Calling Out Players In The Media

Dustin Penner

One of the more controversial weapons in Craig MacTavish’s arsenal this past season has been his willingness to call players out in the media. Robert Nilsson, Kyle Brodziak, Marc Pouliot but especially Dustin Penner were criticized in front of reporters by the coach, and for many fans that crossed a line, regardless of how much those players may have earned the criticism.

In fact, it crossed a line that MacTavish himself had rarely crossed in the past. From David Staples brilliant profile of the ex-Oilers coach comes this tidbit on the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals run:

Before the playoffs, MacTavish and his assistants set the stage. First, they made a pact that they would keep things positive with the players, pushing them hard to stick to the game plan, but never criticizing them in public.

That’s one of the big reasons why MacTavish’s public comments, particularly his public comments on Dustin Penner, worried me so much. MacTavish has always seemed to make an effort not to be overly critical of his players to the media, and his departure from that stance early in the season bothered me because it seemed to indicate that MacTavish was reaching a certain level of desperation.

From other coaches, such tactics wouldn’t have been surprising at all. Scotty Bowman, for example, often used the media as a motivational tool. As an example, here are comments that Bowman made on Pete Mahovlich during the 1976/77 season:

“I don’t think he’ll play next year… He says he’s not playing enough, but we’ve got three centres, Jacques Lemaire, Doug Risebrough and Doug Jarvis, all playing well most of the time. His record is the poorest of any forward on the team. Nobody on the team has been on the ice for more goals against than he had. You couldn’t say that he has been having a good year.”

But such an exercise, while not a surprise from a coach like Bowman (or his protégé, Mike Keenan) that exercise was a surprise coming from MacTavish. MacTavish has never been as critical as he was in his November assessment of Penner:

“When we signed Dustin we thought he’d be a top-two-line player. We thought the contract ($4.25 million average for five years) was a starting point for him, but he views it as a finish line. I can’t watch it, certainly not for another 2 1/2 years.”

“You can’t throw gratuitous ice-time at a player that’s inconsistent. It’s his competitiveness. The frustrating thing for me is he has the game but he can’t find it and you have to put the work in. He has a great set of tools but his legs are inconsistent. He needs more horsepower. He has to get his game to a level where he can help us. To this point, it hasn’t gotten there.”

I don’t like using the media to manipulate players, but I can’t agree with the people who have commented here and elsewhere that a good coach never uses that particular tool. I mentioned Bowman and Keenan above, but other successful coaches like Ron Wilson and Andy Murray have also made extensive use of the same tactic. I don’t like the tool, but it can be useful.

But when a coach reaches out to try motivational tools he’s largely abstained from in the past, tools that can be more dangerous to the one using them than the one being criticized, well then it’s like Lowetide said back when these comments first came out: the end times are near.

  • Hippy

    Mac T calling out his players in public, cost him his job at the end.He had no reason to do what he did,he should of tried to motivate his players in a different way,venting in public lost him the room, the players stuck together and left Mac T looking like a idiot,watch Dustin Penner have a break out year next season,with a new coach, and a new gameplan this team should do alot better than what we got from gold old Mac T,I for one can say I look forward to not seeing him behind the bench this year.

  • Hippy

    @ Homie:

    I couldn't agree more. DonDon, other teams have people called scouts, that are paid to watch players and judge their games. GM's don't just sit at home and watch YouTube to find their crop of superstars. Well, maybe Dallas does.

  • Hippy

    DonDon wrote:

    Look at Rob Shremp — he now has questionable value to the Oilers as to a trade and if they really don’t like him he just occupies a position on the farm team in lieu of draft choices needing development time.

    I think the 7 goals he got in the AHL as a "scoring" forward is what affects his trade value, not what anyone said about him in the media.

  • Hippy

    MacTavish's legacy as a coach will be forever remembered what he did this season. I can't remember a coach ever coming under so much fire from fans and media alike. Him calling out players and making them seem like they were the problem just made me scratch my head even more. Giving roster spots to guys like Reddox, Petersen, Thoresen and so on and so forth just went further in the argument agains't him. To me this move is two years late and it was at the cost of the fans and people who love the team. MacT's scapegoating was probably his last and only option because he knew he had lost this team.

    His comments about Penner went to show you that he didn't know where to direct this team with the talent that was available here. He had guys who could get some passion and put it on the ice. It was his way of coaching, like the miracle of 06. He expected this team to play rope a dope with every team and expect to win. Teams that succeed take chances on players and evolve with what is given to them year in and year out. When you have a foundation for a team that is high octane and high skilled the last thing they needed was an ex-checking center telling them to stay in there zone and watch their man rather then letting these young guns do what got them here in the first place.

  • Hippy

    @ Bob:

    I think he did better because he was playing better AND was playing with better players. He was skating faster and harder after that call out. Too bad it didn't last 🙁

  • Hippy

    Well, I am not a big Penner fan, but I do like logic and here is the logic that is missed in much of this.

    Penner was put back with Horcoff and Hemsky after his big 'call out' the media. He did better because he was back in his position with some really good players.

  • Hippy

    When your players aren't playing to their potential or playing how they were asked to play you use everything in your arsenal to get the point across.

    I think MacT exhausted every avenue. Used every trick and played good cop, bad cop to Penner. This was a last resort. What else do you do to get the big guy to play consistently?

    It worked. For a little while. You can't really blame MacT for the rotten job Lowe and his scouting staff have done supplying talent to the organization.

    The Oiler players have shown a ton of disrespect for MacT the whole season. No one has been accountable. If I ever hear Moreau tell the press after two period of stinking the joint out that "we played really hard", I am gonna puke and send it to Rexall wrapped up in his jersey.

    Let's hope the players get the coach they deserve.

  • Hippy

    Ripping a player in public doesn't make good business sense in the new NHL with its salary cap. Look at Rob Shremp — he now has questionable value to the Oilers as to a trade and if they really don't like him he just occupies a position on the farm team in lieu of draft choices needing development time. I think Craig MacTavish will look back at this past season and learn from it; he just made too many mistakes or questionable decisions for a veteran coach. For this team to get better, Tambellini will need to move a bunch of mediocre players. This will prove very difficult due to toxic player contracts and the public criticism of underperformers made by MacT; it undervalues the franchise's "assets." It really was time for MacT to move on, in spite of Katz's text message to Stauffer.

  • Hippy

    i don't see what the big deal is. Sather did it all the time. Muckley benched Jari Kurri in the 1989-90 season. These guys are grown ups not children. They make millions of dollars per year to play a game. If they aren't trying enough and the coach calls them out, suck it up, you probably deserve it.
    Has Penner ever gone to spend the summer in LA with Horcoff, MOreau and Staios to work out? I bet if he did he would get 30 goals the next year…

  • Hippy

    @ Magicmeatbag:
    Unfortunately we'll never know.

    In MacT's defense, there's a difference between harping on a player's deficencies and calling a spade a spade. D-Penn's didn't show enough effort on a lot of nights: Spade