How Bob Clarke became ‘first boss, a longtime mentor' for Chuck Fletcher


Bob Clarke didn't have much at the time.

As the general manager of the expansion Florida Panthers in 1993, Clarke was forced to build from scratch.

"There's myself and a secretary," he said. "So we had to put together a small group to get started."

The all-time greatest Flyer didn't know Chuck Fletcher, a bright 26-year-old out of Harvard working for Don Meehan, considered the top player agent in the business. 

But Clarke knew Fletcher's father, Cliff Fletcher. Similar to how he admired Keith Allen, the architect of the Flyers' Stanley Cup-winning clubs, Clarke looked up to Cliff Fletcher's benevolence in general managing.

"They were the first two, Keith Allen and Cliff Fletcher, that treated the players and their families better than the other teams," Clarke said Thursday in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia. "Everybody does that now, but in those days, that wasn't the way it was run. As a player, I knew these things. As a GM, it was what I wanted — the way people were treated was extremely important for me.

"I knew Chuck's background, being raised in hockey and the way his father treated people, and the way he treated me."

So Clarke reached out to Meehan, gathered some information and set up breakfast with Fletcher.

"Very easy man to like, Chuck," Clarke said.

Not long after, Clarke offered Fletcher the assistant general manager position.

"I said, 'I can only give you an opportunity, I want you to work with me and what you do with the opportunity is your own choice,'" Clarke said. "And I made a good decision in hiring Chuck."

Twenty-five years later and Fletcher is now the general manager of the Flyers, brought in to rekindle a winning mentality pillared by Clarke, the franchise's all-time leading scorer and captain of the 1974 and 1975 Cup teams.

Bernie Parent and Bob Clarke in 1975. (AP Images)

At his introductory press conference Wednesday, sitting in front of a Flyers backdrop, Fletcher remembered where he got his start.

"Bob Clarke let me do my first contract in 1993," he said.

"My first boss, a longtime mentor."

Clarke trusted Fletcher back in 1993. He liked his ability to work with others.

"It didn't take very long to recognize — not just his people skills, I mean, lots of people have people skills, but they're still not capable of handling contracts and making decisions and that kind of stuff in the hockey world. He was," Clarke said. "When we brought Ron Hextall in to Philly years and years ago, Paul Holmgren was my assistant and Hexy was next in line. He scouted, he worked his ass off and pretty soon, he was doing some contracts. Not at the top level, not the top players and stuff like that, but dealing with agents and signing some players and developing players. 

"How else will these young guys learn unless you let them? And Hexy was good at it, too. Chuck was real good at it and Hexy was real good at it."

Bob Clarke and Chuck Fletcher. (AP Images/Zack Hill, Philadelphia Flyers)

Fletcher and Clarke spoke to each other Tuesday night before the official commencement of this new era in Flyers hockey.

"When we talked, I said, 'Thanks for coming and I think you'll do a great job with us,'" Clarke, the Flyers' senior vice president, said. "And the Flyers need him. I thanked him and of course he was calling to thank me for supporting him."

The Flyers need Fletcher after firing Hextall last week following four-plus years under his guidance as GM. Upper management is yearning to compete at the top level again, where the Flyers haven't been in sometime, or at least weren't getting there quickly enough. They've been without a playoff series victory since 2012 and have missed the postseason three of the last six years.

Clarke has faith that Fletcher can put the Flyers back in that winning echelon of teams. Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott was attracted by Fletcher's "deep experience" along with his "easy, open management style, leadership style."

It's what Clarke saw in Fletcher during 1993, the characteristics he loved about Cliff Fletcher as a GM.

"I think we deal with people similarly," Fletcher said of his father. "I hope that's what I learned from him. I think if you talk to most people that worked for my dad, they would say he gave them a role, he valued their input, he treated them with respect."

Clarke believes Fletcher's strengths and personality fit the principles in which founder Ed Snider used as the foundation for the Flyers.

Whomever you work for, managing people is critical to any success. No matter what job it is, when you're the manager, you've got to use your people. You need those skills to do that, to get the best out of your people, to make them feel a part of what you're trying to do and make them feel good about working for the Flyers. That had gotten away a little bit and that wasn't how this organization was built by Mr. Snider and Keith Allen, which had made this organization great.

We've got to do what we can to get up into that level where you can compete honestly with these top teams. … There are lots of really good teams. But you can get there through our young players developing, through trades — whichever method it takes, you've got to try and get there. You can't just tread water. That's not fair to the players who played for you or the people who work for you — you have to try and get better.

Fletcher helped Clarke run the show in 1993-94. Now, Fletcher is in the GM seat and Clarke will watch.

The "longtime mentor" has Fletcher's back, but Clarke won't change. 

Once again, like he did in 1993, he'll trust Fletcher, as will the Flyers.

"I really like Chuck as a man and a person. I'm in Florida and he's working daily and I'm not in any way going to try and stick my nose in anywhere — I won't," Clarke said. "If he calls me, then I'll answer whatever questions he may have. Or if he calls just to socialize, I'll enjoy it. When I come back to Philly, I'll do like I've always done — sit in the office with him and bulls--t.

"If Hexy asked me a question, I would answer it, but I wasn't there to try and pretend I knew more than him and Chuck will be the same. I like talking to those guys, they're involved in the game and stuff.

"But I'm not interfering or trying to pretend I'm some hidden star or something — I'm not. I'm just a fan who happens to be friends with those guys, who likes sitting and bullsh--ting hockey."

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