What did Pat Quinn Want to Be When He Grew Up?: an article by the Prof

I was thinking about Pat Quinn today – comparing him as head coach to MacT. It intrigues me that Quinn is also a lawyer – having received his law degree (actually it was a J.D., the abbreviation for juris doctor or doctor of jurisprudence, the formal name given to a university law degree in the United States) at the University of San Diego – obviously between hockey games and during summer breaks while he coached for the Los Angeles Kings.

Interestingly, Quinn’s legal education didn’t seem to teach him to stay out of legal trouble. In 1986, he violated his contract with the Kings to secretly sign as the general manager and president of the Vancouver Canucks for the 1987 season.

Obviously, Quinn’s signing was an egregious (this is the kind of legal description a lawyer might use) conflict of interest, and when the Kings made his signing public he was banned from NHL employment until 1990. But, that’s another story.

Anyway, the fact that Quinn was trained to a lawyer caused me to ponder two questions. First, why does a hockey player become a lawyer? Second, in a face-off between the skills of a hockey coach and a lawyer, how do they match up? In other words, are comparable skills needed to be a good lawyer and a good hockey coach? To this second question, I think the answer is yes.

Here are some skills lawyers need. First, you must be good at disputing and proving your points. It also helps to be competitive. You have to be able to persuade people, be quick to observe things, and you must have people skills. As much of any argument is won on the personality of the presenter as it is on the presentation of the facts. You also need to know the rules and be able to apply them.

To become a lawyer, you study business, communication, journalism, reading, researching, analyzing, and thinking logically. Excellent writing skills are also a must – the point is that you have to make your points succinctly and directly. These points have to be clearly communicated and without nuance – you have to be a straight-up guy.

To me, these are some of the same skills I think hockey coaches must have. There in the scrum of a game, within the heat of complex and dynamic action, players are waiting to be convinced. Watching Quinn stick handle on the Oilers’ bench, it strikes me that the communications he has with his players – except for the extended time of a called time out or a TV commercial – are exceedingly short. You have to say what you have to say in a short amount of time. We’re talking a sentence, tops.

Furthermore, hockey coaches have only the flash of a moment to convince people to accept their ideas. There is no time to debate or compete for attention. Quinn seems almost ultra-competitive in a patient sort of way. He seems quick to observe things, has people skills, seems straight to the point, and I know I wouldn’t want to argue with him. He scares me.

Are all coaches like Quinn? I think not. Law and hockey are so diverse that it is probably impossible to describe a typical lawyer or hockey coach. Each lawyer or coach works with different clients/players and faces different problems. I cannot, for instance, even start to get my head around the different needs of coaching Shawn Horcoff, Patrick O’Sullivan, Ladislav Smid, or Robert Nilsson. But I can imagine that coaching each player is different – and not having English as one’s first language also causes a communication issue. Strudwick is different than Stortini, who is different than Visnovsky, who is not at all like Gagner. All this takes some sense of insight.

So, that Quinn has been schooled in the skills of the legal profession – analyzing issues in light of existing situations, synthesizing ideas in light of different facts and multifaceted issues, and combining diverse ideas into a coherent whole – has to help. Then he has to advocate these ideas to individuals with different agendas, offer intelligent counsel on a game’s requirements, speak clearly, and negotiate effectively. These are skills of both the law and of hockey coaching.

I cannot imagine the pressure of coaching NHL hockey. But I bet that reading situations, listening to the insights that arise, analyzing and synthesizing the sights and sounds of a game and the needs of players, advocating one idea over another, and counseling, speaking, and constant negotiating are keys. Quinn, and perhaps all good hockey coaches, must be smarter than the average bear.

Given this set of smarts, why again would Quinn sign a secret contract in 1986? Perhaps the answer is that it was 20 years ago! Being Quinn’s age myself, I hope I am smarter at 60 than I was at 40.


Post a Comment

More To Read