During his first live interview since being fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Mike Babcock addressed the elephant in the room with an analogy he hopes the everyman can relate to:
“Have you ever said anything to your wife you’d like to get back?” the coach told The Rod Pedersen Show Tuesday.
The golden farm boy wants you to relate. He wants you to understand why he’s going home.
“You know when you're reaching out and you're trying to get things back? My oldest girl would always say to me: ‘Dad, it’s not what you say. It's your tone.’ We've all made mistakes in our life. You have to own everything you've done wrong — I think that's really important. But I also think your intention is so important,” Babcock went on.
“You can't have the wife I have and the kids I have and the family I have without being a good human being. I don't have any problem with that whatsoever. I always said to people when I went to Toronto, ‘I got half my salary for coaching the team and half my salary for getting whacked.’”
In tone, Mike Babcock sounded much like the same man who bet on Mike Babcock in November 2019, even when he sensed his first firing as an NHL head coach was only hours away.
Babcock, 57, spoke on-air with conviction, enthusiasm and that unmistakable Sasky charm, all of which he’ll bring to his new gig coaching the University of Saskatchewan Huskies, starting May 1.
He touched on the past but focused on the future. He casually referred to the NHL as the “Income Tax League,” which is a good line. And he boasted about his upcoming golf trip to the desert.
He also avoided words like “Marner” or “Franzen” or “sorry.” (Babcock’s prime-time interview Wednesday with Sportsnet’s Christine Simpson should be more challenging.)
People near to the serial winner advised Babcock to keep a low profile after his bench was transferred to Sheldon Keefe.
So, he cashed his hefty cheques — the Leafs owe Babcock $5.875 million per season until June 30, 2023 — and spent time outside with his passions (hunting, waterskiing, downhill skiing) and inside with his three 20-something children, stuck working via Zoom.
“When I got fired in Toronto, we went all-in on the entertainment,” Babcock said. “But after a while, you get tired of hearing some of the things. I think it's important you get to say your piece.
“None of us are perfect. We're all trying to get better.”
Even in his bubble, Babcock could feel the spears.
The infamous Mitch Marner list debacle looks indefensible. Former player Johan Franzen revealing his mental struggles in Detroit and telling Swedish outlet Expressen that Babcock was “a bully who was attacking people” and “the worst person I have ever met” looks worse. Chris Chelios, the Hall of Famer, backed up Franzen.
“I'm not a big media guy, following what's going on. You know if you're getting whacked or not. You also know in today's world, the way it is, even the people that really value you, it's hard for them to step up just because they're going to get whacked. I know who I am. I know what I've done. Some of this doesn't pass the smell test at all,” said Babcock, speaking during a family ski trip in Colorado.
“It’s just common sense. When you look at my career, I've always been hired by people who knew me. It's not like we had a Zoom meeting.”
Babcock rhymed off deep connections to the late Bryan Murray in Anaheim, Jim Nill and Ken Holland in Detroit, Steve Yzerman with Canada’s Olympic program, and Brendan Shanahan in Toronto. If they wanted to work with him after knowing the real Mike Babcock for years, he suggested, what’s the problem?
“Something doesn't add up,” Babcock said.
— Huskie Athletics (@HuskieAthletics) February 20, 2021
Babcock’s second chance begins with a two-year, full-time volunteer commitment to coach his alma mater, U of S.
“I’m the transfer coach. I’m not being here 27 years,” said Babcock, dreams of an NHL return bubbling underneath the surface.
Babcock and the school aim to hire the best assistant coach for the Huskies, then groom him the way Babcock has done for his disciples at the NHL level.
Huskies’ chief athletics officer Dave Hardy reached out to Babcock around Christmastime, shortly after 28-year head coach Dave Adolph announced retirement.
“It was the first thing that come our way that my wife didn't kinda give me the Heisman for,” Babcock quipped.
“My wife's got two brothers, two sisters in the area and, probably most importantly, her mom and dad. They're 90 and 87, in great health and got a 65-year love affair going on. We figured we could join in on all that. Plus, get back to coaching college, which I absolutely loved.
“We're excited. My older sister who doesn't live there just texted me the other day and said she might move back for the winter just to watch Dog hockey.”
Mike Babcock wants you to know he’s excited and ready to be coming home — to the province he loves, to the bench he needs, and to his sliver of the spotlight.
“The people of Saskatchewan,” he said, “helped me on my way and were there for me all the time. It's important that I have an opportunity to go back.”