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Esposito: Just make a decision. Today. Please.

Enough already.

Terry Murray wants the job dearly. The more days pass that he doesn't get it, the less he is going to want it.

Rick Paterson wants the job dearly. The more days pass that he doesn't get it, the harder it will be to sell us on him even if he is the right choice.

Barry Melrose may or may not want the job. And _ dear as ol' Barry is _ the more days pass that he doesn't get it, the sillier this organization looks for trying to get us to believe he might.

So let's Nike this thing along and just do it.

Decide on a new coach for the Tampa Bay Lightning and let's be done with it.

Let's move on to bigger and better things _ like winning a game, maybe?

Look. By not having Terry Crisp's successor ready to go when he canned the coach _ it hardly was a spur-of-the-moment thing, people _ general manager Phil Esposito blew it.

It is apparent now that Esposito was talking to Ted Nolan's agent even before Crisp was let go. But after Nolan decided not to sign on the dotted line, the Lightning is awfully close to letting one public relations blunder (the way it fired Crisp) evolve into another (the way it is going about replacing him).

With Nolan out of the picture, Esposito said he would consider several candidates.

He said minor-league coach Jeff Brubaker was a candidate, though now it is evident he is not. He said minor-league coach Chris McSorley was one, though now it is known the Lightning spoke with him only about working as Paterson's assistant. He said Melrose was a possibility, but only after being asked about him by a radio personality with "Fabulous" and "Babe" in her moniker. And now, though Esposito insists Melrose still is in the picture, one must question just how serious the GM has considered the ESPN analyst.

And Murray? Well, it seems the former Philadelphia Flyer might want the job more than the Lightning wants him.

If that is not the case, why wasn't Esposito on the phone with Murray's agent over the weekend to hammer out a deal? And why did Esposito say he felt no need to meet with Murray before offering him the job?

Esposito says he doesn't want to rush this important process, and if that truly is the case, he is to be commended. But if the decision already is made, quit trying to pull one over on us.

Conspiracy theorists will suggest all this business about Nolan, Murray and Melrose is a ruse: None of the big boys is coming, and he never was; the names were used to drum up a little pub and make it seem as if there was a concerted effort to bring in a heavy player; the Lightning intended all along to turn the reins over to Paterson but wanted to wait until the team won with him as interim coach before it did.

The Lightning has not won under Paterson. Tampa Bay lost to Los Angeles on his first night under the spotlight, then lost to Ottawa the next for its ninth straight game without a win. In the meantime, Murray continues to make it known he wants to be here.

But does Esposito really want him? Did he ever? As time passes, we must wonder. No one believes this organization when it says it is trying to do things right, so why start now?

And if a win is all Esposito is waiting for before turning things over to Paterson Please.

If Paterson is Esposito's guy, have some conviction and say so now.

No, he never has coached an NHL team, as has Murray. No, he does not have made-for-TV hair like Melrose.

He may not have a name, but he would not be a bad choice.

He does have a solid resume. He had a legitimate NHL playing career. He was an assistant to two coaching legends, Scotty Bowman and the late Bob Johnson. He coached Cleveland of the IHL for four years. And he has something no other Lightning player or coach has, a Stanley Cup ring (two, actually, from his days as an assistant in Pittsburgh).

Moreover, he has what is perhaps the most important criterion for this job: a good working relationship with Esposito.

So make the decision and stick to it.

Because the longer it is put off, the harder it will be to make people forget about Nolan and Melrose and anyone else who isn't coming.