Randy Carlyle: Standing tall during the worst of times

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Here’s all you need to know about Randy Carlyle: Less than 48 hours after being relieved of his duties as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs and his brother-in-law passing away from ALS, he welcomed an uninvited sports scribe into his home.

A good man was down. Deeply, heartbreakingly down. Forget the hockey element. Other National Hockey League jobs, after all, are sure to come Kitty Carlyle’s way. His wife’s brother, John, on the other hand…he had just died, damnit! He won’t be coming back.

So there was Carlyle, opening the door of his Etobicoke home to discover Steve Buffery of the Toronto Sun standing on the stoop, notebook in hand in the hope that the oft-curmudgeonly coach would share some bons mots about the dire dealings of death, dismissal and disappointment.

Some might think it callous of Buffery to have imposed himself on Carlyle at such a time. Give the man some space. Let him grieve. Let him filter and flush. Surely the story can wait.

Who could possibly condemn Carlyle had he torn a page from the Phil Kessel book of media relations and barked “Get away from me!” at Buffery?

That isn’t how Randy rolls, though.

As much as the former Winnipeg Jets defenceman and Manitoba Moose coach/GM can come across as Crusty the Carlyle—and seemingly, at times, take delight in that masquerade—the much-maligned man is, as the late and legendary Jets’ play-by-play voice Friar Nicolson was wont to say, “good people. Kitty’s good people.”

So, he didn’t deliver a brush-off. He took Buffery in. The two men sat at a kitchen table and engaged in a 25-minute chin-wag, in which Carlyle spilled. About his brother-in-law’s death. About his firing. About failing to restore any level of lustre to the Maple Leafs brand. About resisting any urge to diss the Toronto players who betrayed him with half-baked efforts and the pungent odour of entitlement.

This was Randy Carlyle unplugged. Honest. Poignant. Sincere. Humorous (when asked about his relationship with the Toronto media, he jokingly said, “I didn’t kick you out of my house.”).

He easily could have done that very thing. The fact he didn’t speaks to not only Carlyle’s character and his professionalism, but also to a respect factor between sportsman and scribe, something that is too often absent.

There is no shortage of examples underscoring the adversarial hue of the jock-journalist relationship, the latest offering being the nasty, distasteful to-and-fro served up by Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star and the aforementioned Kessel earlier this week. If you missed it, Feschuk approached the Leafs’ embattled forward with this question scant seconds after Carlyle had been defrocked:

“There’s a suggestion that you’re a difficult guy to coach. Is there anything to that?”

It was leading, accusatory, inflammatory and designed to incite. There was no good way for Kessel to answer, other than to provide a non-answer. Which he didn’t, because he isn’t media savvy. He doesn’t have the acumen to recognize the hook inside the worm. So he takes the bait. Every time. He adopted a defensive posture, resorted to name-calling, then Feschuk played the part of the stooge by chasing Kessel about the room. It was slapstick. Awkward, unfortunate slapstick.

Many in the mainstream sports media have applauded Feschuk for asking the “tough” question, because that’s what they do. They circle the wagons. But Feschuk’s “tough” question was based on a “suggestion” from an unidentified source. He went on to say, “It’s not me saying this stuff.” So, who has suggested Kessel is uncoachable? When did they make this suggestion? Does Kessel not have the right to know the identity of his accusor(s) before the question is posed.

Feschuk might as well have told Kessel there’s a “suggestion” he’s gay. Anything to that?

What has ensued is a witchhunt of epic proportions, with members of the MSM in the Republic of Tranna tripping over one another in an unmasked quest to have Kessel ridden out of town.

This is why I found the Carlyle-Buffery scenario so refreshing. As much as it was a sportsman-reporter exchange, it was more an interaction between two people. Imagine that, a jock and a journalsist seeing each other as people.

What a concept.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.

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