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Give me the Ron Wilson I heard on TSN Radio this week

Those who know this site are familiar with my position on Ron Wilson:  he is an experienced, capable NHL coach, who has taken teams deep into the playoffs and has, importantly, been a winner at the international level.

With the Leafs, the success hasn’t been there so far, and there is no guarantee that it will be.  He has not by all accounts been given an extension on his contract, which means he now enters limbo—that lame-duck no-man’s land for NHL coaches, heading into 2011-’12.

But the problem I’ve had with Wilson is not his obvious ability as a coach.  Rather, it is that, in his three years behind the Leaf bench, his demeanor with—and attitude toward—the local Toronto media has been not good at all.  He is too often acerbic and caustic.  He too often becomes agitated at the simplest of questions.

It’s just not necessary, and someone in his position should be better at that part of his responsibility.  Much better.

It’s not enough to simply show up for the various aspects of your job (in this case, dealing with the media).  How you do it should be part of your job performance review.  Obviously, like all good coaches, Wilson is meticulous about all the other aspects of preparing to ice a competitive team.  So why give the back of his hand to this part of his job?

It’s not as important as being a good communicator with your players, or your teaching or motivational skills.  And it’s certainly not as important as your ability to mold a winning team-one with the right attitude and that can compete for a championship.

But this part of the job is still important.

Though I’ve followed the game very closely for more than fifty years, I’m not an astute enough hockey ‘analyst’ to be able to judge Wilson on all the above hockey-oriented elements of his job, other than to suggest his track record tells me the guy can coach.  But with regard to his interaction with the media, that very public responsibility, he still gets an “F” from me.

All that said, we’ve always heard that he was this very funny guy.  A prankster.  Now, I don’t much care if the guy has a personality, or is or isn’t Red Skelton.  It’s none of my business, I suppose.

I’d just like to be able to hear intelligent conversation from the coach after a game, without every other scrum ending with him leaving while looking as though someone had just offended him.

As annoying as the Toronto media is, for the most part, they are just, as people like to say, “doing their job”.  His job is to handle it a whole lot better than he usually does.

So, here I am, clicking on the car radio dial the other night, and I hear Ron on the air on TSN Radio.  It’s not that the questions are penetrating or particularly interesting, but as he sat in a lobby or something somewhere in Minnesota (where the draft was held this year), he is telling stories with the best of them.

What did listeners hear in the short time I was listening?  How he likes to see the Sharks lose since they fired him.  (He loved it when the Red Wings started coming back against San Jose early in the playoffs.)  He bought moonshine from some guy in the southern U.S. (a former NASCAR guy, evidently) for a buddy who was coming over to watch Game 6 of the playoffs at his summer place in the Carolinas.

Like many of us, he apparently turns down the TV when Pierre McGwire is on (at least he made a reference to doing that when some friends were over watching a game).  And last but not least, he recalled how he and a former North Star teammate in the early '80s ran into wrestling greats Andre the “Giant” and Randy “Macho Man” Savage in an airport like thirty years ago, and how he sat next to Savage on the plane and they talked about all kinds of things.

I could have listened to Wilson all night.  (We had a glimpse into the guy earlier this year, too, when Leafs TV did a piece about his dad Larry  and uncle John, both former NHL'ers as coaches and players.  In fact, I wrote a piece here about his dad and uncle some time back.)

Tellingly, when asked about the obvious difference in his “personality” on this day compared to his daily interactions with the Toronto press, he explained that he always has to be “guarded” with the local media here.

As best an outsider can, I think I understand.  You definitely need to be aware, of course, and anticipate the things the media will try to “trap” you on.  But the guy could—and should—use his experience and story telling skills to let his personality shine through a little bit.  Pat Quinn (the man who gave Wilson his first NHL coaching gig many years ago) become more and more relaxed in Toronto as the years went on.  He was tremendous at answering questions, breaking down a game, explaining certain decisions.  He could disarm tough questions with his great sense of timing and humor.   (We see that from Ron on occasion, but not nearly often enough.)

Here’s hoping Wilson learns to do the same on a more regular basis.  Perhaps he doesn’t care what the rest of us think, but he would be a much more likeable “persona” in the meantime—while we wait for the team to be truly competitive.


  1. What Wilson has been doing is brilliant! His demeanor towards the media has helped to deflect most of the backlash of losing upon himself.
    Great for a young team and maybe the media could learn something. The media in general has long given up on "doing their job" and instead report not based on facts but rather focus on what will get the best response.
    Journalism has long been given up for sensationalism in search for most hits or followers in our new social media age.

  2. Perfectly said Euronuck! I have nothing else to add other than Wilson doesn't own anyone anything other than having his team win hockey games, period. I don't care how he or anyone else treats the media especially when you consider what they do and how poor they are at it.

  3. I dont care one iota what Wilson's relationship with the media is

  4. >But this part of the job is still important.

    Couldn't disagree more. Teams make their players and front office staff available to the media because they understand the promotional value of having coverage. It doesn't affect the team's ability to win games one way or another, which might make it literally the least important part of his job.

    I guess you could try to glean some aspects of his personality (and how they might be reflected in his dealings with the players when he's doing actual coaching) from the way he speaks to reporters, and worry, but I wouldn't. It's just as likely the scenario Euronuck described. I'd be uncomfortable jumping to either conclusion.

  5. I thought Wilson relaxed after the mini-summit with Kessel last year. It also got a bit easier to deal with the press when the Leafs started winning a few and playing more like a team and less like a bunch of strangers. Hopefully, we'll see more of the relaxed Wilson this year!