By GARY SHELTON
His voice is modulated. There is no edge. There are no threats. Faces are relatively unscreamed into.
Considering the slide of the Tampa Bay Lightning, is this the proper message?
Things will be okay, we hear over and over again. It’s early. This is just a temporary tailspin. Things will get better.
But will they?
Say this about Jon Cooper. He believes in his guys. He believes the goaltending will straighten out, and the defense will shore up, and the scoring will pick up. He believes his team will contend, after all. He believes this season, like the one before it, like the one before that, will be okay. He praises. He looks for the good moments. He doesn’t panic. He doesn’t kick booty. He speaks calmly, not giving into the frustration, or the disappointment, or the anger.
He has faith. He praises his players, even in defeat. He thinks this year will turn out okay, even when his team is headed the wrong direction.
Others would be breathing fire by now. You can imagine what Art Williams, the old owner, would have said. Pansies, he once called his team. Only he took about an hour and a half to do so. Jacques Demers would have said that the faking stops right here, only he was far too nice a guy to pull it off. Terry Crisp would have snarled privately, and in the end, he would have blamed Petr Klima.
Rick Dudley would have traded everyone but Vinny. Oren Koules, the cowboy, would have fired a coach 16 games after hiring him. Bill Davidson would have tried to open the puck to see what was inside. Phil Esposito, my favorite guy, everyone’s favorite guy, would have ripped posteriors a little, too.
Most of all, there would be John Tortorella, old Captain Barbed-Wire, who would have wondered if a goaltender was ever going to make a stop. He would have stormed into a press conference, ready to chew metal, and he would have treated the world to one of those 61-word speeches. Then he would have leveled Ken Hitchcock, just for old time’s sake.
It’s fair to say that the current slump of the Tampa Bay Lightning would have caused all sorts of chaos with the guys who used to run things around here (those who didn’t have to pick up an encyclopedia to figure out what hockey was). Because there is a time to raise one’s voice. There is a time to motivate by volume.
Look, I like Cooper. And I think it’s cool that Coop believes in his guys, especially the ones who have won for him since he was in Syracuse. But there is such a thing as being too calm when your ship is headed for the iceberg. In a game of passion, players often take their lead from their head coach.
So who’s way would work better for this team right now? Tortorella? Or Cooper?
You want to say it’s Cooper, because you want to believe in logic and reason. Hey, Joe Maddon got thrown out of a bunch of games, but he never went flying off the handle. Tony Dungy could be as irked by the officiating as anyone, but he kept his wits about him. I’m not sure that calling one of his players names makes anyone but the fans feel better. It certainly doesn’t improve things in the locker room.
Still, there is a point where a coach has to inform his team, bluntly, that the foolishness has gone on too long. Ben Bishop is 8-10-1, for crying out loud. Is that overachievement or under? Look, rage may only be a short-term motivator, but right now, the short term sounds like a pretty good start. A coach who will not stand up in crisis will watch the world pass him while he sits.
Right now, the Bolts would be out of the playoffs. With the talent on this roster, that’s a shame.
What? Can Tampa Bay only have one decent team at a time? As soon as the Bucs started to win, it seems, the Bolts started to lose. And lose. And lose. They look slow. They do not look urgent. They do not look deep. They do not look dangerous.
Together, they have lost seven out of eight games. They have given up at least four goals in six of them. By the time they finish their upcoming three-game road trip, they might be on the wrong side of .500.
Does someone raise their voice then? Does someone get angry? Does someone yell “enough?”
It’s time. Cooper may be calm, but the rest of us are not.
(Gary Shelton is one of America’s most-honored and distinguished sports journalists. Gary has spornamed the Associated Press Sports Editors’ No. 1 national sports columnist twice, has been a top five finisher five ot,her times and was chosen by sports editors in the top 10 columnists eight different years. He has been selected Florida’s Sportswriter of the Year six times. He was a columnist with the St. Peterburg/Tampa Bay Times for 25 years after joining the newspaper from The Miami Herald. Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls and 10 Winter and Summer Olympics, The Masters, the World Series, the Stanley Cup Finals and national championship in college football and basketball — all on multiple occasions over the past four decades. He currently has his own website — garysheltonsports.com — blanketing all sports in the Tampa Bay area. He is among the most creative and thoughtful and opinionated, and hard-headed, columnists you’ll ever read. And funny. And one of the good guys. Don’t ever miss his columns, interviews and stories on garysheltonsports.com. Gary has agreed to be an occasional contributor to woodypaige.com.)