A little more than two years ago, Kevin Kerr met with fans and media at the newly opened Genghis Grill in the Lofts at Bass to introduce himself as the first head coach of the Macon Mayhem.
Two months into the job, he had no players and wouldn’t for about six more months as the Mayhem prepared for their SPHL debut.
Things have accelerated nicely with the second-year Mayhem winning the SPHL regular-season title, and that led the league’s coaches, general managers and media members voting Kerr as the SPHL Coach of the Year.
“Obviously it’s satisfying and gratifying on a personal note that my peers around the league and peers in the media and people associated with the Southern Professional Hockey League recognize the feat that we have done this year, and the last two years, in a short period of time,” Kerr said Wednesday from the team’s hotel in Pensacola, Florida, host for Game 1 of the semifinal playoff series. “That’s very gratifying and satisfying.”
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Fayetteville’s Jeff Bes was second. He was the coach of the year in 2011-12 while with the Mississippi Surge.
“I’m just proud of our players, proud of the work ethic of our guys,” Kerr said. “We pride ourselves on buying into the team concept, team first, and that nobody is bigger than the team. We have a group of guys that I’m really proud of that we assembled from last year and this year ... and the nucleus of our team, just bringing in guys that want to compete and battle and play the game the right way.
“It’s a complete buy-in.”
The Mayhem finished 37-13-6 in the regular season, and their 80 points are the third-most in a single season, plus a 27-point improvement from 2015-16. That tied the second-best improvement in league history. They overcame a late-season batch of suspensions, including of Kerr, for a postgame incident at Huntsville and stayed at least tied for first if not holding the outright lead down the stretch.
“It was tough for them for a few games, losing some pretty big pieces,” Kerr said of the absences for different lengths of time of Dennis Sicard, Chris Joseph and Stathis Soumelidis, as well as himself. “You give the guys credit that weren’t suspended, that battled through the adversity and battled through all that. Everybody had to pick up their game and fill a hole.
“And obviously (assistant coach) Leo (Thomas) did a great job behind the bench when I was out. It’s a great team effort, and I think it just epitomizes the character of the players we have.”
Kerr, who is also the team’s general manager, retired from playing hockey after the 2004-05 season. The former third-round pick of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres in 1986, played in more than 1,000 games in six leagues and set the all-time goals record in 2005 for minor league professional hockey. He was a head coach for a number of youth hockey organizations in Atlanta, as well.
The Mayhem open their second-round/semifinal playoff series Wednesday night at seventh-seeded Pensacola. The next two games in the best-of-three series will be in Macon, at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and then at 7:35 p.m. on Saturday if needed.
Kerr is happy with the award but would be much happier with something else.
“I would personally give all those awards away just to win a championship,” he said. “It’s what I told my players I wanted for them. I’ve been fortunate as a player to win two or three times and I want them to feel that feeling of winning a championship.”