Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Elevator Pitch

Advertising guru and broadcaster Terry O'Reilly was on CBC Radio recently, and he was telling a story. It was the spring of 2006 and the Miami Heat were leading the Dallas Mavericks three games to two in the NBA championship series. The challenge for Heat coach Pat Riley was a mental one. Games 6 and 7 would be played on the Mavericks' home floor, and Riley didn't want there to be a Game 7 at all. So, how could he pitch to his players the urgency of winning Game 6, and have them believe him and execute the plan? Simply, as it turned out. He held a team meeting before the crucial road trip and he told the players to pack for one night. One suit, he said, would be all they'd need because they'd be back home to celebrate the championship after Game 6. Well, the players, expecting strategy and platitudes, bought what the coach was selling. They followed through and won the title in six.

Pat Riley was a great professional coach because he knew a simple truth. The coach isn't just the guy who decides the lineup and plans in-game strategy, he's also a salesman. Given a lineup of rich, entitled men to coach, he didn't have to worry much about talent. The players he coached wouldn't have been in the NBA without it. His job was to motivate those talented, rich, entitled men to push their physical and emotional limits in a collaborative effort to win basketball games. In other words, he had to find the message to which they'd respond, then he had to pitch it with all the savvy of a Madison Avenue ad executive. He became an expert at the elevator pitch.

The elevator pitch, in advertising, is the line you take if you have to win someone over to your way of thinking in the time it'd take to travel a few floors in an elevator with them. It has to be convincing, original, powerful and brief. It's a useful approach for a coach because it's a straightforward message, simple to convey and to understand. It becomes a rallying cry with repetition.

The Canadiens Michel Therrien finds himself in the kind of situation that separates the good coaches from the jokers right now. With his team down two home losses against the Tampa Bay Lightning, including a hot-headed penalty-filled disaster of a Game 2, Therrien has got to pitch his team a message that will make players buy into what he's selling. After Game 1, he blamed the heartbreaking double-OT loss on a missed offside. He wasn't able to pull the team together and regroup after that, and the Game 2 bench was in disarray, with morale falling as the chance of victory disappeared. Now he's got one chance before the series is all but blown. The x's and o's don't matter. It's too late to fix the power play. Line shuffling has proven to be ineffectual. It's time for his elevator pitch.

The question is, does Therrien have it in him?  This is the point when players are starting to panic and doubts are creeping in. It's the time when "be first on puck," "be 'ard on puck" and "skate, skate!" aren't cutting it. The team has heard those exhortations ad nauseam and now they need inspiration. Perhaps, somewhere deep down, Therrien has a Jacques Demers-like speech he can deliver, convincing the players through his raw passion that he truly believes they're going to come back. Not that they can come back, but that they will. Or perhaps he doesn't

The thing with a good elevator pitch is, even if it turns out the Habs are so inferior a team to the Lightning they really didn't have a chance, they can still pull together and play with dignity and discipline. Perhaps they'll even find the motivation and the breaks to win. Either way, if a coach is to have a purpose and prove his mettle, this is his moment. Therrien needs to pitch his butt off and he'd better hope he still has enough respect in the dressing room to have his players buy into the message. Even if most of us believe he's probably no Pat Riley.


Ian said...

A 50-win season, 110 points. A team with a Norris Trophy Finalist, a Hart Trophy Finalist (who will also need a U-Haul to carry away others awards from this season).

Sounds like a solid, well-coached team.

Unfortunately, it has a lot of great pieces, but is still missing things if it wants to win a Stanley Cup.

We Habs' fans should be so happy with the record this year, but, we are not. We want to win a Stanley Cup, not just have a good season. I know most fans would be thrilled if their teams accomplished what the Habs have done this season. But, we Habs' fans have higher standards and expectations. The team only hangs Stanley Cup banners in the Bell Centre.

Now, as you said, Leigh Anne, MT needs to come up with an elevator speech to get the team fired up for the game tonight. I, as a Habs' fan through seven decades, do not believe MT has one in him.

I've admitted to not being a fan of his many, many times. While we don't have a Habs' lineup like we did in the old days, or an Oilers-type lineup from the Gretzky years, it has a lot of good pieces in it. But we can all see the holes that have to be filled.

I thought that we would be a contender in another year or two, not now, but we actually do have a chance to win now, though not being a favorite to do so.

But, behind the bench, I see constant instability, our team getting outcoached virtually every game. Why can't our coaches make the adjustments that other coaches seem to be able to make?

MT hasn't shown me that he is capable of that. Thanks for a winning season, but that's not all I want.

In my heart, against all odds, I think the Habs will win tonight. Maybe I am just a die hard fan. But, sadly, on the other hand, if we were to get beat 6-0, I guess I wouldn't be all that surprised either.

Good luck to the team tonight. Give it your best shot and get back in this series. A win tonight would be a good start on taking the series, one game at a time.

MT, get your head out of your ass and do something different. Your constant ways have not worked. Sincerely, good luck to you, too. I really do wish you the best for tonight.

Harry said...

