Return to article indexThe Long And Short Of It
By Reyn Davis
Having endeared himself to Winnipeg hockey fans as a tireless, fearless player, Barry Kenneth Long enjoys a degree of trust as coach that none of his predecessors had. Blunt, but honest, people believe him when he says he would be content to work in any capacity for the Jets, that coaching in the National Hockey League is not his lifelong ambition. Less than awed by the rapid series of events that led to his appointment as coach, Long has promised himself never to become too comfortable. His aloof nature has insulated him from the heat that turns some coaches into basket cases. After all, John Ferguson is one NHL general manager who believes in taking an active part in the handling of the team. Five men, some of whom resisted, have been fired since Ferguson's takeover in 1979. Reaching his first anniversary behind the bench, Long won't celebrate. His loftiest ambitions are for the team, not himself. It is worthwhile to note that Ferguson's first priority at the conclusion of the 1983-84 season was to retain Long's services as coach. Typically, the meeting lasted about four minutes. Long got all that he wanted - an assurance that he would have a job in the organization for as long as he wished. "If they want me to coach, fine," he said. "If they want me to scout, that's fine, too. Just as long as I know where I'll be for the rest of my life." The following is his story, as he tells it, of the secrets of coaching.
"The philosophy I go under is this: I coach like I would have liked to have been coached when I was a player. There are times when you have to go to the whip. When a player isn't playing well, you have to tell him, always stressing the systems of play so everyone knows exactly what his duties are."
"My leadership as a player showed in the way I played. It was the key to my performance. I am trying to instill that fact in our players. I can accept mistakes with 100 per cent effort. But mistakes made through lack of effort or concentration are unacceptable."
"We are not trying to make players something they are not. Take a player who isn't physical and try to turn him around. You can't. You either draft or trade for that desired quality. More importantly, stress that each player can become better, more efficient. Changing them doesn't work."
"I find that young players have to be taught the defensive part of the game. In order to please us, they seem to think they have to score a pile of points, as if that's the mark we measure them by. You have to know how to play when you are not in possession of the puck. In my time, it was a bonus if a defenceman could score 10 goals a year. Now there are many rushing defencemen, scoring bundles of goals, people such as Paul Coffey, Raymond Bourque and David Babych. But I'm from the old school. Our system is universal. Everyone must play within it. We allow enough flexibility so the individualism of a player can be fulfilled. Dale Hawerchuk can get his 100 points a year. But he still has to play the system."
"Hockey, in general, is being made more complicated than it is. You can't prescribe plays easily. You have to adapt to situations. When I was pre-scouting, I realized that almost everyone uses the same system of coming out of their own zone. Execution is the key. Washington Capitals liked to play like the Islanders. But the difference was plays involving Denis Potvin and Bryan Trottier were executed better than, say, Scott Stevens and Dave Christian. Boston Bruins tried to play a grinding style, using the boards all the time, at home and away. But while Rick Middleton may race across the ice, or Barry Pederson, they don't try to put anything into the game that is not there. They follow the system, too."
"My approach is more conservative and basic than daring or inventive. Other older styles are proven. Yet I am open to new ideas from assistant coaches or even the players. We allow players' input into some of the plays, but not to the point where the inmates are running the show. Against certain teams, somebody'll mention something. Sometimes we try it. Being a coach, you do not know it all. I'm open-minded about coaching. I'm trying to learn from the best. You can learn from the Al Arbours and the King Clancys, too. Ultimately, it is my decision who plays and how we play. Someone has to be responsible."
"Maybe a coach can feel undermined, even by his own assistants. But I cannot feel that insecure about my position to fear the people around me ... like Bob Berry did or even Tom Watt. I'm here to make the Winnipeg Jets into a winner, the best team they can possibly be."
"I realize there are different personalities but you have to have a standardized set of rules for the team in general. Still, you have to treat everyone individually. That's the biggest job in coaching. Every player has an ego and needs a pat on the back and to be encouraged to better himself. Others may require a kick in the butt or verbal persuasion."
"Our scouting staff has done a superb job of choosing players who are quality citizens as well as players who are anxious to play. But, because of enormous contracts, some may not be as hungry as they were a few years ago. The only recourse as a coach has as a form of punishment is to sit him out. That seems to be the ultimate embarrassment for a player. However, players on teams with little depth are caught in a precarious position. They know they can't be spared. A week in the minors, a bus and a 1,000-mile road trip can cure a lot of complacency. But many players can't be sent down."
"We've seen players on the last year of a contract play like a damn until they sign, then take it easy. A layman cannot understand how a player earning $200,000 a year can dread going to the rink. We, as a coaching staff, want to make the rink an enjoyable place to be. As Pete Rose once said, 'When the fun is gone, I'll be gone'. Really, we are nothing but a bunch of overage kids."
"Working with the media is also an important part of my job. I know that in some situations the media can make or break a coach, a player or even a general manager. But I can say I have always been treated fairly. Anything negative I have had to say regarding the team has usually been warranted. I have to be honest and, at times, my honesty has got me into trouble. There are other occasions when I do not always say what I know about team business. That is not my department. As for players, I can discuss them with the media. But blasts in the press I do not like. I'd rather discuss a problem with a player individually. I know some players say they don't read the papers but they seem to know what's in them every morning. It's my belief that the media, at least in Winnipeg, does more for the team than the opposite. We don't have to tell the press when a player is playing poorly. They know as fast as we do."
"Coaching is fine. But if it comes to an end tomorrow, I won't be upset. I enjoy living in Winnipeg and I know I'll be working in some other capacity with the club when my coaching days are over. To stay in the game in some capacity is a plus. I did not come up through the coaching ranks. But while I'm here I intend to to the best job I can possibly do. My goal as a coach is to bring the Jets' organization to a point where this team eventually wins the Stanley Cup. I was here during the World Hockey Association years, and the Avco Cups. It would be nice to be in this organization in another capacity when we win the Stanley Cup. It would make my career."