When things are going well, they’re the forgotten figure. And when things are not going well, they become the whipping boy.
Such is the plight of a professional head coach.
A mixture of tactician, disciplinarian and psychologist, a head coach must put his team in the best position to win by making tough personnel decisions without bruising too many egos.
It’s a delicate juggling act because if you lose your team, you’ll soon be pounding the pavement, looking for your next coaching opportunity.
Because of the volatile nature of the position, today’s head coach is defensive, cryptic and sometimes honest to a fault. Their honesty usually is in the form of harsh criticism of a player, their team or the old standby — the media.
Imagine being second-guessed on everything and you’ll begin to understand the coaching profession. You’re continually on trial and always guilty unless you can prove otherwise.
That’s why you rarely see a coach let his guard completely down.
There are very few coaches who can navigate their way through this minefield any better than Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock.
As the saying goes, Babcock won’t be on the Christmas-card lists of many of his players, but he does get the job done and has made a majority of them better players.
Polished but still rough around the edges, Babcock has an ego, and he is intelligent, charming and abrasive. And you always know where you stand with him.
Intense is the one word that best describes his demeanor. He’s always searching for that competitive edge, looking for that minute detail that will put the Wings over the top.
Many who know him wish he would take a step back and enjoy his accomplishments or at least savor the moments. But Babcock isn’t made like that.
During the season, he’s a runaway train, surging towards his only destination — the Stanley Cup.
On Monday, I saw Babcock actually slow down for the first time. As his team was on the verge of breaking the NHL’s record for consecutive home victories, Babcock talked about how the Wings have already exceeded his expectations.
He approached this season with tremendous apprehension, even wondered if the Red Wings were a legitimate playoff team. Babcock didn’t know what to expect, but it sounded like he wouldn’t have been too surprised if his team fell flat.
Then Babcock named almost every player on the Detroit roster as being better this year than previous seasons. He praised them as the most consistent team he’s ever coached.
Usually a coach leaves such accolades until after the season has concluded, once he’s had some time to decompress and get his emotions in check.
For Babcock to be this open about his team at this point in the season says a lot about where he believes the Wings are headed.
Babcock didn’t mention coaching, so let me do it for him.
Without Babcock’s relentlessness, the Wings would not have been close to this record. There are many elements that go into the success of team, but the key ingredient is the coach.
Mike Babcock might not win many popularity contests, but he does win hockey games.