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Monday, May 13, 2013

The Fine Line

In the above clip, from 1987, Don Cherry, in a famous moment from his broadcasting career gave us insight into why the coach had to do what he did. He knows that because he was a player and coach since he could walk. And he did that in a normal suit and a normal haircut. He didn't need to look like a circus show clown to do get attention
That was then, this is now.

Just like everyone else, I enjoy Coach's Corner and Don Cherry's rants. He has cred. Tons of credibility. He played the game for 20 years, coached for another 10 or 15 years and was very successful. He has a tell-it-like-it-is attitude and he knows what he is talking about. People might not agree with everything he says, but they listen because they know he is not sugarcoating or bullshitting them. And he does have an insight that most of us never will. 

"Even when he was coaching, he thought of himself as a player. He lived the way they lived."

-Rose Cherry from the TV movie "The Wrath of Grapes."

There is a very fine line between promotion and undermining your very insightful message by becoming a circus sideshow freak.

Don Cherry from last nights game.

Don Cherry has always walked that line. I get it. Draw them in with the crazy suits, ties, hair and outrageous behavior. It is marketing 101. But at some point it goes too far. Has Don Cherry gone too far? Well, probably not, because he is still there. But I don't think he needs to do all he is still doing. I would like to see him go back to talking hockey and the things he knows. And you get the sense that he knows it too. But, it is possible that he is just too old to care at this point, so he just keeps playing along. 
Is he still relevant? I think so. He still says things that many don't understand about the game, and what it is like to be a player that we don't see on the ice or in the actual playing of the game. But I suspect that many are not even listening to his message anymore. That is too bad, because he has a pretty interesting message. He is undermining his own expertise in that way.
There is no doubt that Cherry gives us a behind the scenes, behind the closed door of the locker room look of what coaches are thinking and telling players. That has always been why he was the natural choice for Coach's Corner. And why he has lasted 35 years at it.

"Hey, that's the way it goes. I call it the way it is."

The suits, the hair, the insults, the brash exterior and all the rest...that was just the draw. But now, it is the show. The sizzle is outshining the steak. Too bad. Well, too bad for those of us who are really hockey fans who liked what he had to say and not the circus show stuff he did to get those who were never really hockey fans to watch. 
How did this come about? Well, Don Cherry is one of the most genuine people you will ever meet. Those who have met him will tell you that. He just tells it like it is. No sugarcoat. Just real. If you watch the movie on his life, the second one, you can see how Cherry was a bit jealous that Ron McLean was stealing his thunder. That is the point where he started to dress different and do the outrageous stuff. But, as time has gone on, Cherry is still there and he doesn't need to prove himself. The sideshow is just a distraction.
So, to Don Cherry I say this: They are all watching now, and have been for a long time. Cut the promotion out now and go back to being what you were and are. You don't need to do that anymore. People are already watching. Now, lets stick with the message. You have crossed that fine line. Go back on the right side of it while you still can. 
You might have needed it to get where you are, but you don't anymore. The medium is the message. except that when the medium becomes more interesting than the message, the message starts to get lost and you become known more for your antics than your insight. 
Yes, Don Cherry is a character. That is part of his charm. Too bad he has become a caricature of himself. He does know his hockey and he is a great storyteller, except that he is a clown some of the time. He demeans his own cred in that way. He plays the media game now. He learned how to do that so he could get rich. And he has all the clout, enough clout that he doesn't need to be a sideshow anymore. 
One thing I would always say about Don Cherry. He is authentic. There is no one like him. This dog and pony act he does is not him. He is meat and potatoes. This act is fillet Mignon. As authentic as he is, he degrades that by detracting from his true self. The self that got him there in the first place. 

 "You gotta learn to trust your gut.My gut had been telling me to play it safe. Sometimes your gut is wrong."

-Don Cherry

Cherry's dog, Blue is one of the famous iconic things about him. And she is not some pretty boy dog. Just a meat and potatoes type of dog. The way Don Cherry always was. Probably still is. Too bad he dresses himself these days like some Shi Shi dog in booties and a sweater.  
Back in the days when he was a player, he was the type of clown that he would mock. He needs to remember that now that he has become the mocked. The character has become the caricatured. The fine line has been crossed.  
Listen to your gut now and remember what made you great and respected in the first place.

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