TAMPA - Behind the bold yellow tie and beneath the graying, slicked-back hair, which lately only vaguely resembles his trademark mullet, Barry Melrose has the heart and mind of a hockey coach.
Confirming the month-long rumor, the former ESPN television hockey analyst officially traded in his position in front of the camera for a spot behind the bench Tuesday when new Lightning owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie introduced the colorful Melrose as the fifth coach in team history.
Melrose, 51, replaces John Tortorella, who led the Lightning to the 2004 Stanley Cup but was fired with one year left on his contract. Melrose is believed to have signed a three-year deal.
For the past 12 years, Melrose has been the face of hockey in the United States on ESPN. But throughout his television tenure, Melrose's competitive fire continued to burn. His last, and only, NHL coaching job was with the Los Angeles Kings from 1993-95, an absence of 13 years.
"I miss it. I missed it since I left," Melrose said. "I'm not a bystander, never been a bystander in my life. I hate being the guy on the outside looking in. I want to be on the inside again. This group and team really rekindled my passion about getting back into coaching."
Although numerous roster changes are expected to be made between the start of free agency and the opening of training camp in September, Melrose wants the team to play with the same desire he has preached since first stepping behind the bench as coach of the junior-level Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League.
"I believe in effort," Melrose said. "I believe in energy. I believe in speed. I believe in aggression. I believe in letting guys be creative, using their imagination. I give them a lot of freedom. All I ask in return is that they compete defensively.
"When you walk into the building and you see our team play, they are going to work their butts off. They are going to be very, very tough to play against. Nobody is going to like walking into our building and playing against the Lightning. We are going to be very fun to watch."
But Melrose's tenure in Tampa Bay will not be measured by entertainment value, but the team's success on the ice. He has enjoyed that in the past, including winning an American Hockey League championship with Adirondack in 1991-92 and leading the Kings to the Stanley Cup finals in 1993, his rookie season behind an NHL bench.
How Melrose achieved success at all three levels was a key factor in his hiring, according to Koules.
"Teams need to be more afraid and more respectful playing in our rink, and I think we lost a little bit of that last year," Koules said. "And I think that if anybody knows, whether it be juniors, whether it be the American League or the NHL, Barry Melrose teams, you know you are in a hockey game with them. And I think that's one of the most important things for us."
Melrose plans to institute a system of play that encourages being aggressive in the forecheck and along the walls, especially by the defense. He mentioned several times Tuesday his desire to develop the type of team that will make other teams consider taking a night off. And that doesn't mean bringing in a handful of enforcers trying to recreate a scene from "Slap Shot."
"I want guys that play hard every night, and I'm not talking about fighting or constant hitting, either," Melrose said. "You can intimidate by speed, talent, good defense and goaltending, and that's what I want out of this team. I want our fast guys and our tough guys to be intimidating."
Former Lightning winger Rob DiMaio, who played for Melrose with Medicine Hat in 1988, said the new Tampa Bay coach demanded accountability out of his players, but also out of himself.
"I just remember the attitude that he brought. I remember the way he acted and the talk among the players," said DiMaio, now a part of the Dallas organization. "The first time he sat down with all the guys he pretty much laid out what was going to happen and how he was going to do things and he did every one of the things he said he was going to do."
Wendel Clark, who hails from the same Canadian hometown as Melrose - Kelvington, Saskatchewan - described his cousin as a solid leader who knows how to relate and interact with players.
"If you talk to anybody who ever played for him or coached against him, they'll tell you he is very much a leader," Clark said. "People like being around Barry. He's got a great sense of humor and a strong work ethic that people respect."
Joining Melrose as part of the coaching staff will be former four-time All-Star Rick Tocchet, who played one season for Melrose in Los Angeles, and recently retired Minnesota Wild center Wes Walz. It is expected that former goaltender Robert "Cap" Raeder, currently a scout for San Jose, also will join the staff once his contract with the Sharks expires on June 30.
The entire staff is believed to be on three-year contracts.