Mike Babcock on The Bryan Hayes Show with Hayes and Dave Naylor.
On the surprise choice in Toronto:
Yeah, I didn’t see it coming either to be honest with you. I knew that they were looking for a coach. I knew I was going to go through a process. Kenny Holland and the Illitch family afforded me that opportunity. I came to visit the Leafs, I had to check back, I don’t know what day it was – the 9th or 10th – when I got back I told my family I was real impressed. I met with Hunts and Shanny and Larry, and I was real impressed with them. I still never would’ve thought at that time that this would’ve happened, but Shanny was relentless. I met with lots of teams and lots of intelligent people with great plans, but in the end this really worked well for my family and I wanted to be the Leafs coach. You coach in Detroit for 10 years, an original six franchise, an incredible operation, their on ice product is unbelievable, but I thought I needed a new opportunity, a new challenge to invigorate myself. This one in the end won out.
Why the faith in Leafs management:
I think when you go to work some place you take a leap of faith. When I came to the NHL, you go to Anaheim, they had missed the playoffs by about 25 points. Bryan Murray gives me a chance. I know Bryan, was involved in camps with him, had a few beers together, but you take a leap of faith. You move your family out there and you say, “this is the opportunity that is going to springboard me into an NHL career.” But you don’t know, you’re just in survival mode at that point. When Kenny Holland gave me the opportunity to go to Detroit after the lockout, we had gone from 72 million dollars where there was no cap in those days, to 36. You take a leap of faith, but you’re basing it on the people. This is the same thing. They’re committing to me and I’m committing to them. I was impressed with the plan, I was impressed with Shanny, I was impressed with Hunts. They’re good people who want to do well and they’re workers. When you meet Larry, you see a guy at 70 years old who is fired up about his next thing. He’s not looking to retire, he’s looking for the next thing. When I talked to the board, I went through how long it is going to be and how hard it is going to be. I asked them if they were going to have my back, if you’re going to have my back in three years when your family is being ridiculed and things aren’t going good, are we in it for the haul? When they said they were, that was good enough for me.
I have a burning desire to win. Maybe to a fault, used to get in trouble in grade school for it, had it my whole life. I love to win. Bottom line, I love to win. But this opportunity is in the end going to be about winning but it’s going to be a process. I live in the present type of guy, on game day I’m going to be about winning. All you can do is maximize the group that you got, and that’s what you’re going to try to do. But I’m not getting in the way of the big picture. I don’t want to have a playoff team, I want to have a Cup team. If you want a Cup team, you have to have a Cup process. That’s Cup scouting, Cup drafting, that’s Cup development. You don’t get lucky by accident. When preparation meets opportunity you get lucky. When you do the work, things happen. When you got the players, you give them a chance to succeed. When you don’t, there’s no chance. This isn’t a quick fix, this is a long thing, but what I believe is that we do it to ourselves, when you’re in management and get in a hurry. The fans are going to be patient, they’re not dumb, they’re smart, they see what’s going on. Let’s build a program here that we can all be proud of, that should be here in this great city with all these great fans for the Maple Leaf. That’s how it should be. Let’s do it.
Reasonable timeline and changing the reputation:
There is no timeline for me. We started already, so we’re going to keep going. We’re going to work everyday and there’s going to be some huge setbacks. We’re going to dig in; the sun is going to get up and so are we. We are going to end up with really good people and we’re going to end up with really good players. We have a really good plan, we still have to build the team off ice, then we’ll build the team on ice. We have lots of work to do, but I think that’s what it’s all about. Life’s about the journey, it’s about building it. When you build it, the people see it’s happening, and they’ll be patient if we do it right. If we’re going back and forth and wavering all over the place, they’re going to be frustrated and I don’t blame them. Are some nights you’re going to come see the Leafs play and go, “not good enough?” Sure. I’ve coached 10 years, the last 10 years in Detroit we averaged 106.4 points. That’s a tonne of points. In that time, did I ever walk out of the rink embarrassed? Yeah, because I didn’t get my job done. But I didn’t walk out very many times. Does that mean you win? No, I walked out lots of times after a loss with my head held high. It’s a process. That’s what we’re going to do here. How much time is it going to take? Great question, and when you find someone with the answer, let me know.
When will you know you’ve ‘done it’?
