Jeremy Colliton was fired Saturday after an up-and-down three years as Blackhawks coach. | Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images file photo
The same persistence and certainty in imminent success that initially earned Colliton the Hawks’ head coaching job also, in the end, lost it for him.
Jeremy Colliton was always certain he would succeed with the Blackhawks.
The young coach didn’t flaunt that immense self-belief in an arrogant or showy way. His lack of outward emotionality, clean-cut appearance and day-to-day steadiness actually hid it quite well.
But all along, it was there.
“You have to believe in what you’re doing,” Colliton said in July 2019. “You have to be confident in your plan. Certainly, [I’ll] accept input and be flexible and take the information as it comes in, and then adapt. But you’ve got to trust your gut and believe in what you’re doing. And that will come across when you deliver your message.”
Almost exactly two years later, in an interview this summer, Colliton was even more certain the long-awaited payoff was coming.
“Since I got here, the goal hasn’t really changed: We want to be an elite team, year in and year out,” he said. “We’ve made a lot of strides toward that. It’s not always a straight line…[but] it’s fun to have been part of the journey. And when we have that success, it’s going to be pretty rewarding.”
On one hand, Colliton never could’ve done the job — never could’ve gotten the job — without that unwavering confidence. Only because of it was he able to overcome the remarkable sequence of extenuating circumstances that plagued his three-year tenure.
It helped him replace legendary coach Joel Quenneville mid-season in 2018 and handle the ceaseless skepticism Hawks fans held for him given his age and predecessor. It helped him navigate the 2020 COVID pause, coaching the team to a fleeting triumph over the Oilers in the playoff bubble.
It helped him oversee the most logistically strange and difficult NHL season in history in 2021 and keep the ragtag Hawks surprisingly competitive throughout it.
It helped him hold on through ex-general manager Stan Bowman’s half-baked and wildly fluctuating plans for the Hawks, ranging from one-foot-in retooling in 2019-20 to all-out rebuilding in 2021 to all-in brashness in 2021-22.
It helped him juggle the public outrage over the Hawks’ sexual assault scandal. He addressed the media daily while those actually responsible — Bowman, Quenneville, John McDonough and, of course, Brad Aldrich most of all — hid in silence.
And it helped him gain and maintain the trust of many within the organization, including veteran players in the locker room. Patrick Kane, in particular, came to view Colliton as a true contemporary.
“I give Jeremy a lot of credit,” Kane said Sunday, one day after interim GM Kyle Davidson fired Colliton over the Hawks’ 1-9-2 start.
“He went through a lot…[and] he did a really good job. He’s got a really bright future as a coach. He’s a very smart hockey mind.”
On the other hand, Colliton’s self-belief too frequently crossed the threshold into stubbornness without reason — or, worse, outright inflexibility.
He stood proudly behind his hybrid defensive system, even though his defensemen never fully caught on and his teams constantly bled scoring chances. His open-communication coaching style applied only to players he liked, some to a ridiculous degree (i.e. David Kampf), and didn’t apply to players he disliked (i.e. Dylan Strome).
Despite his supposedly analytical approach to hockey — and definitely analytical personality — he often didn’t make decisions that aligned with what the data suggested.
And especially in the waning weeks of his coaching tenure, when absolutely nothing was going well, Colliton nonetheless refused to change anything he’d instituted, be it illogical lines or monotonous talking points or his much-discussed system. Even as the ship sunk, Colliton chose to imagine it sailing smoothly into harbor rather than try anything possible to patch the holes.
That mindset wasn’t out of character for Colliton. It reflected the same persistence, unflappable resolve and certainty in imminent success that initially earned him the Hawks’ head coaching job.
But in the end, it also lost it for him.