Leader of Men: The Five Greatest Coaches in Toronto Maple Leaf History
And no, Mike Murphy is not one of them.
But I'm sure you were preparing yourself to leave me a scathing comment!
Leadership can be defined as the process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task.
There is no better illustration of this than the actions of a Head Coach of a Professional Sports Team.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have a long and storied history that dates back to 1917 when they were then called the Toronto Blueshirts or simply, The Torontos.
Coached by Dick Carrol in the early years, we won the first Stanley Cup in the league's inaugural year.
Over the years we would win 12 more Cups with our last in 1967.
Since then we've had our shots but in a 30 team league the margin for error is infinitely slimmer than it was in the NHL's first 60 years.
Be that as it may, Leaf Nation has been honored to see some the games finest maestros do what they do best:
Be Leaders of Men.
So without further ado ...
5. Roger Neilson 1977-1979
He cut his teeth as a Head Coach with the Peterborough Petes from 1966-1976.
After a season coaching the Dallas Black Hawks of the CHL, he got the call from Harold Ballard and became our 21st head coach in 1977.
Neilson's tenure was more notorious than it was successful, although he did have a winning record in his two seasons at 75-62-23.
However, as a Leaf he is most remembered for being fired mid-way through the 1979 season and then being re-instated after a massive uproar from players, fans and media.
The ever vindictive and often insane Harold Ballard demanded that Neilson wear a paper bag over his head after he was re-hired.
He refused and though he still coached, his days a Leaf were over.
I understand that he wasn't coach here long but Neilson did go on to have a brilliant career with several other clubs, though never winning a Cup.
Neilson was also an innovator.
Nicknamed "Captain Video," he was the first to utilize videotape to analyze the play of opposing teams.
For a full list of his contributions check out his bio on www.legendsofhockey.net
In ironic twist of fate, Roger Neilson's final coaching job ended in controversy just as his first job.
Forced to go on medical leave due to cancer treatments just before the 2000 playoffs with Philadelphia, GM Bobby Clarke, in a classless move, permanently replaced him with Craig Ramsay even though Roger vowed to return for the second round.
Proving he was the better man, Roger stated that Clarke did the right thing.
An influence to thousands of young couches, Roger Neilson is one the greatest of all time and for that reason he's on this list.
Rest In Peace, Coach.
4. Pat Quinn 1998-2006
This will surely be a controversial choice as he was a bit of a polarizing figure while in Toronto.
Regardless, he is second on the Leafs for coaching wins with 300 and has the highest winning percentage (min 80 games coached) at .591.
He's also a two time Jack Adams winner, albeit with the Canucks prior to coming to Toronto.
He first appeared on the Leaf Nation's radar as a player when he laid out Bobby Orr with a clean open ice check during the 1969 playoffs, sparking a bench clearing brawl.
He then translated that aggressive, pugnacious demeanor to his coaching career that began as an assistant with Philadelphia in 1977.
There were many who dismissed his potential as a coach due to his rep as a thug while a player, but what they ignored (or were unaware of) was the Big Irishman had a BA in Economics from York University and a Law Degree from the University of San Diego.
He was no mindless enforcer.
Quinn transformed the Leafs into a fast skating, aggressive forechecking, scoring machine.
Twice he took us to a Conference Final and led us to three 100 point seasons and only missing the playoffs once.
Its a testament to Quinn's ability to inspire loyalty when after being fired by John Ferguson Jr after the 2006 season, Darcy Tucker and Mats Sundin both publicly pledged their support for their fallen leader.
For being Truculent before it was cliche, Pat Quinn comes in at No Four.
3. Hap Day 1940-1950
Clarence Henry "Happy" Day, or simply Hap Day, is our most successful Leaf coach in terms of Stanley Cup wins.
He won five in his ten years as coach.
That's correct, he had a .500 Stanley Cup Winning Percentage, and yet, he's only third on my list. That should elicit a few angry comments.
If that's not enough, Day was actually Captain of the Leafs as a player for an astounding 11 years!
Also, for a while Day and King Clancy were perhaps the most dominant defense pair in the league.
First in Cup Wins with Five
Second in years coached with 10
Third in total wins with 259
Fourth in winning percentage with .562
Often forgotten since his hay day was 60 years ago, Hap Day clearly deserves to be on this list.
2. Pat Burns 1992-1996
I like my coaches angry, and no coach was drunker on rage-ohol than Pat Burns.
That's all well and good but how does a coach who didn't win a Stanley Cup beat out Hap Day?
After 25 years of embarrassing ineptitude, Pat Burns made it okay for the devoted masses in Leaf Nation to remove our collective paper bag masks.
Suddenly, the Leafs were relevant again.
After the death of Harold Ballard, the Maple Leafs were at long last released from the shackles of the worst owner in the history of Pro Sports.
Cliff Fletcher was brought on board and he instilled Tom Watt to guide the ship in his first two seasons as GM.
In 1992 Watt was promoted to Director of Pro Scouting and Pat Burns was hired after a successful four year stint in Montreal that included a Cup Final in 88/89.
Not since 1967 has this team been so close to a Cup as Burnsie's first season as Head Coach.
In a series that everyone in Leaf Nation recalls with both joy and fury, the Leafs lost a hard fought Conference final to Wayne Gretzky and the LA Kings.
The elbow, the fight, Burns trying to murder Melrose, the highstick non-call (Kerry Frasier, you are dead to me,) the heartbreaking OT goal in game six.
I need a hug. And a beer.
Pat Burns is currently in the fight of his life as he battles with cancer.
God speed Burnsie, Leafs Nation loves ya!
He may be No. Two on this list, but he's No. One in my heart.
1. Punch Imlach 1958-1969, 1980
First in games coached with 750
First in wins with 365
Second in Cup Wins with four
Third in winning percentage with .562
Few things are as resonant with Leaf Nation as the iconic image of Punch Imlach standing behind the bench in his suit and fedora.
The dictatorial Imlach may have been loved by the Leafs faithful (winning will have that effect) but was often at odds with his players, specifically the younger ones.
The very definition of Old School, Imlach ruled his team with an iron fist but the effect was oddly polarizing.
Leaf greats Frank Mahovlic and Darryl Sittler (among others) hated Imlach whereas legends like Johnny Bower and Tim Horton were steadfast in their loyalty.
In fact, after Punch was fired in 1969, Tim Horton told the press, "If this team doesn't want Imlach, I guess it doesn't want me."
Regardless, Punch Imlach presided over the Leafs during their glory years.
Players like those mentioned above, as well as Red Kelly, Dave Keon and Andy Bathgate, all Hall of Famers, all played with the Blue and White.
And while players may have chaffed at his style, they still played for him. Need I remind you about Bobby Baun?
A controversial figure indeed, but we in the Big Smoke wouldn't have it any other way.