- Last Updated: 10:29 AM, May 23, 2012
- Posted: 1:15 AM, May 23, 2012
The one coach, he had a talent for getting under everyone’s skin — the media’s, other coaches’, his own players’. The other was fiery in his own right, burned to win, and wasn’t above letting his pique go public.
The one coach, following an especially intense game, was complaining about the officiating, and the other coach took umbrage. And for the rest of posterity, there they are, the greatest back-and-forth between rival coaches we’ve ever seen.
“Coach! Coach! I’m going to tell you something,” John Calipari began, crawling so far under the other man’s skin he looked like he was auditioning for a role in “Silence of the Lambs.”
The other man wasn’t going to listen. And would retort with three words that had undoubtedly crossed the minds — if not the lips — of a thousand people before him.
“I’ll kill you!” John Chaney screamed.
This was Feb. 13, 1994, and the only difference between that day and the evening of May 21, 2012, when John Tortorella — stepping in nicely in the role of Calipari — and Pete DeBoer — channeling his inner Chaney — is the fact that there were microphones turned on for the press conference following the sweaty 56-55 win that Calipari’s Massachusetts Minutemen had pinned on Chaney’s Temple Owls.
There were cameras rolling, too, so we got to see Chaney — just getting warmed up with his oath of murder — add, “I’m going to kick your [butt]! You remember that! When I see you, I’m going to kick your [butt]. You’ve got a good team. You don’t need that kind of edge. That’s why I told my kid to knock your kid in the bleeping mouth!”
There were an awful lot of people who wanted to buy John Chaney a drink in that moment, and who from that instant forward found themselves rooting for the Temple Owls. Calipari had that effect on people. He still does; he just has better players now, and all the contempt in the world wasn’t going to stop Anthony Davis. And it should be noted that, as the years went by, Chaney softened toward Calipari. Heat-of-the-moment stuff, and all that.
“I’ll be honest,” Chaney said a few years back. “I always saw a lot of John in me.”
Only time will tell if DeBoer and Tortorella will ever reach such a rapprochement, although the smart money now would indicate something significantly less than a snowball’s chance in St. Croix. Only four men know exactly what the two coaches shared late Monday night, in the moments after Mike Rupp played a game of drive-by whack-a-mole with Martin Brodeur’s facemask.
DeBoer — a licensed attorney — took the fifth. Tortorella — practiced in the art of hockey Omerta — did likewise. And Pierre McGuire, the NBC announcer granted the privileged real estate between the benches — along with counterpart Glenn Healy of “Hockey Night in Canada” — looking like Mills Lane as the two men jawed at each other. McGuire admitted on Mike Francesa’s radio show yesterday that he wasn’t about to jeopardize his nice view in the name of journalism.
Though McGuire did allow, “They weren’t making dinner reservations.”
There’s always high comedy involved when coaches attack. The Calipari/Chaney confrontation, all these years later, looks especially ridiculous safely preserved on YouTube clips. You can say the same thing about the absurd encounter between 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and Lions coach Jim Schwartz from early last season, when Harbaugh gave Schwartz an especially overeager postgame attaboy and Schwartz wound up chasing Harbaugh off the field.
In many ways, it’s amazing we don’t get more of this. Hockey coaches are in an especially interesting position because they spend every game separated by a couple of dozen feet of open space. College basketball coaches shake hands after every game. Same thing with football coaches.
For years, we wondered when Bill Belichick was just going to say “the hell with it” and slug Eric Mangini. Last fall Arkansas’ Bobby Petrino was visibly upset at LSU’s Les Miles for, in Petrino’s view, running up the score, and said so afterward. We’re not sure what Les said in return, though he’d be a national hero if it were something along the lines of, “Go take a ride on your Harley.”
So tonight DeBoer and Tortorella will return to their battle stations and we will predict that neither man will be shy if time and circumstance warrants it. Two men in nice suits, ready to go Fight Club on Garden ice. God bless the hockey playoffs.Follow @NYPostsports