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Mike Babcock on joining the Maple Leafs

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs


Leafs head coach Mike Babcock met with reporters following the conclusion of today's press conference. Here's what he had to say...

How much of a factor was the challenge of Toronto in your decision?

Huge. Like I said earlier today, there is a lot of work to be done here. I really think, and I tell my kids this all the time, I challenge them to go out in the world and be difference makers. I tell them to go and maximize their potential and squeeze everything out of themselves. That's a daily process. We tried to do that in Detroit for 10 years and I felt I needed a new opportunity in the end and I'm excited about this opportunity. I know there's tons of work to do but I embrace that totally. It's going to be a long time. Lots of teams I talked to were set up better but they weren't the Maple Leafs and they weren't this city. Here's an opportunity. Once I met with Larry and Shanny I was excited. Shanny was relentless in the process, he stuck with it, came to Prague, we didn't interview after that, we just talked a number of different times. In the end I came back to them.

Did you know who you would sign with on Tuesday night?

No, what happened was the night before we had a plan going to bed. When the computer went off at 3:32 in the morning my daughter was finishing her paper and going and printing paper and then I didn't sleep again and by morning I had a different plan. I went back and texted Kenny (Holland) and asked him if I could meet him at his house. I met with Kenny that morning and went through the three scenarios with him and talked about staying in Detroit. I don't want to confuse the days because I don't remember which day I met with Toronto the first time, but then in the end I told Tim and Shanny that I'd call them in the morning. I texted them and said — because I'd told them I'd call them around 7:30 — I texted them and said I needed until 11:30. I went through it one more time again. My kids aren't little kids, they're adults, so we talked about it and in the end this was the best decision for the Babcocks and myself and I'm excited.

How much optimism do you have you can work with players who may have underachieved?

What I'd say is those are the guys you pick on because they're the guys who are supposed to be in leadership positions. The guys on the third and fourth line or the fifth and sixth D, they can kind of escape it. I've said a number of times today we need to make it safe for everybody. How do you make it safe for everyone? You get people to perform and you get pieces around them and you get the team to play well. Then, meeting with you guys isn't excruciating. It's actually fun. It's not supposed to be torture. The reason you people have jobs is because there are fans. The reason I work and players work is because there are fans that pay money. None of you would have jobs and neither would I. The more fans there are, there more of you there are and the more of us. I think it's great that way. Now, let's stick to the plan, let's be patient enough, let's not get in our own way and I think the fans understand that better maybe than the people who are running it. You get impatient. Don't get impatient. There are going to be tough times but let's help these players be better people and better players and better men and better ambassadors for our city.

Did anything about the last two weeks surprise you?

Everybody wants to win and everybody is organized and has a great plan and a vision. I was so impressed with the owners and general managers I met with, it wasn't even fun. It was an unbelievable education. The other thing is you have to be careful in life with what you do to yourself. When you get fired and someone offers you a job, you just take the job. When you now start going through the process and start adding things up and overanalyzing and beating stuff up, you get your head spinning. I enjoyed it a ton but it was hard, it was hard on my family. That part is over with. When I made the decision — I think it was yesterday morning, whatever morning it was — when I called, I was exhilarated and relieved. I was relieved. And then as the day went on it just got better and better and then it was even better this morning. Let's go.

Why was patience such a key for you in talks with Brendan?

It was so key for me, not just with Shanny but with the board, because I'll have this great idea that this guy will ride in and it'll be fixed but it's not fixed. This would be my two cents: Randy Carlyle played over 1,000 games in the NHL. He won the Norris Trophy and the Stanley Cup. I think he's a great coach. It's not just the coach. It's the plan, it's the people, it's the commitment to doing it right for a long part of time. People have gotten impatient. Why? The fans are not impatient, they're smart. They'll stick with you if you're going in the right direction. It's going to be hard. That's great. I'm excited about it. Let's fight our way through it. There are going to be some down days. Dig in here — let's go.

People joke that if you win they'll build a statue or put your name on a school, do you care about that stuff?

No, I'm going to go to Emma Lake and waterski and fish when she's all done. The measure of me as a man is the family I raise, it doesn't have to do with gold medals or Stanley Cups. That's who I am. My father just passed away this year and I go back to see him and I asked him a number of times, "What do you think about?" He was a mining engineer, he worked his way up to an executive of the company and he never once mentioned that. He just talked about his family. This is my fun. Some people say to my wife, "your husband works all the time." She just laughs and says, "no he's always screwing around." My job most people would pay to do. It's a riot, that's why you can do it. To me, I don't think about that much. What I think about is the challenge, I'm real excited. I coached the Detroit Red Wings for 10 years. They're an Original Six team, it's Hockeytown. Where are you going to go from here? In the end that was a major thing for me is when you talk about the Toronto Maple Leafs, people know who they are.

