April 2, 2010

Smith: Q&A with Mammoth GM Steve Govett

by Theresa Smith | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Fans have shown amazing loyalty in Colorado, where the Mammoth has yet to win a home game. A franchise ranked in the top two in National Lacrosse League attendance since entering the league eight years ago, and a contender on the floor throughout that period, culminating in the 2006 Champion’s Cup, has sunk to the bottom of the NLL standings at 2-9.

In the offseason, general manager Steve Govett traded away popular franchise scoring leader Gavin Prout in a youth movement that yielded the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, Ilija Gajic.

Bob McMahon started the season as head coach, but was fired by Govett after an 0-2 start. Govett hired himself to take over, adding head coaching duties to his general manager role.

After going 2-5, Govett stepped down as head coach and hired Bob Hamley, a long-time NLL head coach and former Mammoth assistant whom he had brought on as an assistant at midseason. In an odd twist, McMahon returned to the team as an assistant.

Meanwhile, Ilija Gajic, one of three Gajic brothers on the roster, is suffering from a gastrointestinal condition and has missed the past three games after scoring 15 goals with nine assists in his first eight games. His health woes follow a pattern that has plagued several all-star Mammoth players, beginning with Jay Jalbert’s concussion-induced early retirement, and continuing with Gee Nash’s back injury, Dan Carey’s head injury and Curtis Palidwor’s eye injury, suffered by the starting goaltender on opening night when a high-speed shot hit him in the mask.

Steve Govett willingly and candidly discussed all these issues in a question and answer session with LMO.
You’ve had Bob (Hamley) assisting for a few weeks. What made you decide to go ahead and make him the head coach and bring Bob McMahon back as an assistant?

It was never my intention to coach all that long. I probably coached longer than I wanted to. I wanted an opportunity to have Bob or whoever I brought in -- in this case, Bob Hamley -- to get to know the guys and what was going on. I didn’t want to throw him to the wolves right away. I thought that would be unfair.

Unfortunately, we’ve lost some games in the process. That’s not desirable, so it seemed like the right time. Things weren’t going exactly as I would have liked. It didn’t work out, so I decided it was time and allowed Bob to step in, in what is hopefully a relatively seamless transition because he’s been around and understands the personalities. It is tough to walk into a locker room to have guys you don’t know, nor how to get the best out of them. We’ve had lots of discussions, and Bob and I understand each other. That’s what we wanted.

And I’ve been talking to Bob McMahon all along. It was a difficult decision when I made the decision to do what I did [firing him], and I think Bob [McMahon] certainly understood it and supported it as much as he could support it.

At the end of the day, he and Bob Hamley have a great working relationship. I love Bob McMahon in the role we have, working with the defense. I think he is extremely well-suited for that, and he’s an excellent assistant coach and is tremendous at the defensive end. And I think Bob Hamley is very good at the offensive end and organizing overall, and that led me to the decision. Certainly, it was later than I would have liked.

I wanted to try and get more wins and squeeze a couple more things out of that situation, so that I could pass that on to Bob in a better situation and let me focus on the other duties that I have in the front office.

Speaking of those, did you find yourself working longer hours with both jobs?

Certainly, any time you are adding responsibilities to your plate you are working harder and working longer. I would spend a lot more time watching game film than I have in the past and trying to break that down. Most of the GM duties are done prior to the season starting. But with the amount of injuries we’ve had and the amount of bizarre occurrences, I’ve had to attack that and approach that differently. And I needed to focus back on the business operations and the logistics of making sure the team is able to play at the highest level. 

How long did you ponder this coaching change?

Every time you lose, you look at every possible scenario and say, "What can we do to improve?" This is no different; we’re looking at every possible way to fix it. Would I have liked to have stayed through the end of the season and won multiple games and be in the situation where we were righting the ship, if you will, which was my intention all along? Yeah, I would have liked to have done that. I think when you lose five games in a row and you are losing at home, something’s got to change, so it was the right thing to do.

Is this a long-term change? Do you want to go with Bob Hamley? I wouldn’t imagine you’d do this just to finish this year. Are you looking to the future?

It is an evaluation process for me; it is an evaluation process to evaluate the players we have. Again, Bob Hamley has been great. He has stepped in. He understands where my head is at. I think he would like to stay for the long term. I think Bob McMahon would like to stay for the long term and get this thing squared away. I think we have the right tools to put it back on track.

But I’m going to reserve all my judgments until the offseason, and then step back and evaluate everything, including the players that we have. We like the young guys we brought in, and we’re committed to those guys, but there are pieces that we think are missing that are prohibiting us from being successful. We have to evaluate that in the offseason.

From the coaching perspective, I told Bob to get through the season, and then we would sit down and consider the best course of action. It is kind of an ongoing evaluation.

What is the status of Ilija Gajic?

It is a pretty severe condition. He’s getting better; he’s gained some weight back and his red blood cell count is going back up, which is another good sign. But he’s not anywhere close to being able to play at this point. We’re hoping it remedies the next couple weeks.

What is the status of Curtis Palidwor?

I’ve talked to Curtis and he still has blurred vision. He’s cleared to go back at work, which is a good sign to recover from a lifestyle perspective. But as far as playing a sport where the whole process is keeping your eye on the ball, he’s still having double vision when he as objects in front of him. And so they are continuing to work on that.

It may require another surgery. He has another examination in early April, and we’ll have more information then. We don’t anticipate that Curtis will be back this season. We’re crossing our fingers and hoping that he’ll be healthy and happy for his family, so he can regain his work situation and be back to providing for his family. But as far as lacrosse goes, we’re just not sure at this time.

Every franchise has injuries, but do you sometimes wonder going back to Jay Jalbert, Gee Nash, Dan Carey, Curtis and Ilija, that you have had a considerable number of talented players struck with disabling injuries?

Absolutely, it has been somewhat crippling for this franchise. And Nenad Gajic is a guy battling through a severe ankle injury from last season. He’s still not 100 percent, and Jamie Shewchuk and his back troubles.

It is just one thing after another. Do I look back and think that we’re snakebit?  A little bit, sure, of course. But we’re persevering. I don’t want to blame it on injuries. We’re in a bit of a hole right now, and it is a challenge. We’re hopeful Dan Carey comes back and Curtis Palidwor comes back and Ilija comes back and Nenad gets better. We have to play with what we have right now. We’re better than what we’re playing; it is a matter of making it all come together.

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