Unofficially considered the toughest interview in hockey, it is unsurprising how the media, constrained by a professional relationship for five years, lined up to give their personal opinions on John Tortorella once he was let go by the New York Rangers after a subpar season. Larry Brooks, a beat writer for the New York Post and Tortorella's archnemesis, if you will, claimed that any media outlet that would hire the fallen coach "should be ashamed." Dave Lozo, formally of NHL.com and who often covered the Rangers, wrote a lengthy memoir of sorts, discussing his disdain for Torts. Unsurprisingly, the general consensus amongst media members was that this was, at least from a journalistic perspective, the best possible thing that could have happened.
Then there is Jesse Spector. Spector covered the Rangers for the New York Daily News during the 2011-2012 season before moving to Sporting News, where he works as a national writer. But still, only a subway ride away from MSG, he spent plenty of time in the pressbox at Rangers game this past season. I spoke to Spector on March 29th on a variety of topics for a journalism class. And what could be a more appropo topic of discussion than how difficult it must be for him to deal with John Tortorella? I led Spector to that direction, only for him to blurt out a surprising response:
"I love covering John Tortorella."
That's not to say that Tortorella and Spector had a great relationship by any means. Spector said that Tortorella is "generally unpleasant" to the media and admitted he can be "frustrating" to work with at times. He recalled a time Tortorella unleashed on him soon after he started covering the Rangers.
"To his credit, though, he asked the cameramen not to film it. He was going to yell at me and he knew he was going to yell at me," Spector said.
If you get to know Spector, he takes his job very seriously. But paradoxically, he does not take it seriously at all. He aims to be professional, dilligent, and objective in his coverage. At the same time, though, he understands that getting paid to write about hockey is, although fulfilling and enjoyable, a trivial task in the grand scheme of the universe. Spector said something Tortorella didn't like and Tortorella yelled at him. It's not the end of the world, and Spector moved on.
Spector admitted he is in the minority and that he got along with Tortorella better than most, but he attributed this to having a "better understanding" of him than other reporters. Lozo cited "Tortorella's rules" and makes it out to be a labrynth of mystery and uncertainty. For Spector, it was pretty clear-cut.
"You learn the questions he is not going to answer and you don't ask them. He's not going to suddenly change one day and answer them. So you take that and you adjust," Spector said.
The adjusting part might be what tripped up so many reporters. Spector covered Tortorella for two years; only one of which was as a beat reporter. So why did he find it so easy to figure out what works and doesn't work while others, who covered Tortorella since he came to the Rangers in 2009, were still finding it impossible to work with him? Part of the problem might have been a conflict of professional interest. Lozo wrote that Tortorella "never understood that reporters have a job to do, and one of them is to ask about injuries, even if you've said in the past that you're not answering them."
This may be true to some extent. Part of being a journalist is asking the tough questions that might not necessarily make the interviewee happy. But another part of being a journalist is to understand with whom you are speaking and how to get the most out of that person. No matter what field you're writing in - sports, politics, technoligical, enterntainment, local, national, international - you're dealing with all sorts of different people. Some are going to be overly accomodating to your needs; Spector was this way for me. Others are going to be difficult to deal with. Especially when dealing with the head coach of a hockey team it's important to understand the context of his job. Yes, reporters have a job to do, but so does a hockey coach. And that job is very different, if not contradicting, from the job of a journalist.
"John Tortorella's job (was) to win hockey games. Being nice to the media does not help him win hockey games," Spector said.
One could point out that it was part of Tortorella's contract and job description; he was required to do certain press conferences and speak to the media at certain times. But that doesn't mean part of his job was to give media the information they wanted. Or to interact with them in the way they wanted.
Which brings us back to the concept of adjusting. Einstein said that the definition of insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Maybe Tortorella is completely clueless and ignorant to the job the media has to do. Maybe he is stubborn, inconsiderate, irrational, condescending, and every other negative word you want to throw out there. But again; part of being a journalist is understanding with whom you are interracting and how to get the most of of him or her. At what point does, "Torts is a moron for brashly shooting down a question about an opposing player," become, "that journalist should know better than to ask Tortorella a question about an opposing player"? How many times can a man stick his hand in a fire before we stop blaming the fire and start blaming the man who doesn't learn from past experiences with that fire?
