On the line…Again! Wak vs. Herb Brooks

Jul 25, 2010, 4:27 PM | Updated: Apr 4, 2011, 7:52 pm

By Mike Salk

I’ve been thinking all weekend about Don Wakamatsu, Chone Figgins, Jose Lopez and Jack Zduriencik. So much so, that everything else I’ve watched or done has reminded me of them.

With that in mind, I sat down to watch Miracle with my wife last night. Hopefully, you’ve seen it, but for those who haven’t, it’s the story of coach Herb Brooks and the 1980 US Olympic hockey team that beat the Russians and won the gold medal.

It dawns on me that everyone wants the coach/manager of their favorite team to be like Brooks. Everyone wants a dominant tyrant who rules his team with an iron fist and a whip. Everyone wants a coach who will punish bad effort with endless wind sprints.

Everyone remembers that scene from the movie and probably the one where he challenges Rob McClanahan to play through his leg contusion. It makes sense to ask, “wouldn’t it be great if more coaches could act like that and get the same results?”

Before you answer that question, think about three less memorable scenes/facts that set up that whistle blowing extravaganza.

-Herb Brooks chose each and every one of those players himself. He chose them even though they were admittedly not the best players available to him. They were the ones he believed he could mold into the perfect unit. He even gave each of the players a personality test before he put them through hell. He wanted to make sure they had the right personalities to deal with the tough style he would use.

-Speaking of that tough style, don’t forget the conversation between his assistant coach Craig Patrick and Doc, where Doc tells Patrick that this was not Brooks’s typical coaching style. He was using it specifically for this group in that specific situation.

-Brooks had the ultimate hammer throughout the entire movie: he could cut any one of those players at any time. He had 21 players on his roster and could only take 20 to Lake Placid. And each and every one of those kids wanted to go. They wanted to make their mark.

Notice a theme?

Brooks had the right guys and the right to treat them like he did. He had the carrot (playing in he Olympics) and the stick (the ability to make cuts). He was empowered.

Does Don Wakamatsu (or virtually any other manager in 2010) have that kind of power?

I don’t think so. He didn’t choose his players. He doesn’t get to specifically design a team that can handle a tyrannical style. He may have the carrot, but does he really have the stick?

So, before we judge Wak for his ability (or inability) to enforce the accountability he mentions so often, consider the situation. Consider how empowered he is. And consider his options.

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On the line…Again! Wak vs. Herb Brooks