By Pete Wallner, MLive.com
GRAND RAPIDS - Detroit Red Wings executives never interviewed anyone other than Ben Simon to be the next coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins.
A combination of what the Griffins assistant coach had done previously, what he presented in an interview nearly two weeks ago along with growing concern they could lose him elsewhere were enough to convince general manager Ken Holland and Ryan Martin, the assistant GM who oversees the Griffins.
All that was fine by Simon.
"Ultimately, this is where I really wanted to be," he said Tuesday after being named the 11th coach of the Griffins and successor to Todd Nelson.
Simon, 39, was given a three-year contract. Assistant coach Mike Knuble is expected to remain on staff, while assistant coach Bruce Ramsay will not be retained.
Simon agreed to become coach over the weekend and signed his contract Monday to cap what was whirlwind month that began in earnest once the Griffins were eliminated from the playoff May 1.
At the time, Nelson's name was already out there as a candidate as either a head coach or assistant with a couple NHL teams.
So, as the Griffins met anyway for exit interviews following their elimination, Martin said the situation was addressed.
"We told Nellie that, as awkward as it might be, for the sake of efficiency we'd like to cover our bases and interview Ben in the event that he (Nelson) were to leave," Martin said. "Nellie was great. He totally understood, and Ben had already interviewed for one head coaching position and was interviewing for a second.
"We were up front with Ben. We told him, 'We think if Nellie were to leave, you would be a really good candidate to take his place. We can't say you'd be the only candidate, but we'd like to sit down and talk to you,' " Martin said.
That was May 25.
Once Nelson accepted the position as assistant with the Dallas Stars last Thursday, Martin and Holland were huddled in Buffalo at the NHL Scouting Combine over the weekend. They decided they didn't have to look further.
"Ben did an outstanding job, not only in answering our specific questions that we had but explaining his background and experience with three organizations and how he's work with the players," Martin said. "We were convinced."
The organization also had to decide quickly.
"Once we realized there were two other teams and especially one other one that was ready to make a decision, we didn't want to lose him," Martin said.
From Simon's perspective, that's all he wanted. Besides serving as an assistant the past three seasons, Simon played with the Griffins in 2006-07. Plus, his family took a chance and bought a home in Plainwell two years ago.
"I interviewed under the premise of 'what if Nellie leaves' and I understood that," Simon said. "They wanted to kind of get a jump on it. "
Simon said he had not been offered anywhere else, and he stopped looking once he received the offer from the team.
"I ceased and desisted," he said with a laugh. "I was excited because at the end of the day, this is where we wanted to be.
"My kids (daughters Margaret and Katherine) have lived kind of a transient lifestyle at times and they got roots now. They're a little bit older and it was important for us to have that stability."
Plus, his wife, Beth, is from Kalamazoo. They met in college at Notre Dame.
Simon previously served as an AHL assistant coach with Rockford (2011-13) and Toronto (2014-15). He also coached the Cincinnati Cyclones to the Kelly Cup Finals in his first season in 2013-14 - only the second coach in the ECHL to accomplish the feat.
On numerous occasions during his press conference and follow-up interviews, Simon noted the role of Nelson played in his career.
"Nellie's biggest attributes has been his personal touch and ... being a genuine person and enjoying the journey with the guys," Simon said. "That's something I've learned. Don't rush and enjoy every moment."
Asked for differences from Nelson, Simon added: "I like to be very prepared and I like to watch a ton of video. That also comes with being an assistant coach. That will be a little different with the hat I'll be wearing now ... but I'd like to think I take a little bit of experience from everyone I've coached with, being a mutt or a little bit of a hybrid from all of them."
Matthew Ford, who was team captain last season, applauded the hire.
"Ben and that whole staff deserve the recognition they have gotten," he said in a text. "With the success the Griffins have had it's no surprise they didn't need to look very far to find the next head coach. Ben's strengths are his attention to details that have give us a leg up on the opponent as well as details to improve players on an individual level."
After the Griffins won the Calder Cup in 2016-17, Simon got his first chance to interview for a head coaching position. That's when he knew there were possibilities. He just hoped it would be in Grand Rapids.
"When you first start out you think you're going to take the world by storm," he said. "But then we find out there's a lot of learning and growing that has to take place. After a few years of doing this now, I've been prepared to make the jump. Being in three different organizations has helped broaden my horizons.
"I knew at the end of last year when I got a little interest that maybe there was some substance to it. Then you kind of start to believe in yourself a little bit more. I knew it could happen at some point, and things just fell into place here."