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Can Messier duplicate success in front office?

Mark Messier and Willis Reed. The two greatest leaders of the two greatest teams in Rangers and Knicks history.

No disputing that.

Reed had some trouble translating that success to his coaching and front-office careers, though, which isn’t a surprise. The big names -- Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Isiah Thomas, Bryan Trottier -- don’t always find the game as easy when they’re holding a chalkboard or a cell phone, trying to make deals.

Messier is in the midst of his transition, working as special assistant to Rangers president Glen Sather. He scoffed at the notion that the great players have a harder time becoming great coaches and great GMs.

“I don’t really agree that because you were a superstar, you can’t be a good coach,” Messier said Tuesday as he and Reed stood outside the Garden to promote a new sponsorship agreement with Delta Air Lines. “Good teams, good organizations help people become good coaches.

You’re at the mercy of everybody else around you. It’s not only one person who has to do their job well to be successful; you’re counting on a whole lot of people to do their jobs well.”

And, of course, you can’t put the team on your back and will them to a win, the way Messier did in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final against the Devils in 1994, and the way Reed did on one leg in Game 7 of the NBA Final against the Lakers in 1970.

Reed wasn’t exactly handed the keys to the coaching kingdom. He briefly coached the Knicks in 1977-78, four years after he retired, and then bounced around from Creighton to a couple of NBA assistant jobs to the Nets, where he was GM from 1989-96. Not a terrible time in Nets history, but nothing to get re-enshrined in the Hall of Fame for.

“The only thing I wish,” he said Tuesday, “was that I could have worked all those years for the Knicks.”

Reed is 67 now, retired, living in Louisiana and hunting and fishing -- he detoured from a Montana hunting trip to come to the Garden Tuesday. He’s given up trying to win a title after playing, something his old Knick teammate, Phil Jackson, seems to have a better knack for.

Messier gave up retired life this season to come back and work for a living. He’s receiving the Lester Patrick Award Wednesday night, for service to U.S. hockey, which isn’t a bad honor for a Canadian who had most of his success in his home country.

“I needed some time off to recharge and get a renewed sense of enthusiasm after a long career,” he said. “The championship teams and the failures I’ve been a part of will help me in this new career.”

The pitfalls of a superstar trying to recreate success away from the court have as much to do with the work ethic of said superstar as to do with the ethics of the team that hires him. Gretzky, a part-owner for the Coyotes, was seemingly installed as coach to sell tickets as much as win games, and the bankruptcy mess the team is in didn’t help him as a first-time coach.

Messier is doing what some of his superstar peers are -- Luc Robitaille is in the Kings’ front office, Steve Yzerman is in the Red Wings’, though neither were handed the GM jobs -- and it seems to be the right way to get back into the sport.

“The thing that’s struck me is how many people are responsible for the end result,” Messier said. “Probably more so than when I started 30 years ago, and even when I retired five years ago. What one person did 10 years ago might take four or five people now. You’re relying on a lot of people to do their jobs well to be successful, from the coaching staff to the GM to the president.”

It’s a hard lesson many stars have to learn, that their talent and charisma and playing smarts don’t translate into front-office glory. Messier still has the look of a leader and in his prime, he was never one to slack off the hard work.

A promising start, then. But only the beginning.

Cablevision, which owns the Knicks and Rangers, also owns Newsday.


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