Photo: Dale Zanine
Gwinnett Gladiators head coach Jeff Pyle has been hired to take over the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League. The move was announced Wednesday.
The only head coach in Gwinnett Gladiators’ history, Jeff Pyle, is moving up to take over the same position with the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League.
Texas, affiliate of the Dallas Stars, announced the hiring Wednesday afternoon and will formally introduce Pyle on Friday.
Pyle, 52, led the Gladiators to the playoffs in six of his eight seasons, including a berth in the 2006 Kelly Cup finals, and leaves just 45 wins shy of the ECHL career record.
“I never really expected it,” Pyle said from California, where he was on vacation with his family. “You know you do a good job, you know you’re a little bit of an older guy, but you’re proud for the guys, the other coaches, that have moved up.
“It’s a situation when you look back, you feel fortunate you had the opportunity to be in the situation you’ve been in. I wish nothing for the best for the organization and I’d like to thank all the fans. It’s a tough situation to leave.”
Only a few times in his long tenure with the Gladiators did Pyle even throw his hat in the ring when an AHL job became available.
“I thought I’d have a chance to move up with (Gwinnett affiliates) Chicago and Atlanta,” Pyle said. “That didn’t pan out. So I thought I’d look at some spots.
“I probably didn’t promote myself as much as I could. I wasn’t desperate to move up. I had a great situation.”
Pyle has a reputation for finding and developing young talent, which contributed greatly to his being hired by the Stars.
“I honestly couldn’t be happier,” Gladiators president Steve Chapman said. “Because I think Jeff needs this. I think he deserves it. I think he’s deserved it for a long time.”
Glen Gulutzan, Texas’ coach for its first two seasons, was promoted to take over the head job for NHL Dallas on June 17. Around the same time, Gulutzan, who coached ECHL Las Vegas from 2003-09, had been talking to Pyle about forward Ryan Garbutt.
Pyle signed Garbutt last summer and the skilled second-year pro spent just 10 games with the Gladiators before being called up to AHL Chicago.
During a discussion about Garbutt — who Dallas signed — with Texas’ general manager Scott White, the topic of Gulutzan going to Dallas came up.
“I said to Scotty, ‘If Gully goes to Dallas, I want to send you my resume so you can critique it because I haven’t sent it out too much,’” Pyle said.
White, who coached against Pyle while with Columbia in the ECHL, said the team had a list of candidates put together in preparation for the possibility that Gulutzan might leave.
“I worked with our guys in Dallas and we compiled a short list,” White said. “Jeff was on that list. We had interest from about 30 guys and narrowed it down pretty quick.
“I’ve known Jeff for a long time. I coached against him. He gets the development side and he’s worked with an NHL team before. He was ready. He was hungry. He’s a passionate guy and we believe he can handle the responsibilities.”
Pyle has already begun getting to know the talent in the Stars’ organization and is flying into Austin, 22 miles south of the team's state-of-the-art arena in Cedar Park, on Thursday.
Pyle will return to California after Friday’s press conference and then drive with his family back to Texas. They’ll start settling in to the new city and get son Ryan and daughter Lauren squared away at school.
“Everybody is OK with it,” Pyle said of the move. “(My wife) Cathy knows what a great opportunity it is. The kids have to leave their friends, but they know after little time, they will make new friends. That was my biggest worry.
“But it’s a great city and a beautiful setup.”
At the same time, Pyle said he would continue to recruit players for Gwinnett until Chapman finds his replacement.
Chapman has some candidates he’s interested in and wants to have the search complete, or at least narrowed, by the first week in August.
“I have no particular person in mind,” Chapman said. “I want a guy that knows the coaching aspects, has good systems, can challenge the guys and develop them.
“But the other side is understanding how we do things here. We are a family organization. We’re part of the community and fan-friendly.”
It was something Chapman talked to Pyle about when he first hired him in Mobile in 1998.
“I said we want to help people do the best they can,” Chapman said. “If that’s at this level, if it’s moving guys up, that’s what we want to do. We do it the right way here.
“When I talk to the right person I’ll know. That’s how it was with Gomer.”
Pyle coached the ECHL team in Mobile for four seasons, and to three playoff berths, before the franchise relocated to Gwinnett for the 2003-04 campaign.
In his first season here, Pyle took the Gladiators to the conference finals and started a string of six consecutive playoff appearances that was just broken in 2009-10.
Pyle, who played professionally for 13 years and amassed more than 1,300 points in North America and Germany before joining the coaching ranks in 1993, said he was extremely grateful to majority owner Toby Jeffreys and Chapman.
“I can’t thank them enough — they gave me a chance in Mobile,” Pyle said. “It’s a great, great organization. It’s been fun building it up. I think we’re all pretty proud of what we’ve done.
“The last couple years haven’t gone as well on the ice with all the call-ups (depleting the roster), but it’s probably gotten me this job. The only thing I regret is we didn’t bring a championship to Gwinnett.”
Chapman said he actually felt a little guilty being so happy for Pyle.
“But I’m going to miss him,” Chapman said. “He’s done a great job for us and he’s one of my best friends.”
Still, Chapman must find his replacement — while also keeping up the search for new AHL and NHL affiliates.
Gwinnett remains one of the premier locales in the ECHL and Chapman said even before news broke of Pyle’s departure Wednesday, several people had called to ask about the coaching vacancy.
“I hope this doesn’t sound conceited, but this is one of the best places in the league,” Chapman said.
Pyle said there are a lot of young guys out there that would love the opportunity to coach in Gwinnett.
“I was in no rush to get out of this league,” Pyle said. “It’s a great league. The coaches are prepared to move up. I think there are seven guys in the NHL that used to coach in the coast.”
Including Gulutzan, who Pyle will now work with to establish systematic continuity between the NHL and AHL Stars.
“I believe Jeff can adapt,” White said. “He was a good fit. He’s waited a long time for his turn. He won regularly in a real difficult league to win. I know. I’ve been there.
“I’m looking forward to the kind of coach he’s going to blossom into (with that as his only responsibility). He’s a quality guy. He’s genuinely thrilled — and how can you not be thrilled for him?”