Coach admits: 'I hate change'

CHRIS STEVENSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:57 AM ET

The sun is slanting through the big picture window at the front of the house on Saunderson Dr., lighting up the living room of the Kilrea household.

Brian Kilrea is sitting in a single chair in the corner of the room as a Sun photographer sets up to take some pictures, the toys of the Kilreas' grandchildren scattered in another corner.

Kilrea and Judy, his wife of 51 years, bought this house in 1961.

"I hate change," said Kilrea.

"That couch," he said, gesturing to where I am seated, "belonged to my parents. It's been redone, but it might be 85 years old. How many years have we been married? Fifty-one years now? Same house. I even hate changing cars because you get attached to them. I don't make a lot of trades. You can go back through the records. I like to rely on the kids who start with us, give them a chance to finish the job. Every once in a while, you have to do something to help the team. I always felt once you pick a team you like to stay with them."

Casey, the family dog, a little bundle of white, tracks the conversation, head moving back and forth.

Brian Kilrea, a man who hates change, is making one of the biggest, giving up his 32 years behind the bench of the Ottawa 67's. He coached his last regular-season game Sunday when the 67's beat the Kingston Frontenacs 5-3 and once the 67's playoff run is done -- hopefully for Kilrea and 67's fans, sometime in May -- he will hand over the coaching job to associate Chris Byrne, his assistant for three years, and concentrate on his duties as general manager and scout.

"C'mon, Casey, we're going downstairs," said Kilrea, and the dog jumps up and leads the way down into Kilrea's basement.

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The Kilreas' rec room is part bar, part hall of fame, part beer museum. The walls are covered with photos, tributes and mementoes of Kilrea's career. He's got a collection of beer accessories -- lighted, rotating buckets of beer, bottles, signs and other bar stuff -- antique dealers would kill for.

Everywhere you turn, there is something signed by another Hall of Famer. Tucked in one corner is the famous picture of Bobby Orr, flying through the air after scoring a Stanley Cup-winning goal against the St. Louis Blues.

Inscribed in the lower right of the picture, it says: "To my friend Brian. Given with great respect and admiration. Congratulations. 1,000 wins is a great achievement. Bobby Orr."

There's stuff like that all over the place. Plaques, pictures, tributes from other OHL teams ... there are so many, some are still leaning up against the baseboards waiting for a spot on the wood-panelled walls.

The room gives you a sense of what Kilrea has accomplished and, more importantly, the lives he has touched. Signed pictures from former players, with well wishes and thanks, are everywhere.

We sit at the bar, next to the scaled-down version of the Memorial Cup Kilrea has won twice with the 67's. For a man who hates change, why, as inevitable as it might be, make this change now?

At the top of the list, he said he feels like he's got a great replacement in Byrne.

"He's been there three years and he's very good. I've seen him with the kids. He's sharp. He can be quick with the quips and that's important because sometimes they can give you a quip and you want to be able to answer them back and make sure you're not only the boss, but ready to verbally go toe-to-toe with them," said Kilrea.

"He runs a good practice and when it comes to working, he's great. He'll push them when they need it and give them a rest when they need it. The only thing I fear for Chris is he's going to run out of time at practices because he doesn't wear a watch. Sometimes he gets lost in time. I'll have to make sure (owner) Jeff (Hunt) gets him a good watch."

Kilrea also admits, at 74 years of age, he had started to feel the effects of three games in three days. It wasn't what he felt that told him it was time, but what it might have meant to his players.

"I found that Mondays were a little bit tougher. When we would go on those trips -- Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday -- and come back, I felt the Mondays were getting a little bit tougher. It was taking a little longer to recover.

"One thing you don't ever want to do is go into a rink tired. You don't even want to show them you're tired. You want to be upbeat, so they'll be upbeat. Sometimes they'll take on a coach's manner and I didn't ever want them to think there was something wrong, that I wasn't recovered from a weekend. I don't think I'm too old to start a new career, and I'm going to try and be a better manager and a better scout. I'm going to embark on that career now."

NO CIGARS ON BUS

For a man who hates change, the changes around the game haven't sat well with him. He couldn't smoke cigars on the bus anymore and the OHL has banned alcohol on the bus.

"Some of the games we played this year, we've come back on a Sunday and played well and we've just played three in a row and we have a five-hour trip, there's nothing I'd like better than just to say, 'Here, take a case, just the guys who are old enough to have it, that's all,' he said. "It doesn't work. You can't.

"So this is perfect timing. The old days used to be a little bit more liberal. Now it's a little tougher, the rules are more stringent. You have to be a lot more careful of what you do for the kids and with the kids."

Kilrea had an emotional sendoff Sunday before his final regular-season game behind the bench.

For the man who hates change, it will take some time when the final game is done, whenever that is, to adjust to a different routine.

Sitting at the end of the bar in his basement, as Casey curls up on a nearby couch by the big-screen TV, Kilrea said he already knows what he'll miss most about not coaching every day of the hockey season as he has for 33 of the last 34 years.

"What I'll miss most is going through the dressing room," he said, "kibbitzing with different guys, picking on somebody, getting him riled up and or somebody else riled up and then walking out of the room and laugh."

It will no doubt be hard at times for a man who hates change.

CHRIS.STEVENSON@SUNMEDIA.CA


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