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Renney reincarnated as a players' coach

What would you do if you got a second chance? What would you do if you were lucky enough to get a once-in-a-lifetime job twice in a lifetime?

If you are smart and talented and the rare kind of person who learns from mistakes, you might be doing what Tom Renney has been doing with the Rangers. A little more than 10 years after a virtual team mutiny led to his firing in Vancouver, Renney has made the Rangers relevant again. And he's done it by transforming his style from that of a hard-nosed disciplinarian to the type of coach that Brendan Shanahan says players around the league clamor to play for.

Imagine Bill Parcells coming back as Tony Dungy? Or Pat Riley remaking himself as Flip Saunders? Well, that is the sort of style U-turn that Renney made between getting fired from the Canucks and getting named the Rangers' coach to start last season.

"First and foremost, he's a nice guy," center Matt Cullen said. "You can talk to him. Everybody on the team likes him."

Likable? Nice? That's not the way Mark Messier and Pavel Bure saw it in Vancouver. In his 101-game stint with the Canucks, Renney was known as hard-nosed and haughty, the sort of coach who suffocated players with his rules -- including an exceedingly unpopular ban of beer on the postgame plane.

After his firing in November 1997, Renney fell off the NHL map until Glen Sather hired him in July 2000 to oversee the Rangers' player development department. Renney returned to the bench as Sather's chief assistant in 2003-04.

If you've ever lost a job you loved, you know there's plenty of time to think about what went wrong and what you would do differently if you ever got another shot. When Renney took over as coach before last season, his view of how to get the most out of NHL players had shifted dramatically.

"Before Vancouver, my previous experience had been with Team Canada and the Olympic team, with a group of Canadian guys where you could crack the whip real hard and those kind of things," said Renney, 52. "I took that to my first NHL experience and it went very, very well -- for about two months.

"I think if I've learned anything, it is about the ebb and the flow of the NHL season and the psychological tax that these guys pay every day, never mind the emotional and the physical. I still think I'm the same personality I've always been. I think I'm a pretty humble guy."

That's a feeling echoed throughout the Rangers' locker room, especially from Jaromir Jagr.

There was a fair bit of chuckling at the initial pairing of Jagr with Renney, who seemed like the worst possible coach to work with a player some had labeled as a superstar prima donna.

Yet something immediately clicked between the two.

"It's all about respecting the players," Jagr said. "Some coaches in the NHL when they get into power, their ego is so big that they think they know everything. They don't know anything about hockey, but they are in power.

"Tom doesn't have any ego, where he's like, 'This is my team.' He has respect, and if you have that and you're a nice guy, a great guy, and you don't mess with anybody or blame guys and you're honest, even if you lose, players are not going to turn against you."

Renney has gone to great lengths to not be the face of the team, to be the man in the background. Though his personality quickly shines through in news conferences when he uses phrases like "a dog's breakfast" to describe an ugly loss, he quickly shoots down any questions about the role he has played in the Rangers' success this season. He also declines requests for one-on-one interviews, telling the Rangers' public relations staff that he wants the attention to be focused on his team.

"They are the ones on the ice," Renney said.

Yet his players believe the man on the bench deserves a lot of credit for the way they finished the season strongly and then swept the Thrashers in the first round of the playoffs.

Said Shanahan: "He coaches when you need to coach, but he also has a great knack of when to back off and let players be players. He puts people in positions to do what they're good at. . . . He, as much as any individual player, deserves credit for where we are right now."

Copyright: Newsday

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