Just why was Quinn fired?

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:35 AM ET

They fire coaches when they lose.

They fire coaches when they bomb out in the playoffs.

They fire coaches when there is an open revolt in the dressing room.

They fire coaches, in short, for all the reasons the Maple Leafs ignored when they fired Pat Quinn.

This may be the most inconclusive firings ever.

Firings are about ending the misery of the inept. Firings are supposed to bring, what's the Oprah-speak here, ah yes, closure. For a textbook example, flash back to the Raptors and Rob Babcock.

But the usual guidelines don't extend to Pat Quinn.

He won. Seven seasons, seven winning records.

Quinn was third in the league in playoff wins over the past five years. Twice he got his team to the final four. There's no one working who has done more in that time.

For an organization often branded uninterested in winning, the Leafs gassed Quinn because their standards were higher than anyone else's.

Yeah, Pat Quinn can coach, just not well enough for general manager John Ferguson Jr., for the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. board, for captain Mats Sundin, for a cadre of critics inside Quinn's own dressing room.

The argument that the coach and general manager should be of one mind is fair enough. Ferguson is a development guy who loves young talent. Quinn likes his players marked up a bit. Sooner or later, it had to end this way.

But the only thing tougher than firing Quinn is replacing him. Only when you go to replace Pat Quinn do you find out what's been lost.

Quinn is like everyone else, only more so. He loved the Salt Lake City Olympics not just because he helped bring home Canada's first gold medal in 50 years, but because he could smoke a cigar outside the athletes village and chat with whoever came by. He was uncommonly respectful to the people on the periphery, the fans and admirers, and occasionally distant to those who mattered most, his players.

"Pat can be the most charming man, but he can be a crustiest SOB ever," a former player said. "At times, he was like a dad figure, but it was like the dressing room was locked in the '70s and '80s."

As a raconteur, as a greying but potent figurehead, as a man who played for Punch Imlach and knocked Bobby Orr cold, as the embodiment of the virtues hockey holds dear -- earnestness, toughness, industry -- Hamilton Pat Quinn is a field of one.

"I can honestly say there isn't a guy in the dressing room who doesn't respect Pat," Eric Lindros said yesterday.

He found abundant good in captain Mats Sundin but sometimes accorded him the playing time of a scrub. Sundin responded by withholding any endorsement that might have changed Quinn's fate.

"Mats' lack of playing time was a big, big issue in the dressing room," the former player said.

Quinn projected an air of absolute authority, yet the Leafs approach was often considered amateurish. The team had to play short a man when a name was left off the roster in the 2001 playoffs.

Can Pat Quinn's run here be explained away by the presence of Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour, two of the premier goalies of the past decade?

How much credit should be directed to the MLSEL wall of cash used to entice among others Alexander Mogilny, Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk?

Was Pat Quinn a dinosaur? Was assistant coach Rick Ley, fired along with Quinn, more crony than coach?

I'll bite.

I do know that instead of 18 points out of a possible 20 down the stretch, a Raptors-style collapse would have cast Quinn in some relief.

Instead, a great argument can be made that Quinn paid for Ferguson's lousy run of free-agent signings and trades.

Through it all there's only one thing you can bank on. You can always replace a coach. As for the man ... they stopped making his kind long ago.


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