A lot of people credit MT with this winning season-I am not convinced,the Habs would have had a good season with any coach.Are they a Stanley Cup team? No,not yet but MB is on the right track.
I don't like MT,never have and never will,sorry but that's just me.
And Leigh Anne,like you I am not very high on PK,he is too much of a hot dog,what is with the Serge Savard moves all the time?
Doing the same thing over and over with expectations of different results is called........
I really don't think MT has what it takes to get any more out of this team .
I have been a fan since The Rocket played and like Ian I don't see any coaches on the Habs that make me at ease.The team has to someday realize that the best coach is not always french.
Sorry for the rant but I'm fed up with Mr MT !!

Unknown said...

Dear Leigh Anne,

I feel I need to weigh in here. Not with your elevator comments in general because all teams need a good pep talk before games, especially what is turning out to be the most important game of all seasons.

What I find disappointing with what you write here at your site and what you say on twitter is your negativity.

We finished first in our division this year and what, second or third in the league? Did Price take us there? For the most part, yes. But your incessant need to cut down MT, DD, a coach that needs to speak French in order to have a job gets very, very, very old.

Let's address MT first. I'm not his biggest fan, but I truly believe that there are some things he does/did that deserve recognition because the stats prove it alone. Your impressions about how he talks to the team (be first on the puck, be 'ard on the puck) is not only low and classless ('ard) but also naïve on your part. How do you know what he says in the dressing room? Coaches repeat the same rhetoric in front of the media. I'm sure he says more than what you insinuate.

Second, your desire to hire Babcock. Detroit is out. Are we both following the same league? Detroit lost. MT is still here. I honestly think that if we won the cup this year, you would still want MT's head on a stick.

And now, DD. This kid had tremendous hurdles to jump. Not being drafted, his height, his ethnicity. He may not be the best player around, he may not be our number one centerman, but the guy creates opportunities for everyone. HE's a SMART player. Somehow, you refuse to throw him a bone (re: your latest twitter comment). I was actually happy we lost the last game (and by a large margin) while DD was out. You couldn't blame him this time. Probably why you turned all your negative comments on MT. We have who we have. They may not be the most talented, but I love my Habs.

Try, please, in your next post, to write something ONLY positive. No, you can't be sarcastic about.

I don't think you can do it.

Ian said...

Well, the team gave a valiant effort last night in losing 2-1 on a buzzer-beater. They certainly deserved a better result.

I'm not sure MT gave an elevator speech, though I am not writing (this time) to slag him. I think it was the character of the team that showed up in their play.

I am still hearing those hit goal posts behind Bishop. A team needs some luck and some bounces, which the Habs haven't been getting in this series. Sure, the got some in the Ottawa series, and won, but that just shows that you do need some luck and bounces every now and then.

Here's hoping they pull one out tonight (really) and head back to Montreal for another game.

And unlike Tanya, who certainly has a right to her own opinion, I love your blog for the creativity and insight into reality. I seldom disagree with your positions, and I think most of your readers feel the same way.

Harry said...

Leigh Anne,please don't let Tanya discourage you from this blog.
I love it as do many others,and as Ian says,she is certainly allowed to her opinion,and kudos to you for publishing it anyway.
Keep the blog as 'REAL' as you always have

Thanks so much

Ian said...

The team's pride and character came through last night with a huge 6-2 win, staving off elimination, and allowing them to head back to Montreal.

Everything I have heard or read suggests that the team and coaches focus on one game at a time. That is certainly the right approach, in any situation.

Imagine what could possibly happen with a win in Montreal on Saturday night!

I believe there were many elevator 'comments' as opposed to speeches in the locker room last night. I'd bet many of the leaders spoke up, offering one thing or another.

One game at a time.

Ian said...

So my 'one game at a time' plan unfortunately didn't work out in the end. The Habs deserved a better fate, IMO.

But, it is all done now, and I am already looking towards next year to find the player(s) we need to take the next step.

I have acknowledged that I didn't expect them to win this year. I figured we are a year or two away. But, given the success they did have through the season, one could hope that they could possibly be like the 1993 Cup winner. Not likely, but you never know.

Obviously MB has some more work to do, starting with getting a top sniper, who can changes those one goal losses into a few more wins, with timely scoring.

Let's play the season with Beaulieu, Pateryn and Tinordi on defence from the get-go and keep with it. Come playoff time, they will be fully seasoned.

Let's do the same thing with Galcheyuk and Eller, give them # 1 and 2 centre roles (Eller deserves a chance to play with offensive zone starts and on the power play).

Add that sniper, then whatever MB can do to make this team into a serious contender while Pacs, Subban and Price are in their prime.

I will leave my dislike for MT on the sideline for now. He signed a four year extension last summer, so I doubt he is going anywhere. But they better get a coach that can run a power play. That alone would turn some of those one goal losses around.

Lots of great young pieces already in the lineup, with some potentially nice prospects in the years ahead (thinking McCarron and Scherback here, just to name two).

We should see something more positive in the next year or two.

Now, let me qualify things a bit here. It is damned tough to win the Stanley Cup nowadays. No matter how good your team is, you need a lot of luck and lucky bounces along the way (which we had in the Ottawa series, but not the Tampa series; that was the difference in the series, IMO; we deserved better!).

Finally, thank you, thank you, thank you Leigh Anne, to another great year of your blogs. I have enjoyed reading them immensely, and yours is the only blog of many I read that this 68 year old grandparent comments on.

Steve said...

Game 6 answered some questions.