This is not to say that Jesse Spector is right and the best journalist ever whereas Dave Lozo wrong and the worst journalist ever. If you read both of their articles and follow both on Twitter you'll quickly discover that both are very intelligent writers, know the game of hockey well, and are pretty light-hearted. Both are excellent at their jobs. The main purpose here is to highlight the fact that the anti-Tortorella hivemind is not at all unanimous and not at all an objective reality. We live in an era - largely thanks to cable news as well as the reality show and circus ESPN has become - where everything needs to have to polarizing sides and something is either "right" or "wrong" with no in-between. And we need to introduce a Glenn Beck or Keith Olbermann or Skip Bayless or Stephen A. Smith to beat it into the ground and irreversibly defend the two extremes. But reality is much more abstract. Dave Lozo has his account of how things went with Tortorella. Jesse Spector has a different one. Neither is intrinsically the "correct" interpretation of Tortorella and how he interracted with the media. And take both accounts - or any personal account from any journalist regarding any topic - as nothing more than what they are.
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Adam, this is an excellent piece. If this is an indication of where your career as a journalist is heading, I have no doubt I will be reading your work for a long time. I wish more articles (not just in sports) were as well-considered as this one. You are 100% correct about the "hivemind" of today's media. Most of today's "journalists" are incredibly lazy and can only be bothered with whatever soundbites fall directly into their laps. Well done, sir!
First time poster, long time lurker. Just tweeted about this though. Is Torts actually the worst or are hockey writers just lacking creativity? Oh wow, so Torts didn't answer a question you knew he wasn't going to answer anyway? You're a writer, work your way around it. It's what you're paid to do. Most of the smaller blogs do a great job of covering all aspects of the team without needing a 2 line quote from Torts (especially this blog), so what's the big whoop?
I understand that he might not be the nicest guy, but then again, this isn't pre school. People aren't always going to be nice. Not to compare this to, say, journalists covering wars and whatnot, but I'd be floored to see any other journalist in any other field complain that information wasn't directly given to them.
Of course I've never been in the press room before, but it just seems like the easy way out to complain about it is all. And if you know you'll covering the team, don't you think you'd have a few different doors ready to go through if you don't get the info you want?
Phewf. Okay that's it
I'm new to this forum, but have been reading it for months. You guys do a great job. As far as Torts is concerned, remember the saying "Be careful what you wish for, you might get it"? Well, I think the Rangers are going to rue the day they got rid of him. He had this team moving in the right direction. Four years of work down the drain. Too bad they all couldn't resolve these issues together for the sake of the team. Boston is a finer version of the Rangers. Same philosophy, but more skilled players overall. They have that tough mental approach Torts was trying to instill in the Rangers. I hope they win the Cup. It would be great for the city. I wish you all the best, Torts. I'll miss you.
I never had a problem with Torts, but i didn't have to deal with him. I didn't think he disrespected Sam so bad as people say, maybe I'd have to see it again. In any case, I mostly found it entertaining. That said, a lot of people make good points about simply handling the business professionally. It will be interesting if and when we hear from Tortorella again.
Re: Player comments: Twitter is always in season.
Owners want to win; Torts is a proven winner on the ice and will coach b4 too long.
Rangers may want to look at Nathan Horton this offseason if they buyout Richards... He could be a second or third line center if we don't think Lindberg is ready
When Ruff got fired, many of his players remembered him fondly. When Paul Maurice got fired, he was full of gratitude for the opportunity to have coached the Canes and even contacted Muller to wish him well. Has even one Ranger said a kind thing about Torts? Has Torts made a statement or allowed an interview? Arrogance is eventually replaced by humility and I suspect that Torts will conclude that if he wants to coach in this league again, he'll have to leaarn to treat the players, media and fans with respect.
Felt the same way about the media attacking Torts, totally unfair and they seem to forget what he did for this organization the last 4 years...sure he made some mistakes but the guy wore his heart on his sleeve...
Torts; "No questions on lineups or injuries"
Media; "So is Richards hurt or will he play? If so on what line?"
and the media remains baffled as to why Torts hates them...
Just saying... seeing Boston dismantle Pitt with our style of play really makes me think we may have been 1 minute and 2 seconds away from going to the Stanley Cup.... I know... we didnt look good, but I think we beat Toronto, and that is where the team starts to come together... Pittsburgh looks awful because they are getting shut down defensively which is something we could do...
Is Torts ever going to talk about his firing? Would love to hear what he has to say. I thought he might appear on the radio with Michael Kay and. Don Legreca, he always seemed to open up to them. and give a good interview.
Damn, I couldn't agree more. Personal analogy - I've been pissed off for years when people who are merging on to a highway and who have their own merging lane actually stop and wait for traffic in the NEXT lane to clear. Not only is it silly and dangerous, it is against the law. Yet, 90% of all people do it. Finally, I come to the realization that it is me who is being stupid. I know what people are going to do, yet I keep getting upset when they do it. Haha...it is like getting upset at the tide coming in twice each day. Now when I encounter it I just expect people to stop and instead of getting upset, I get happily rewarded when I come across the 10% of the people who actually know how to merge.
