When Scotty Bowman was being wooed by the Leafs last summer, he asked Richard Peddie to arrange a meeting with Bryan Colangelo.
The way Bowman figured it, if he was going to be given Colangelo-type power, as it has since become known, he wanted to know exactly what that meant.
At the time, Peddie said he didn't think it was necessary to arrange such a meeting. So Bowman arranged it on his own: He called Colangelo and the two privately discussed what life is like in the world of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd.
Colangelo won't talk about his telephone meeting with Bowman and dismisses any knowledge of anything that happens to be Maple Leafs hockey, but he is quite aware his name is being tossed around as both adjective and noun as the Leafs search for a president and general manager marches on.
While the Leafs dream of bringing in a Brian Burke or a Ken Holland to run their hockey operation with the now perfunctory Colangelo-type power, you never hear anybody say what they really need is a Gregg Popovich or a R.C. Buford -- or both.
But for them, at this time, this is something worth studying, if not considering. The San Antonio Spurs, the Raptors opponent last night at the Air Canada Centre, are basically the model franchise in professional sport.
Everybody drools over the operation of the New England Patriots and the insufferable Bill Belichick. When last we added up championships, Belichick and the Patriots had three; Popovich, Buford and the Spurs had four.
Four in the past eight seasons. Eight seasons of winning somewhere between 53 and 63 games.
Over the eight seasons the Spurs have been completely dominant, only one NHL team, the New Jersey Devils, have managed more than one Stanley Cup championship.
So what, other than Tim Duncan, makes the Spurs so special?
"They had the player (Duncan). But then they put all the pieces around him," Colangelo said. "They have the great combination (coach and general manager). Everybody knows Popovich. But the work R.C. Buford has done for this team to get them where they are ... very impressive."
There are no great secrets in professional sport. When Ken Holland wants to know something in Detroit, he can turn to Jimmy Devellano or Bowman or Jim Nill or Mark Howe or Steve Yzerman for an answer. The depth of the organization is apparent.
When Colangelo needs to make a decision, he has Wayne Embry, a Hall of Fame GM, to bounce ideas off; he has Maurizio Gherardini, the best basketball mind from Europe, to listen to. He has Sam Mitchell and the Raptors assistant coaches and scouts he believes in.
The Spurs begin but don't end with Popovich and Buford. They had Sam Presti, the kid who did such a strong job in San Antonio that he was hired to run the Seattle franchise. This is what happens when you run a model franchise.
When teams look to hire, they look to San Antonio or in football, to New England, as the Atlanta Falcons did recently in hiring former University of Guelph player, Tom Dimitroff.
This is what the search committee for the Maple Leafs must understand and again this is why Richard Peddie has no place in being involved in this decision. His sports intellect is nebulous. Hiring a president or a general manager is only part of the package for the Leafs. The question the search committee needs to know is: Who is coming with the new GM or the new president?
Who are his people? Who will be the scouts?
THE RIGHT PEOPLE
In Pat Gillick's best days winning championships in Toronto, he always could listen to Bobby Mattick and Al LaMacchia about anything important, he could listen to Paul Beeston, he could ask the opinions of the scouts he valued like Moose Johnson or Bob Engle. The thing is, he had what Burke has in Anaheim, what Holland has in Detroit, what Popovich and Buford have in San Antonio.
He had what the Leafs under John Ferguson and post John Ferguson didn't have and don't have: Trusted voices of quality that other teams want to hire.
"You can't model yourself after anybody because everybody's circumstances are different," Colangelo said. "But you have to have people around you who you trust and trust you, who believe what you believe. You have to be on the same path."
The way the San Antonio Spurs are.