Detroit — The Red Wings named Dan Watson head coach of the minor league affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins on Wednesday.
Watson, who has been coach of the Toledo Walleye (another Wings minor league affiliate) the past six seasons, will be formally introduced 11 a.m. Thursday in Grand Rapids at Van Andel Arena.
Watson becomes the 12th head coach in Griffins franchise history. Watson replaces Ben Simon, who was not retained at the end of the season.
“I’m thrilled to announce Dan as the head coach of the Griffins,” Shawn Horcoff, Griffins general manager/Red Wings assistant GM, said in a statement. “He established a tremendous winning culture during his six years as head coach in Toledo through his work ethic, communication skills, and the relationships he built with his players. Dan’s passion for player development and familiarity with the Red Wings organization will be vital assets, and we’re confident his experience will lead to the continued growth of our players in Grand Rapids.”
Watson, 43, led Toledo to a 45-19-5-3 record this past season and reached the ECHL Western Conference Finals.
Watson has been with the Wings organization for the last 14 years, primarily in various capacities with Toledo.
An assistant coach from 2009-14, Watson was the associate head coach for Red Wings head coach Derek Lalonde from 2014-16 in Toledo.
“He was excellent,” Lalonde said this past season, talking about Watson. “It’s a unique situation at that level. There are two coaches, we split everything. He’s an excellent coach. We had a ton of success together there. He’s led a ton of success after the fact. That’s a tough league to be consistent in because you lose so many pieces.
“I’m never going to say anyone’s above the league, but he’s only stayed in that position because of a unique circumstance.”
Watson was named Toledo’s head coach in July 2016 and also served as director of hockey operations during the 2020-21 ECHL campaign in which Toledo did not participate due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I am extremely excited and honored to become the next head coach of the Griffins,” Watson said in a statement. “I look forward to getting the privilege of working with each player to make them better while creating a positive work environment. This is a very important time in the Red Wings organization and a big challenge. We will work hard to put a competitive team on the ice that the fans can be proud of.”
Watson has never missed the ECHL playoffs as a head coach. He reached the Kelly Cup Finals twice (2019 and 2022) and led Toledo to three division titles (2016-17, 2017-18 and 2021-22), three 100-point seasons (2016-17, 2017-18 and 2021-22), two regular-season championships (2016-17 and 2021-22), and four Western Conference Finals berths (2017, 2019, 2022 and 2023).
Watson and his wife, Kim, have two daughters, Kenzi and Eilee, and a son, Max.