Ted Santiago doesn’t have a safe in his office. He may need one once word leaks out about the priceless item sitting on his desk.
“I went ahead and had a Dave Tippett bobblehead created in recognition for all that he’s meant to this franchise in such hard times,” said Santiago, the Coyotes vice president of marketing. “He’s beloved by our fans and embraced by our fans, so I figured we’d hit a home run with that as a giveaway at a game this season.”
Unfortunately for Santiago, there will be no giveaway. When Coyotes vice president of communications Rich Nairn approached Tippett about the idea, he got a classic response from the coach.
“He said, ‘Once you do every player on the roster and Don Maloney and Nairn, too, then I’ll consider it,’ ” Santiago said, laughing. “It’s really too bad. It’s the best one I’ve ever seen.”
Maybe a groundswell of fan support will force the Coyotes to reconsider. Maybe new owners George Gosbee and Anthony LeBlanc will announce a Tippett bobblehead night just to say thanks. But if you’re expecting Tippett’s stamp of approval on an act of self-promotion or self-absorption, you haven’t been paying much attention to this club the past four years.
Tippett’s work ethic, analytical approach, ability to relate to players and ability to squeeze every drop of potential out of his lineup have earned him plenty of accolades in his four-season Phoenix tenure, including the Jack Adams Award in 2010 as the NHL’s best coach.
And he certainly doesn’t shy away from community appearances if it can help others or the franchise. But when the idea of promoting himself is floated, whether through bobbleheads or the team’s recently released new ad campaign in which he is conspicuously absent, his response is always the same.
“It should be about the players,” Tippett says in a tone that preempts follow-up questions. “It’s always about the players.”
There are plenty of pro sports executives, coaches and players who talk about humility and selflessness, but there are few who actually walk that talk, and only a handful that do so without effort because it is such a fundamental part of their personality.
That’s Dave Tippett at his core: Do the job with every tool at your disposal and every drop of effort in your well. And let the result, not the reward, drive you.
“All you have to do is look at the body of work since he’s been here to know what kind of coach he is,” LeBlanc said.
LeBlanc heard enough about Tippett from Coyotes and NHL players and executives to know that re-signing him was Priority No. 1 when IceArizona took over the team. And he had seen enough miracles from Tippett and the cash-strapped Coyotes to know that a deal in line with the five-year, $10 million contract Alain Vigneault signed in New York was warranted.
But it was only after he had been around the team consistently for the past month that LeBlanc really understood why the Valley’s core hockey people are so gaga about their spotlight-avoiding coach.
“Just as a man, he’s this wonderful, genuine, funny guy — a high integrity guy,” LeBlanc said. “He’s the kind of person you like to be associated with.”
Tippett admits he is excited about the franchise’s prospects now that it has owners and a reasonable amount of money to spend on payroll.
He is also grateful for the unanimous support he gets from those owners, GM Maloney, his staff, his players and the fan base.
“It’s an honor to be put in that position,” said Tippett, noting the freedom he has been given to implement his own philosophies, and the input he is afforded on personnel decisions.
“That being said, I hope we’re not satisfied,” he said. “We’ve been telling people ‘give us a chance’ for four years. Well, now we have a chance. What are we going to do about it?”
With that, Tippett recites the mantra the players have heard throughout training camp — the one fans will hear repeated as the season approaches and begins.
“There needs to be a new attitude around here — not a new identity; we want to keep that hard working, pack mentality. But it’s up to us to do things right,” said Tippett, who took over the Coyotes coaching duties exactly four years ago.
“The ownership wants us to be an organization that does things right. Don and his staff want to be that way. The coaching staff wants to be that way. Shane Doan wants the players to play like a top organization and our community wants to be proud of the organization because they’ve stood by us through all the tough times.”
Which explains why Tippett has little time to ponder bobbleheads.
“If you’re honest in your assessment of what you’re doing, and honest in your commitment to winning, usually you get a chance to win,” he said. “But again, it’s up to us. It’s not just about are we going to be here or can we have some success with limited resources now. There’s pressure to win now because there are no excuses. And it’s pressure on everybody, including me.”