What did you think of the plan in Buffalo?

I loved it. The area was great, we had Mr. Pegula, his story itself — borrowing $7,500 from his family and turning it into what he has done and the way he treats people and his wife. It was impressive. I've known Tim Murray since when I coached junior hockey. He's one of the best scouts, he's committed, he's a hard worker. Jason Nightingale there is a superstar. They have a lot of great things. In the end, I couldn't make it go for my family and I wanted to be the coach of the Maple Leafs and that's it. They're going to hire a good coach and they're going to do well.

Are you surprised about the reaction out of Buffalo?

I'm going to wrap this up real quick. The Maple Leafs offered me this deal the first night. I hadn't met with Buffalo yet. If I had chose the other team, does that make them wrong? I don't think so. I think we're in a process. Are they allowed to be disappointed? Yes. But the sun came up today and they'll get on with it too. That's the nature of Mr. Pegula.

Were you surprised by the term?

Let's go this way — they offered me more than that. More years.

What about their plan and their group convinced you?

Mark Hunter, when they hired Hunts last year, I said "home run." The two guys that I know are two of the best hockey men period are a guy named Kelly McCrimmon and there's a guy named Mark Hunter. They're the guys for me. They flat out just do it year after year after year. They find players. They can smell them. So that right there for me when I heard last year, I said right away, "There's a hire. That's a hockey man." When I met with Hunts and Shanny when I first got in here that day, I can talk to that guy. He's a hockey man.

What was the process of leaving Detroit like?

It was hard, I went back and forth multiple times. I had some emotional meetings with Ken Holland, that gentleman is my friend. He made me a better man and a better coach and I've got nothing but respect for what he did for me. The emotion and emotional tie you have to those guys and those kids there, Helm, Abby (Abdelkader), DeKeyser, Glendenning and those guys, to walk away from that, it almost doesn't make sense. The 10 years I was there I loved it. I loved everything about it and I'm going to love being here, there are going to be new guys I can talk about with reverence like those guys.

What tipped you to Toronto?

The people, the city, it worked for my family, being the Maple Leafs coach. It's still the Maple Leafs. Red Dog Kelly who played with me at McGill texted me this morning and his grandpa won Stanley Cups in Detroit and here. Just the way they talk about it. Darryl Sittler texted me this morning. It's a special place. When you're at playoff time in Detroit and Mr. Lindsay walks in and sits in his stall, that's Original Six. Paul MacLean always used to say when he was in Detroit with me, he'd say "That's NHL," when it was good or when it was great he'd say, "That's Original Six."

Who did you grow up cheering for?

The Boston Bruins were my favourite team when I lived in Northern Manitoba playing road hockey because of Bobby Orr. Then I went to the Islanders, my buddy in Saskatoon's brother-in-law is Bob Bourne. Then I watched the Edmonton Oilers. When I moved to Montreal, I love Montreal, it's a great city. That Habs uniform and that electricity when you go into that building, those are special places. I always tell people on the circuit in the League, Chicago, New York, Montreal, Toronto, those are special, special cities.

How much is your desire to raise the salary bar for coaches in general?

I hear that a lot. There was a process I went through, I knew what was going to happen, I did a lot of research on all the other leagues and all those things but in the end there was no factor. I did a lot of planning to prepare to do that, I never used any of my material.

Do you have any sort of out clause?

None and that was important to them that I had none. I asked them to make a commitment to me for a long period of time. I didn't even ask, we talked about it and they just made me the offer. When they made me the offer and I went back to them with an out, Shanny said "That doesn't work for us. When we make a commitment to you, you make a commitment to us." I was way happier to hear them talk like that. I don't think I should have an out. They shouldn't have an out either. We should be in this together and let's get after it.

Did they offer you 10 years?

They did. I'm going to be 60. It's really young. I want to be here 10 years, don't get me wrong, but who thinks in 10 years? Coaches don't think in 10 years. I've been lucky, I've been in places a long time and left as good friends and fans of the people I work for and I think them of me. That's what I plan to do here.

Were you conscious that what you were doing would raise the bar for other coaches?

I'm not dumb, I know that. Because of the way it happened and the way they approached me on day one, you didn't have to think about that. The other thing about it is, the money was not a factor in Detroit, was not a factor in Buffalo and was not a factor here. It wasn't because they were looking after you. There's no issue. It just got to a point where that didn't matter anymore.

Are you happy you may have raised the bar for other coaches?

Well when you say it like that now if you want to give me credit for something, that would be great but come on. You'd be giving me credit without me actually doing it. That was my plan originally, I thought I'd have to, but that never happened.

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