It takes a special person to deliver a eulogy.
He must have intimate knowledge of the deceased, but also the ability to put their life into perspective. He must not withhold emotion, but he cannot let emotion tell the story.
“The Randy Carlyle era was a good one in Anaheim …”
“The Terry Murray era was a good one in Los Angeles …”1
These were the first two NHL coaches that I covered on a day-to-day basis and also the first two careers that I laid to rest.2
The eulogies that I prepared about their jobs were fairly straightforward. Maybe it’s because I didn’t know them well as men – only as coaches – that I decided to leave out so many of the colorful anecdotes that filled my notebooks along the way. But that’s not right; it would cheapen my experiences covering Carlyle and Murray, which was certainly more unique for me than it was for them.
It would also make me a pretty bad eugooglizer.
So I’ll start with Carlyle. I was a little intimidated by him at first, not because of anything he did or said, but because of something another beat writer told me my first day on the job: “If you can deal with Randy, you can probably deal with anything on this beat.”
Honestly, I didn’t see what the big deal was at first, but I gradually figured it out.
Randy was kind enough to answer any question I ever asked him. Well, except for the time I asked for his reaction to Evgeny Artyukhin taking a minor penalty – I seem to recall it was his 16th of the game – which led to a power-play goal by the other team at a particularly critical juncture of an Anaheim loss. Artyukhin didn’t take a shift after taking that penalty. It’s OK, Randy. Sometimes actions speak louder than words.
He was always perfectly nice to me. Well, except for the time he called me out on live television after I blogged the Ducks’ lines and defense pairings after their morning skate, and not the Nashville Predators’, during last season’s first-round playoff series. Sorry, Randy. I was just giving my readers what they wanted to know (but thanks for reading).
Maybe more than any coach I’ve ever interviewed (a number that must be in the triple digits), Carlyle chose his words carefully. He felt he had to, not because he didn’t like us – although it was easy to interpret his demeanor with reporters as brusque and off-putting – but because he felt it made his team better. So far as I can tell, that’s why Carlyle did everything he did and said everything he said. The man didn’t cut corners. That’s why he was so good at what he did.
And yes, that’s why he never identified his starting goalie to the media before a game, much to our chagrin.
Here’s a good example: During training camp this year, a reporter asked him about the quality of young players coming through the Ducks’ farm system. In the middle of this interview Carlyle spotted a member of the Anaheim scouting department out of the corner of his left eye. So he interrupted himself mid-sentence, saying he didn’t want to be too effusive with his praise, otherwise the scout might believe he had mastered the art of picking prospects.
“Randy Carlyle is very street smart,” one of his longtime colleagues told me on several occasions.
In front of a camera, Carlyle never seemed completely comfortable because you could almost see the gears grinding behind his eyes, searching for just the right sequence of words.
To throw a wrench in the process and get him to say something truly spontaneous and uncalculated, I learned that your question really had to come out of left field. It was a fun challenge. In spite of his curmudgeonly image, Carlyle also had the capacity for hearty, joyful laughter. Some of those laughs might have come at my expense – to be fair, I did ask some pretty stupid questions – but it was a small price to pay.
I think I got one similarly hearty chuckle out of Murray in three years and I’ll never forget it.
Somebody once tipped me off to a nickname he gained as a California Golden Seal – “Me Too” – so I asked him about it.
Larry Wilson (Ron Wilson’s father) was the assistant coach conducting practice. Murray and another player were running late, though for the record Murray doesn’t think they’re late. The other player puts one skate on the ice and Wilson yells “You’re late! Get off the rink!” so the first player turns around and heads back.
Murray, following one step behind, yells “Me too, coach?”
I probably laughed harder than Murray did when he told the story, but it was clearly a good memory.
It’s hard to say what Murray considered his best and worst memories of his time behind the Kings’ bench, because his face always belied the slightest hint of emotion. I’ll remember the time he walked out of two postgame press conferences in the span of a month – the anger was in his words, not his voice or face – but mostly I’ll remember the poker face. Imagine if Mister Rogers were sitting at the main table at the World Series of Poker. That’s what I think of when I think of Terry Murray at work.
Dean Lombardi actually delivered quite a eulogy for Murray’s career as a King on his national media call Monday. If he weren’t so wrapped up in the emotion of firing Murray (and perhaps, hiring Darryl Sutter), Lombardi might have made the same Mister Rogers analogy. Instead, this is how it came out:
“This was one of the hardest-working coaches that I’ve ever been exposed to, in terms of his commitment to the game and always searching for ways to get better. The other thing, too, is, even last year, we had some sketchy periods there, as we certainly have had this year, but this year the expectations are even higher, so it gets dicier. He never quit, and that’s not his nature. I’m sure, like every coach, he gets frustrated, but his work ethic and his focus never changed.”
Murray would endure a barrage of stupid questions without letting you know they were stupid questions, without letting you know he wanted to be somewhere else, without letting you know he got up on the wrong side of the bed in the morning. He’d stand and deliver straight-faced answers longer than most mortals, certainly longer than Carlyle. Murray spent his off-seasons in Maine, which seems about right.
Fans caught glimpses of Murray’s stoic demeanor, which itself became a scapegoat over time. The calm and measured approach works better for a young team that needs to know it’s OK to make mistakes sometimes – at least, that was the oft-repeated argument. Maybe there’s something to that. We all outgrew Mister Rogers in time.
Only in the Neighborhood of Make Believe are coaches never fired. For a couple guys I know, that probably sounds like a nice place to be right now.3
1Neither of my stories actually began this way.
2At least temporarily. When Carlyle was fired on Nov. 30, one question floating around was how long it would take before he was behind an NHL bench again. When Murray was fired Monday, nobody was asking that question. Maybe this is the end of the road for the 61-year-old hockey lifer, but you never know. The coaching carousel is a strange, dizzying thing.
3Someone pointed out to me that, after Murray got fired, only two major sports coaches in Southern California remained from 2008: Mike Scioscia of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Ben Howland of the UCLA men’s basketball team. Carlyle, Murray, Phil Jackson (Lakers), Mike Dunleavy (Clippers), Joe Torre (Dodgers), Rick Neuheisel (UCLA football), Pete Carroll (USC football) and Tim Floyd (USC men’s basketball) have all resigned, retired or been fired in the last two years.