Gretzky to coach Phoenix Coyotes

After months of speculation, Wayne Gretzky has decided to become head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes.

After months of speculation, Wayne Gretzky has decided to become head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes.

Gretzky is expected to be officially introduced as the club's new coach Monday afternoon.

"I'll be honest with you, when I was 22, 23, 24, I never thought I'd be a coach in the NHL," Gretzky told the Arizona Republic on Sunday night. "But I'm excited about the challenge ... The last couple of weeks I've been following my son's baseball team around and I kind of got the itch to coach, as silly as that sounds."

The Coyotes have not confirmed the appointment, but have called a news conference for 4 p.m. ET to make a "major announcement."

Gretzky told the Republic that former Detroit Red Wings associate coach Barry Smith, former Coyotes player Rick Tocchet, and Coyotes interim head coach Rick Bowness will be his assistant coaches.

Bowness took over as interim coach after Bob Francis was fired in the 2003-2004 season.

"I'm ecstatic to have this staff," said Gretzky,

Gretzky said he's not worried about his lack of coaching experience.

"By no means am I Scotty Bowman, but I know the game, I love the game, I have a really good staff and we have a really good team," Gretzky said. "It's exciting. I haven't felt this way since I was 17."

In May, there were rumours that Gretzky and the Coyotes had all but agreed in principle on a three-year deal that would shift the NHL's all-time leading scorer and managing partner of the franchise from the front office to behind the bench.

At the time, Gretzky said he wouldn't make a decision on the coaching opportunity until a new NHL collective bargaining agreement was in place. That deal was ratified last month.

Gretzky, part owner of the Coyotes since 2001, has no professional coaching experience.

He earned a solid front-office reputation by putting together Canada's gold-medal team at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and 2004 World Cup of Hockey.

Gretzky, who is in the final year of a five-year contract with the Coyotes, will remain the team's managing partner and maintain his 18 per cent ownership in the club.

with files from CP Online