Skip to main content

Ohio State coach Thad Matta yells at his players during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Purdue, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012, in Columbus, Ohio.

Terry Gilliam/Associated Press

British poet, novelist and enthusiastic imperialist Rudyard Kipling, no softie he, famously wrote that "If you can keep your head when all about you/Are losing theirs and blaming it on you," then you will be a man, my son.

Sound enough words to live by, unless you happen to coach a big-time sports team.

In which case, feel free to lose your rag and go vein-y and bug-eyed when someone doesn't do something exactly the way you want or has the temerity to kinda suck at what they do.

Story continues below advertisement

The whole coaching philosophy thing came to mind when looking back at some of the needle-in-the-red characters who were hard at work on Tuesday - legendary New York Knicks screamer Mike D'Antoni, the sulfurous, slow-burning Brent Sutter of the Calgary Flames, the Maple Leafs' congenitally sarcastic purveyor of mind games, Ron Wilson.

To say nothing of the spittle factory that is Randy Ladouceur, assistant coach of the Montreal Canadiens and, apparently, designated voice raiser.

We took at stab at analyzing Ladouceur's set-to with Scott Gomez here, but there is of course a larger question to consider: does yelling actually work?

Or is it merely fuel for caricature?

The short answer from the psychological profession is 'not really, and not for long', but what other choice does a modern pro sports coach have?

Player power is the buzzword of modern sport, and hockey in particular - in an era of guaranteed contracts where athletes often make four or five times what the head coach does (and have far better job security), tyranny is usually the first instinct for someone interested in self-preservation.

Even noted Zen master Phil Jackson, the best coach in NBA history, blew his stack once in a while.

Story continues below advertisement

Of course, Jackson usually did it for effect, and by design - we're reminded of a story New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur told us at the funeral for former NHL coach Pat Burns, about how the former cop was chatting amiably with him in his office, looked at his watch, and said something like 'come on, I have to go into the room and lose it now.'

Jackson once said in an interview "the most important thing about coaching is that you have to have a sense of confidence about what you're doing . . . you have to be a salesman and you have to get your players, particularly your leaders, to believe in what you're trying to accomplish."

Or as Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, who tends to lose it only sparingly, said recently: if your veteran players don't buy what you're selling, you're done.

Jackson, who sits on the advisory board of an outfit that promotes "positive coaching", also said motivation is about focus.

So presumably some coaches feel shouting is a way to sharpen people's attention.

There is also a long tradition of Neanderthal types who have long lists of accomplishments - from Lombardi to Tortorella.

Story continues below advertisement

They can go too far, of course, but it's seldom legacy-endangering.

Hugely successful football coach Woody Hayes, a legendary hard-ass, was punted from Ohio State in 1978 after punching an opposing player who had the temerity to return an interception and step out of bounds on the Buckeye side of the field during the Gator Bowl.

And basketball coach Bobby Knight, the poster child for restraint and civility, was finally gassed by Indiana University after 29 years (!) when he grabbed a player and physically threatened his boss.

Knight, you'll remember, is the guy who used to throw chairs and once appeared to kick at a player - who happened to be his own son.

Both he and Hayes are Hall of Famers.

Hockey seems particularly enamoured of the shouty types and several - Ken Hitchcock, Peter Laviolette, Claude Julien, Tortorella - have their teams near the top of the standings.

But for every John Tortorella you have a Dan Bylsma, Todd McLellan or Paul MacLean, who rarely raise their voices.

As former NFL coach Tony Dungy once said: "I don't believe in screaming at players. When you scream at them, you're telling them the game is more important to you than it is to them. If that's true, you've got the wrong kind of people on your team. When I played, I wanted information. Tell me what to do and how to do it. If I need a kick in the butt, give it to me, but I mainly want information."

But sometimes you just have to throw a shoe.

While Gomez may not swiftly turn it around, it's a good bet Ladouceur feels better this morning having gotten it off his chest - and who knows, maybe it burnishes his bona fides for a head coaching gig at some point.

Which is probably why he'll do it again, and soon, regardless of the fact no amount of screaming will salvage the Habs' misbegotten season.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct Licensing Options
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this resolved by the end of January 2018. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to