Don’t Call Me Coach

Coach Paul McLean of the Ottawa Senators was fired the other day. According to his boss, Bryan Murray, it’s McLean’s fault that the Senators suck so bad.

As an ex-coach myself, of a list of different teams in a lot of different sports, I took more than just a passing interest. Good players make good coaches. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear my mother used to say. I always hoped that she wasn’t referring to me and my prospects in life.

Like a lot of us Bryan Murray should be looking in a mirror when things go wrong in his life. This will be the fifth coach he’s hired in seven years. The Ottawa Senators made it to the Stanley Cup finals in 2007, the year before he took over as a general manager. They have won exactly one playoff round since then. He says his biggest problem is that he can’t find a coach as good as he was. A former teacher, it seems as if Murray must not have taught high school English or even a short section on Greek mythology. How many classes did I sit through where it was made plain to even the thickest pupil in the pack that too much pride, hubris, was the reason for the hero’s demise ?

A cross-country running team that I coached at Nepean High School for several years usually placed either first or second in the City Championships. This being Canada and it being a high school sport, no one paid any attention of course. Oh, that`s not true. The principal did provide us with a shawarma lunch after one championship. I would have liked to have paraded around thumping my chest and proclaiming myself some kind of wonder coach. It wasn`t true, of course. Most of my runners were members of the Nakkertock Cross-Country ski team and trained hard with that club the year round. I also had an excellent co-coach who did all the considerable paper work that the overly-regulated Ottawa-Carleton School Board demanded. I just had to show up several times a week, pretend to know what I was doing and then plod along with the slowest runners to help keep their spirits up. When I was a kid my grandfather used to keep a few pigs around his barnyard. My pet pig Percy could have coached those teams to a championship.

Someone once said, “I’ve been rich and I`ve been poor, and believe me, it`s a lot better being rich.” I`ve had good players and I`ve had bad players and it`s a lot easier winning with good players. You can make a mule run from sunup to sundown but he ain`t ever gonna win the Kentucky Derby.

A couple of springs ago the Senators defeated the Montreal Canadiens in the opening round of the playoffs, mainly because Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson greatly outplayed his counterpart in the Habs’ net, Carey Price. I swear I saw a kid’s balloon let loose from the stands, float by Price and into the back of his net. Anyway, all of Ottawa and even Bryan Murray was trumpeting Paul McLean as a coaching genius; Toe Blake and Scotty Bowman combined. Even when he was insulted by the Habs’ Brandon Prust as a “fat, bug-eyed walrus,” McLean handled the situation with humour and suave aplomb. He’s unemployed now but he has more than two-and-a-half years left on his contract, getting paid to do nothing.

That’s almost as good a deal as my teacher’s pension !

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