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Fomer TSN hockey analyst Pierre McGuire. Photo by Tibor Kolley/The Globe and Mail (Tibor Kolley/The Globe and Mail)
Fomer TSN hockey analyst Pierre McGuire. Photo by Tibor Kolley/The Globe and Mail (Tibor Kolley/The Globe and Mail)

The Usual Suspects

McGuire a rare breed: A former NHL coach who's a good analyst Add to ...

Somehow it doesn’t seem like a hockey season without Pierre McGuire. McGuire is alive and thriving on NBC and Versus, of course, but the man who made “active sticks” a household phrase is seldom heard in Canada these days on TV. How you feel about that can range from nostalgia to relief, but there’s little doubt McGuire, a former coach in Hartford and Pittsburgh, changed the role of analyst from his perch between the benches.

McGuire tirelessly explored the coaching strategy, relayed by-play between benches from his spot at ice level, and soldiered on against some of the hammerhead tendencies in the game.

So why don’t more hockey coaches make good TV analysts? With the exception of one very prominent former coach, it’s hard to think of many former bench bosses who’ve made the impression on the medium that McGuire has since popping up at TSN. Only Harry Neale, the droll former Detroit and Vancouver coach, carved out a niche similar to McGuire’s. Neale made his mark through his wit and personality; McGuire through his chalk-talk-on-Red-Bull style.

TSN has had a steady parade of former coaches to its panel – from Craig MacTavish to John Tortorella to (now) Marc Crawford. (We can expect Paul Maurice, now done in Carolina, any day now.) But none of the former coaches remained long enough to make an impression. It’s even harder to name former coaches who’ve sat in the booth as analysts. Crawford had a stint at CBC working beside Mark Lee. Scotty Bowman long ago tried the job on during a period of coaching unemployment.

But after that, it’s a short list. For whatever reasons, if you want to be a hockey analyst, it helps to have been a (short) goalie, a fourth-line winger or a former Edmonton Oiler.

That’s in stark contrast to basketball where a number of the top analysts are former coaches. Mike Fratello, Hubie Brown, Mike Fratello, Doug Collins and P.J. Carlesimo are among the coaches who’ve taken to the analyst role. Basketball is a more technical game than hockey perhaps, but these former coaches often bring insights that former players can’t consider.

Football has the greatest former coach, John Madden, as the exemplar of TV analyst. With “Pow!” and “Zap!” shouts over his telestrator virtuosity, Madden set the template for critiquing a game when he burst to prominence beside Pat Summerall at CBS in 1981 (the same year ol’ what’s-his-name debuted on Hockey Night In Canada). While never duplicated, Madden has spawned a series of former coach disciples from Brian Billick to Jon Gruden to Steve Mariucci.

Plus Madden has supplied comedian Frank Caliendo with a tidy living imitating the ex-Raiders coach doing “tough-acting Tinactin” routines.

What To Do

ESPN is finding itself in a tight journalistic spot regarding the Bernie Fine sexual scandal at Syracuse University. The network had a taped interview in 2003 with the wife of the Orangemen’s long-time assistant coach in which she claims to know all about Fine’s alleged sexual interference with young boys and men. Lacking a second corroborating witness, ESPN declined to go forward with the story at the time. Having heard that there was a police and university probe at the time ESPN says it did not take the tape to police.

In the wake of last month’s sexual scandal at Penn State, ESPN decided to run with the story when a second (and third) source appeared. The network is now drawing fire from child-advocacy groups saying it should have taken the tape to police at the time. Human rights should trump journalistic rights, say the critics.

But it’s not that simple. Many news organizations refuse to divulge sources and only surrender materials gathered in a story under subpoena. “We’re not an arm of law enforcement,” goes the logic. Separation of journalism from police is a distinction that is often difficult for lay people to fathom – like the photo journalist who has the choice of preventing a crime or dispassionately recording it. There’s no comfortable answer to ESPN’s decision, but it’s not out of line with journalistic ethics.

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