he’s going to be hard on me but show me a way I can improve with video and stuff in practice. The season was pretty hilly for me, and when I was on the downhill, he would try to pick me back up. It’s a privilege to play for him.”