The Pittsburgh Penguins search for an assistant coach has intensified in the past week. The team has interviewed a total of six coaches, including four in the past ten days, according to a source close to the situation.
At the top of the Penguins wishlist since the process began has been former Penguins assistant coach Barry Smith and former Minnesota Wild assistant coach Mike Ramsey.
Both interviewed for the job prior to free agency but Ramsey is regarded as a longshot. The belief is that he wants to take a year off.
The Penguins conducted a formal phone interview with Ramsey and the veteran coach also interviewed for the Columbus Blue Jackets assistant coach position this summer.
Meanwhile, two sleepers to emerge is former New York Islanders head coach Steve Stirling and former Columbus Blue Jackets assistant coach Gary Agnew, Inside Pittsburgh Sports has learned.
Agnew interviewed for the job on Wednesday and Stirling also interviewed for the job this past week.
Stirling is a former head coach of the American Hockey League Norfolk Admirals and spent two in a half years as the Islanders head coach from 2003-2006.
Stirling led the Islanders to a 91 point campaign and a playoff berth in his rookie season (2003-2004). He was fired in January 2006. Stirling spent the past couple seasons coaching in the German DEL league.
Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma is playing a prominent role in the coaching search and has close ties to Stirling who hired him in the summer 2005 to join the Islanders staff.
Stirling is regarded a great teacher and has a strong defensive background. However, his coaching style at least as a head coach contradicts the Penguins uptempo-style. The 60 year old Stirling coaches a trapping style/transition type of game.
Agnew, 50, has spent nearly 20 years in the coaching ranks. He is a former assistant coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets and served as the Blue Jackets interim head coach in 2006. I’m told his interview went very well.
Meanwhile, former Pittsburgh Penguin Randy Cunneyworth has expressed a strong interest in the job, Inside Pittsburgh Sports has learned. Cunneyworth who spent 19+ years in the professional ranks as a player, has moved on to coaching and is a former Rochester Americans head coach, and former assistant coach with the Atlanta Thrashers.
He recently interviewed for the Blue Jackets assistant coach position but did not get the job.
A former adviser for Cunneyworth I spoke with today who remains in contact with Cunneyworth, would neither confirm nor deny that Cunneyworth has interviewed for the Penguins assistant coach position.