FORT WAYNE – Komets head coach Al Sims believes his assistant, Gary Graham, is ready for a head-coaching job at the professional or top-tier junior level.
After four seasons with the Komets, including two championships in the IHL, Graham’s résumé backs that up.
He’s done everything a head coach needs to do to prepare himself for a job, Sims said. The only thing Gary hasn’t done is get up in front of the group and lose it like a coach has to sometimes to see what kind of response he gets from people. But he’s got the ability to do that. He knows how important it is to do that. And that’s pretty much the only thing he hasn’t been able to practice, except maybe at home on his family.
Graham, 33, was one of three finalists last summer for the job with the CHL’s Bloomington Blaze – it went to Paul Gardner – and Graham is confident he’s ready if another team calls.
Oh, of course I am, I’m very confident, Graham said. But you’ve got to be patient. It doesn’t matter what sport it is, NFL or college, you’ve got to put your dues in. I have a very limited playing career and that’s unfortunate in the hockey world, where they hire guys based on that.
Graham played for North Side and 1 1/2 years of Junior A hockey. He began his coaching career at Snider in 2002. After coaching several junior and high school teams – including North Side – he persuaded the Komets to take him on as a volunteer assistant in 2008, while he was still coaching a midget team in Indianapolis.
Since then, the Komets have steadily increased his responsibilities and given him a staff job. He coaches the power-play units, prepares scouting reports on opponents and analyzes the Komets’ own tendencies through video.
For the past year, he’s spent the first period of games in the press box, getting a different perspective of what’s going on, then brings that to the bench where he coaches defensemen in the second and third periods.
My job as an assistant is to make Al as effective as possible and give him as much information as I can, Graham said. All the stuff I do behind closed doors, scouting teams, it gives him more things that maybe he’s not seeing and makes his pre-game meetings more effective. That’s going to make the team better.
Not many minor league teams have full-time assistant coaches, opting instead to delegate those duties to players. Graham is often the liaison between players and Sims, especially if there is tension.
It’s about getting respect with the group of the guys, Graham said. It’s easy to get to be buddy-buddy with them out there, and sometimes Simmer has to crack the whip, but I’m the guy they can come to off the record, and that’s good because I can be a good portal for getting information to management.
Given the Komets’ success since Graham’s been on staff – they currently lead the Turner Conference at 24-12-2 – Sims thinks it’s inevitable that someone will take notice.
He pretty much knows everything I know, and he’s watched closely, said Sims, whose team will play today and Saturday at Prescott Valley, Ariz., against the Sundogs (12-21-7).
The Komets may get leading scorer Brett Smith (14 goals, 42 points) back tonight, after he missed five games with a concussion. But center Leo Thomas won’t play because he was given a leave of absence to tend to personal matters.