These reporters are the same way. I don't fault their ignorance, but damn do they lose 100% of my respect for their cowardice. They could have said these terrible things all along, but they felt that in some way they still had to appease the beast in order to get their table scraps. Now that the giant is gone...."Oh....I think he was the worst thing that, blah, blah, blah..." Gutless.
It is the equivalent of a player calling out a polarizing player (Domi, Samuelsson, Claude Lemieux, Avery) only AFTER he has left your team.
Personally, I have zero problem with a person's code of conduct, so long as it is not actively abusive (Torts coming in and simply abusing someone who did not even ask a question), or inconsistent. You know where the lines are and you deal with it.
i know i've said it on here before, but i sat in on a Torts post game presser during the '09-'10 season. i was the only female in the room and he happened to cuss (surprise surprise) during it. afterwards he went out of his way to walk to the back of the room and personally apologize to me for cussing. because of that i always have and always will respect and like Torts.
Really makes me angry to see these coward reporters all coming out to bash Torts now that he's gone. I'd have more respect if they had the balls to say it to his face when they had the chance.
@NickCeglia It's ironic that the press criticizes Torts for not being able to adapt behind the bench, meanwhile they can't do the same during a press conference.
@WisconsinRangerfan12 Welcome! I'm with you big time. Boston proving against Pittsburgh that maybe it was the personnel Sather has on the Rangers not Torts' coaching ability that led to five game outster.
@shishya100 I only noticed Avery speak up about him since the firing. Avery goes without saying. when I heard that the Rangers let Torts go all I could vision in my mind was that twisted Avery grin. I'm not saying his players loved him, I just haven't heard from them.
I guess Tortorella will probably coach in the NHL again. Whoever hires him will not have an easy choice to make because so many people around the league simply don't like him. I feel he's disliked for all the wrong reasons but it still matters somewhat to whomever is making the decision.
@shishya100 This didn't happen mid-season where any player can be approached for an interview, it's after the exit interviews. I don't recall any players saying anything at all since Tortorella was let go.
Also you must remember you are talking about John "Torts" Tortorella. What on Earth makes you think he gives a damn about making a statement? Or giving an interview no less! I sure don't expect any words out of him just yet.
I don't know if Tortorella will coach in the NHL again. I'd expect it would be met with tons of fan backlash at first if he does.
Maybe the Blue Jackets will hire him.
@Josh6 I am not so sure that the Rangers match up with the Pens as well as the Bruins have. Besides the fact that the Bruins overall team defense is better, they are also much faster. Their 4th line was skating circles around our 4th line all series. I also think the Bruins are much better coached, but i guess that part is obvious now!
@Josh6 Totally agree. I was so pissed that Toronto blew that series. How the hell do you lose that lead???
@jmacwilli I thought the reporters have made it clear for years now that they think Torts is a jerk, no? I didn't think they hid their feelings in any way.
What I fault Torts for is the fact that the reporters are just trying to do their job the same way Torts is trying to do his. There was no reason why he couldn't treat them like professionals and participate in interviews. Sports is a business and that's why coaches and players get paid a lot of money. He didn't do his part.
@KevinDeLury Completely agree here Kevin. Working with Torts may have not been pleasant for some, especially the Bozo known as "Brooksie" and "Mr. Boring" Dave Lozo, but to come out and bash him so gutlessly after he was pushed out of NY is sad. Did he bring a cup to NY? No. Are we in better shape now than when he got here? Hell yes. To attack a man's character who has no forum to respond is nothing more than a cheap shot.
@KevinDeLury totally agree. And keep it up with the blog! Looking forward to October but I'm sure there will be plenty to post and ponder about this summer
@KevinDeLury @WisconsinRangerfan12 Thanks for the welcome, Kevin. By the way, I am not condoning Tort's behavior. Even though I support him, he made some comments about players that made me cringe. Especially, the "Hagelin stinks" comment. However, it takes two to create a bad situation and the media was out to get Torts this year. I think that made him defensive all year. Basically, I think he is a decent man and a wonderful coach, but lacking in good people skills. I had a boss like that when I worked at an advertising agency. He could reduce people to tears with his anger and dismissive attitude. Yet, this is the same man who cut his salary to zero so he wouldn't have to lay off any of his staff during the recession. He could also be incredibly charming and caring. You just don't know what is in someone's heart. I think Tort's gave everything in his being to this organization. It's too bad they all couldn't make it work.
@Josh6 Marchand??? Really? THIS guy is going to go play for another cup? I hope Chicago sweeps them.
Last time I checked...Brooks never took any of tortsies crap face to face...even back in 04....Brooks is a good writer, I enjoy his peices and have no problem with his opinion.
@Snot-Bubbler Brooks might be considered a "good writer", if you think a writer who insists on thinking that (a) he's part of the story, and (b) he knows more about the subject than the person he's interviewing, is a good writer.