Monday, April 06, 2009

Like Daly, Babcock Just Another Great Coach Who Goes Unfeted

Mike Babcock is the best coach in the NHL, yet he'll likely never win Coach of the Year honors.

Such is how coaches and managers are viewed.

You may as well rename the COY award the "Most Improved Team and So Here's an Award for their Coach" Award.

There's a fallacy that great teams can't seem to be coached by great coaches. Or, at the very least, great teams would be great no matter who coaches them.


Sparky Anderson, his critics said, only needed to possess a pen when he managed the Reds. That's all that was required to write in the names of Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench and the rest every day.

Sparky's Big Red Machine -- that could have been managed by anyone and the results would have been the same.

Again, baloney.

If that was the case, if only the most talented teams won championships year after year, then we would be spared the drama of actually having the games be played.

We'd simply feed every team's roster into a computer and have it declare the champion for that year.

I won't deny or disparage the coach who coaxes maximum results from a talent-challenged personnel group. There's no doubt that it takes a special effort to turn ugly ducklings into beautiful swans, in one year's time.

Jacques Demers arrived from St. Louis in 1986, about to take over a Red Wings team that won all of 17 games and totaled 40 points the season before. Demers surprised the Blues with his defection, but he decided that the challenge and opportunity to work for Mike Ilitch was too good to pass up.

The Red Wings improved from 40 points to 78 points in Demers's first year and made it to the Final Four. He won the Jack Adams Award for best coach. Then, the next season, Demers again led the Red Wings to the Final Four, despite losing Steve Yzerman for the last month of the season and the first two rounds of the playoffs to a knee injury. Once again, the NHL honored Demers with the Jack Adams.

Were there better coaches, with more talent, who should have edged Demers out in one of those two years? Probably yes, especially the second time.

As long as Babcock keeps sipping champagne from Cups, I suppose he won't sweat not winning any Jack Adams Awards

Chuck Daly never sniffed a COY award with the Pistons, even though I'd have no one else on my sidelines if I was an NBA owner in the mid-1980s to early-1990s. Pat Riley was another who was annually snubbed, coaching the Lakers.

How come the Atlanta Braves could win 15 straight divisional titles yet only one World Series?

How could the talented Tigers finish 74-88 in 2008?

Or how about any team with star players who just can't mesh and jell?

There was no man who was more qualified to coach the Pistons championship teams than Daly.

"Daddy Rich" correctly understood one thing. A tenet that should be made into a placard and mounted on the wall in every NBA coach's office in the country.

"You're not just coaching players," Daly once intoned. "You're managing twelve corporations."

Not only did Daly understand that, he put it into practice. The Bad Boys Pistons, had they been under the charge of a lesser coach, could have imploded.

Perhaps the greatest testament to Daly's brilliance occurred when GM Jack McCloskey put his coach on the spot by trading Adrian Dantley for the volatile Mark Aguirre.

Trader Jack did it to Chuck on Valentines Day, 1989, the playoffs about two months away. Not much time to integrate Aguirre, who had a bad rep, into the scheme of things.

No worries. Daly's players, on their own, took Aguirre out to dinner almost as soon as he reported for duty. But this was no congratulatory, feel-good meal.

Led by Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer, the Pistons contingent let Aguirre know, in no uncertain terms, what was expected of him in Detroit. They made sure Aguirre was aware that this wasn't Dallas, from where he came. Aguirre wasn't going to be "the guy" any longer.

Fit in, or else.

Laimbeer was the most pointed.

"The only reason I'm giving you a chance is because you're Isiah's friend," Laimbeer was reported to have said to Aguirre at the dinner. "Otherwise, I wouldn't have anything to do with you. I've heard a lot of bad things."

The Pistons players did this on behalf of their coach because they believed in Daly and what he had put together.

Think that happens every day?

Yesterday, Mike Babcock became the first coach in NHL history to win 50 games in the first four years with a new team. He joins Scotty Bowman, no less, as the only other coach to win 50 games four times in a row, period.

Babcock displayed his coaching genius in last year's playoffs when he sat goalie Dominik Hasek down in a 2-2 first round series. It was a bold move, predicated on the belief/hunch that Chris Osgood gave the Red Wings a better chance to win, at that moment.

Babcock may have won the Stanley Cup for the Red Wings with that decision -- one that very few coaches in the league would have had the cojones to make.

But Babcock won't win the Jack Adams Award this year. Just like he didn't win it last year (he was a finalist but finished third). And like he won't win it next year.

Ironic, that the award is named for a Red Wings coach, isn't it?

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