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Is Don Waddell Being “Rich McKay-ed”?

June 18, 2009, 8:43 PM ET [ Comments]

Rich McKay…the son of John McKay, the first head coach of the NFL Tampa Bay Buccaneers…is the president of the Atlanta Falcons. Up until January of 2008, he was also the general manager of that franchise, a position he had held since December of 2002. But team owner Arthur Blank decided just after the 2007 season that he was going to make a change in the front office…bringing in then-director of college scouting for the New England Patriots Thomas Dimitroff and relegating McKay to just the office of president.

I can remember that press conference…there was Blank and Dimitroff at the mic with McKay sitting alongside sporting the look of a man who had just been told by his wife that she had invited her boyfriend to move in with them.

Turns out, it wasn’t a bad move at all…if on-field performance is your measure of success, that is. The Falcons went 11-5 and made the playoffs for the first time since 2004 and only the third time since they lost to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII in January of 1999.

Wow…making the playoffs three whole times since 1999. How nice!

Anyway…what’s any of this have to do with the Atlanta Thrashers?

Well, I’m glad you asked me that question. See, many of us in Thrasherville have opined before that as long as The Great Octo-Cluster owned the team, there is no way general manager Don Waddell would be released from the organization.

Actually…make that Executive Vice President & general manager Don Waddell.

Ahhhh...now you're starting to get the picture.

See, there are some of us who thought it might be possible that the “brain trust” of the franchise could see fit to make a change in the front office by bringing in a new GM and allowing Waddell to simply assume his EVP duties full-time.

In essence, “Rich McKay-ing” his butt upstairs.

So naturally, when Craig Custance…former Thrashers beat writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution…wrote in SportingNews.com that the Thrashers were hiring Chicago Blackhawks assistant GM Rick Dudley, it raised it few eyebrows in these part.

Especially seeing that Dudley was going to be given the title “associate” GM. Personally, I take that to mean he’s more of a partner with Waddell than a helper…but that’s just my interpretation of things.

However, in the story, Custance pens the following…

“The Atlanta Thrashers have raided the Chicago Blackhawks to bolster their front office. According to an NHL source, the Thrashers have hired Chicago assistant general manager Rick Dudley to be an associate general manager under executive vice president and current GM Don Waddell.

The source told SportingNews.com that Dudley wasn't brought in to replace the longtime Thrashers GM and that it was a Waddell hire. Dudley has been with the Blackhawks since 2004 when he was hired as a hockey ops consultant and was named an assistant GM in July of 2006.”

So…if the source is to be believed, the “Rich McKay-ing” aspect of such a hiring isn’t in play.

But then again, if it is the plan to make such a move down the road then that’s the type of statement you apt to make up front, right?

As I indicated, this kind of speculation isn’t new around here. In May of 2008, AJC columnist Jeff Schultz wrote a piece about the possibility that Waddell could be reassigned to executive-type duties while a new general manager took over the reigns of the day-to-day operations of the team.

A portion of Schultz’s article reads as follows…

“For the past several weeks, rumors have floated through the offices of the Atlanta Spirit that Don Waddell was about to step into an executive position similar to that of the abruptly departed Bernie Mullin.

This prompted two immediate reactions from most rational, clear-thinking beings close to (or within) the Thashers and Hawks: 1) Why promote somebody whose only previous position in Atlanta is largely viewed as a colossal failure? 2) Isn't the aforementioned Mullin position the same job that led owner Michael Gearon to comment: "Even though we set it up originally to have [general managers] reporting to Bernie, that never really happened. We quickly realized we didn't need a person between us and them."

So. Pay an executive salary to a failed executive to fill a position that you've previously stated really doesn't need filling. Perfect.
You want things to change.

We all want things to change.

Hey, maybe they are changing - and just nobody wants to admit it yet.
Gearon finally admitted late last week that promoting the Thrashers general manager to a high position within the Spirit group was being discussed. He also suggested that help might be brought in before the draft. He stopped short of saying Waddell would be stripped of draft duties. When asked directly if Waddell was definitely going to be the general manager next season, Gearon said he hadn't thought about titles yet.”

So, Gearon indicates that the possibility of “Rich McKay-ing” Waddell has indeed been debated.

But, of course, we all know that no such move was performed last summer. But maybe that’s because they had to bring in a new head coach then and didn’t want to rock the boat any more than need be. Maybe they couldn’t find the right guy to replace the only GM the franchise has ever had.

Maybe…maybe both.

One other thing that I find curious is the fact that the Florida Panthers are currently in need of a new GM now that Jacques Martin has flown off to coach in Montreal. Why isn’t Dudley looking into that vacancy instead of making what is, in all intense and purpose, a lateral move? I mean, why would he leave his current gig with a Blackhawk organization that has such promise for years to come to take a similar-type job with a team that…well, let’s just be honest here…is still trying to find it’s way?

Could it be he has been told there is a more lucrative position here for him in the near future?

Speculation of course…but there’s just a lot to this that just makes one wonder.
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