You’ve never done it. It’s about the next thing. What’s interesting to me is, 2010 I was fortunate enough to coach Canada’s Olympic team and we won. And then I’m sitting around with my dad a while later and they’re talking about the next one and he says, “you’re not doing that.” I said, “yeah, if they don’t ask me I’m not doing it.” And then 2014 came and he said, “Well why would you do it?” You do it because there’s the challenge, that’s why you do it. It’s not about what happened yesterday, it’s about what are we going to do today and what are we going to do tomorrow to get better. So to me me it’s about the constant progression of trying to get better. I don’t know what the timeline is, I know I signed here eight years and I plan on staying here ten.
Was coaching the Leafs a dream?
Not as much like that. What I would say to you, I told a buddy a while back that I want to live in a condo downtown with my wife when my kids are gone. I’d like to do that in one of these great cities. When you’ve coached Detroit for ten years and it’s an original six franchise and you’re thinking to yourself you might leave, you’re leaving the Detroit Red Wings. You’re making that decision to leave Ken Holland and Mike Illitch. These people looked after me for 10 years. You better make that decision to go some place that you perceive is a big deal. I perceived this opportunity as a huge challenge with great excitement. It invigorates you. I was like a 25 year old kid, nervous, fearful today. I love that. That means you’re not dying, you’re living. Is the challenge great? Sure. Is the city great? Yeah. Is the Maple Leaf logo fantastic? Yes. It’s the Maple Leafs, I’m the head coach of the Maple Leafs. It’s special.
On putting his legacy in the balance:
I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about it. I never thought about it in the past. I like winning. I want to be the greatest coach in my generation. You can never, ever measure up to Scotty Bowman, it’s a different time, a different era, it’s impossible. What you could’ve done, is when I talked to myself all these teams, you could line yourself out and go to a place that’s for sure set up. That in some ways, common sense wise from the outside looking in, might be the way to go. This is the city of Toronto, the fanbase here is incredible, I think second to none, it’s the Leafs, I am proud and I’m excited about the decision I’ve made and I’m excited for my family, my wife to get a chance to live in this great city. I’m not trying to get anybody all fired up about next week. I’m fired up about today and tomorrow. But the process for the fan is going to take longer. I love to grind, I tell people I am a professional grinder. I am absolutely relentless. I love it. I don’t work, because that would be wrong. My wife says, when people say, ‘oh you’re husband works all the time, she says ‘no he’s just out there screwing around.’ She’s not wrong. I love this and I love the challenge and I love the opportunity. When you face things like that and you’re exhilarated with your opportunity and you’re committed to it, you have a chance.
On the recent history of failure:
I thought Pat Quinn had success here. I thought he had success, Pat was as large as life for me and they had a good thing going on when Pat was here. That was before the scrutiny that the players are under here today. So why would anybody be crazy enough to come here? You know, I ask myself that a lot, but the reason I want to come here is because I believe we can get her done. You know, is there any guarantees? No. But I’m a big believer if you do good things, good things happen. I believe if you think you can, you can. There’s nothing wrong with having doubters, that’s great, that makes it more exciting actually. We’re going to go through the process, we’re going to make change. That change is going to led to more and more success and we’re going to build more and more momentum in this city and it’s going to be safe for the players then and then players are going to come.
On what’s meant by “making it safe for the players:”
Just think about how hard it is to be a player on the Leafs right now. They asked me about Dion today; let’s make it safe for him, let’s help the guy out for crying out loud. Let’s help him be the kind of player and leader he wants to be. Let’s step up, let’s own it ourselves. We’re responsible, we put the product on the ice, let’s fix the product, let’s help the guys. When you do that, you know how many guys in Ontario who are playing somewhere else that are pretty good hockey players that wouldn’t mind coming here? It’s the Maple Leafs, let’s make it safe for the players, but it’s going to take us time. This isn’t happening tomorrow, this isn’t happening next week, it’s going to take some time. The board committed to me and I committed to the board and this city. That doesn’t mean you can’t question us, you’re going to get that; you guys get paid to do that, but the great thing about it is, when I start listening to you guys I’ll be working with you. In the meantime we’re going to be doing it the right way. There will be some country channel here; I’ll find a country channel like I did in Detroit where they didn’t talk about the Red Wings and I’ll be dialled in.