In his first year he took a lousy hockey team and made it entertaining. In his second year he made it a division champion. But for someone so good at making others better than they really are, since getting the boot from Buffalo, Ted Nolan has failed to do the same for himself.
Once considered a rising star in the NHL coaching ranks and a beloved figure for his great work and fiery persona in his short time in Buffalo, Nolan has been responsible for much of his own career demise since he and John Muckler were both losers in a 1997 power struggle.
And as the 15-year anniversary of his hiring as head coach of the Sabres approaches, Nolan apparently hasn't used up all of the cards in the racism deck just yet.
Two weeks ago, PuckLife Magazine ran an amateurish error-filled Nolan apologist piece disguised as an objective interview, and the former Sabres coach was in rare form. In case you missed it - well, you really didn't. You've seen this routine before:
"You know, that's one of the bad misconceptions out there, that I don't get along with GMs very well, it's just one of those things. You know, me and my wife have been married thirty years. We have disagreements all the time. Does that mean I'm a bad husband?"
"I'm different. I didn't go to their hockey schools, I don't look like them. Racism, when I was younger, was in your face. And I almost preferred that. When you become an adult it is less pronounced but it's there, just not to your face. It's hard to deal with."
"I know the reason (for the rift with franchise goalie Dominik Hasek). And it's just one of those things I'll write in a book when I'm all done. But it wasn't a very pretty situation."
You have to hand it to Nolan for being a master of using emotions to blind people into overlooking simple facts. He's so good at it that he even fooled Hall of Fame writer Frank Deford, who used a 2006 NPR interview with Nolan to jump on board and suggest that racism was behind Nolan not being offered another NHL job.
There's just one problem with this outcry, however. As great a writer as Deford is, he seemingly failed to do his homework on this one.
Six weeks after Nolan lost the Buffalo job, Phil Esposito offered him the head coaching position in Tampa Bay. Nolan rejected him. And while he contends that this was due to the fact that the area didn't have adequate hockey programs for his talented sons, Esposito seems to have a different take on it.
In television and print interviews, Esposito has implied that money was the issue, and that at a time when Tampa was struggling financially due to incompetent ownership and a huge Chris Gratton contract, Nolan demanded a salary of $750,000 - more than what any coach, including Scotty Bowman, made in ‘97. Eventually Jacques Demers, who had better credentials, took the job for $350,000.
During the same offseason, Nolan turned down an offer to become an assistant coach with the New York Islanders. He then rejected them for the head coaching position in January of 2006, but they stayed in pursuit and offered him the job again that summer.
Thankfully for the Islanders, at long last, his schedule was apparently finally free enough to allow New York the esteemed privilege of having him.
There's no shame in accepting a lesser position to stay involved in the game. Former Sabres head coach and the father of hockey video scouting, Roger Neilson, accepted assistant coaching gigs on three separate occasions after having already been a head coach. Ken Hitchcock and Terry Murray took scouting jobs while waiting for openings.
And, unlike Nolan, those guys actually won more than 45% of their games. Having a subpar record along with an entitlement mentality doesn't exactly equate to being a slam dunk for the latest hot coaching gig. It's not about racism - it's about professionalism.
Not coincidentally, it wasn't just an issue in Buffalo but also in New York.
After reaffirming his media darling status following the Islanders earth-shattering eighth place finish in 2007, things fell apart the following season. The team struggled and Nolan once again through the media played his GM like a fiddle, bemoaning the lack of talent on his team. Conflict arose over the use of veteran players like Bill Guerin, Miro Satan, and Rick DiPietro.
At the end of that season, Snow did the unthinkable. He fired the coach that led his team to the 26th best record in a 30-team league.
Was Nolan let go because he is an Ojibwa Indian? Larry Brooks of the New York Post apparently doesn't think so. Following the firing, Brooks wrote: "Ted Nolan fired himself the first week of March when he picked against Rick DiPietro for both ends of a home-and-home series against the Rangers."
Anyone with more than a hockey puck for a brain knows that racism is still a sad reality in society. But Nolan, in comparing the mentality of the naïve and ignorant fools he's faced in his life to the collective mindset of a group of hockey executives simply obsessed with winning, proves to lack any credibility once you put emotion aside and just look at the facts.
Turning down job after job and in the process complaining about being blackballed should make people roll their eyes. Many folks who matter have grown tired of the act.
Media personalities and former Sabres forwards Rob Ray and Matthew Barnaby were once huge Nolan backers, but last year on Canadian television both admitted they no longer felt it was a good idea for any NHL team to hire him.
Sabres Managing Partner Larry Quinn, who also was in charge during Nolan's tenure, said this week on Buffalo sports talk radio that the major cause of the Nolan-Hasek rift was that when newspapers and talk shows turned on him, Hasek could never count on his head coach to defend him.
That theory from Quinn, who himself has had a maligned career, can certainly be opened up for criticism. But the point here is, both in this case and in the Islanders saga, that none of this involves racism and all of it involves professionalism in the eyes of the decision maker. Anyone who has worked in a professional capacity in any walk of life should understand this.
This is not about blackballing anybody. There aren't a lot of openings out there, and good coaches sometimes slip through the cracks for awhile. John Tortorella didn't come close to landing one of the eight head coaching gigs that opened up in 2008 despite having a Stanley Cup championship on his resume.
And when finally offered the Rangers job, he didn't turn it down and then whine about being shut out.
Shortly after the PuckLife interview Nolan said he regretted being "too honest" and declared that he wouldn't talk about it anymore.
Seeing that this soap opera has dragged on far too long, and many fans and media would just assume see it put to bed for good, we can only hope that this time he means it.