It’s certainly been an interesting time for coaches during the last month and I can truthfully say, I would not want to be a coach these days.
By now everyone knows the reactions to the firings of Mike Babcock (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Jason Maas (Edmonton Eskimos). Sure, commending them for what they’ve done or berating them for what they weren’t able to accomplish is expected from fans and the media. It’s what coaches are there for.
However far more concerning to me are the barrage of comments attacking what would best be described as the perception of their public personalities and their handling of players.
As for the former Leafs bench boss, many people have chimed in on the comments made by a number of former players and hockey analysts — without the benefit of knowing whether or not those comments are in any way accurate or if they were simply observations where time may have changed people’s memories.
However that being said, there are many colleagues that have covered the NHL for many years that I know and so I trust what they say. What I have heard from them only corroborates some of the allegations made on how Babcock ran the clubs he coached.
So yes, it has been revealed there are some issues with the treatment of players that Babcock could have handled far differently, at least in the last several years.
On the other hand, he enjoyed success at various levels and was able to get the players he coached then to adapt to a style that allowed them to win — including one Stanley Cup, two Olympics, a Men’s World Championship, a World Junior Championship and a Canadian university title.
So, is this a case of where the players didn’t buy into the game plan or was it that Babcock was unable to adapt his style to the personnel he had to work with?
What we do know is it certainly looks like the young Leafs players essentially “blocked him out” and gave up on their coach in order to deep six him.
In addition, and the most unfair thing of all, is that many people toss out their opinion of a person before knowing all the facts.
Babcock was a good coach and sometimes things don’t work, personalities clash and players think they have better ideas especially when you have “stars” that don’t like things. However, it doesn’t make him a bad person nor does anyone deserve to be dressed down by people that only know the public persona and not the real personality.
Moving onto the other firing that made big news in this province, the search for a new head coach to lead the Eskimos has been the subject of debate since the club’s 2018 .500 season which saw them miss the playoffs.
I’ll make no bones about it — when Maas was hired back in 2015 to replace the money and title-chasing Chris Jones after winning the Grey Cup, I was intrigued by the prospect.
Why? Simply because I saw first-hand the disaster that was Kavis Reed’s reign, the lack of offensive acumen with Ritchie Hall and the autocratic, angry dictatorship of Danny Maciocia — who only won the 2005 Grey Cup because of the players he inherited from Tom Higgins.
Unfortunately, his choice to be both head coach and run the offence was the first mistake followed by some — how do I put it? — misguided decisions on assistant coaches left many, even knowledgeable football people, scratching the inside of their brains attempting to understand them.
Then throw in the temper tantrums, his sometimes confrontational attitude showing through and his reluctance to adapt his playbook to what the opponent was throwing their way were eventually his undoing.
Yeah sure, there were some people that felt his passionate expressions — breaking headsets, trashing stuff on the sideline, ignoring league commandments — were just a demonstration of fighting for his team.
However, as a long-time official, coaches in any sport do those things not to fire up or fight for their players. It’s a selfish show meant to rile up the fans and demonstrate a disrespect for the rulings and decisions made by those responsible for the game, be it the officials or league office.
I have no doubt that Maas worked hard and did all he could to make the Eskimos better game in and game out, as noted by a colleague I know who covers the club extensively. I also believe that many of the social media comments made about him as a person were offside, to the point of an extreme.
Although, I also don’t think for a minute that Maas would’ve been out of a job had he put his ego aside on the sidelines, given up a measure of offensive control and turned his passion down a notch.
But that is…just an observation.