Mike Babcock could only laugh.
A sports editor at a recent Associated Press meeting cornered the charismatic coach of the Detroit Red Wings, telling him he really didn't like hockey.
"I'm a baseball man, myself," the sports editor from one of our state's centrally located newspapers said. "What do you think about that?"
"Baseball is like watching paint dry," he cracked.
In only a few minutes with the first-year coach of the most popular professional hockey team in the world, I have become his No. 1 fan.
Not because, like Babcock, I believe baseball is like watching paint dry. It's more like watching grass grow. But, that's another story.
The point about Babcock is he is not afraid to speak his mind. And he has a great passion for the profession he has chosen.
Babcock was the guest speaker two weeks ago at an assembly of about 25 sports editors throughout the state. Not an easy task when you are coming off one of the greatest disappointments in sports history.
After all, the ever-popular Red Wings had dominated most of the regular season. And it was just a matter of weeks, or so most fans thought, before the first-year coach would be bringing the Stanley Cup back to Detroit.
But, it didn't happen, thanks to an embarrassing first-round exit behind the sticks of the Edmonton Oilers, and questions began to rise again if the former Anaheim coach was the right man for the job. Babcock had to know that heading into a dinner meeting where media love to feast on the controversial.
Still, he accepted the invitation.
And he stood by the banquet room door as each sports editor tromped through, extending his hand and introducing himself. Not just to the sports editors of the big east-side papers. But, to the one-man shows that toil in small towns every day throughout this state.
When Babcock spoke, he did so with a great deal of conviction.
He apologized as leader for not bringing the Stanley Cup back to Detroit. But, he does not regret taking on the highest-pressure position in all of hockey.
"I love the passion of the people who live in Michigan," said Babcock, who resides with his family in Northville. "It is fantastic to coach in an area where people really care about their hockey.
"There is no greater disappointment than unrealized potential. That's what happened to us this year. It's been hard to watch the Stanley Cup finals, no question about it."
Babcock further talked about the challenges of living with the salary cap and the importance of making decisions that are not based on emotion.
Then, he ripped off his sport coat, tossed it a on chair and said, "The next part is off the record."
That's when Babcock answered direct questions about specific players, and, trust me, the man did not mince words.
While no specifics have been mapped out, Red Wings' fans need to brace for some changes. It is possible, even probable, that Manny Legace no longer will be the goaltender. But, that's no news flash.
And, it is likely, that the older flanks of the Red Wings' guard will be replaced with younger legs. Maybe that isn't the most popular move, but, it surely is the soundest.
Red Wings' fans cannot have it all. A championship team cannot be built on aging dinosaurs.
And Babcock wants a championship team.
So, he will work with Ken Holland to make the necessary changes. It may mean gutting a team that was knocking on the door last year. It may mean aging favorites like Steve Yzerman will be gone, even if he isn't ready to go quite yet.
Let's face it. Pat Riley took a big chance and a lot of criticism for the moves he made this year with the Heat, when the team was one of the final four remaining last year. Those changes, he thought, were necessary to take the next step.
And, of course, we all know the Heat sent our Detroit Pistons packing a few weeks ago and moved one step closer to the NBA title players, coaches and fans covet so much.
So, Wings' fans need to brace for some changes. And they need to give this coach a chance.
Because Babcock has a way of making you agree with what he is talking about. And that's the most important thing about being a leader.
Cindy Fairfield is sports editor of The Muskegon Chronicle. She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com