It’ll be a year ago Saturday that Brian Burke fired Ron Wilson as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs. And while many fans of the club have never stopped rejoicing about that long-overdue bit of bloodletting, the thought of it still causes Burke to lower his gaze in lament.
They’d been friends since college, he and Wilson, co-captains of the hockey team at Providence College. And for a few fleeting moments during their partnership in Toronto, you might have been convinced that the cocksure scions of USA Hockey had co-concocted a recipe for the rebirth of Canada’s eternal punchline of a sports franchise.
Alas, the last of the Burke-Wilson Maple Leaf teams went from first overall in November to fallen off the cliff by February. Soon enough, Burke was finding out his 30-plus-year friendship with Wilson wasn’t completely fireproof.
“(Wilson’s) younger daughter got married that summer. Ron suggested it’d be better if I didn’t come to the wedding, which I was looking forward to,” Burke was saying. “There was a lot to it that was unpleasant.”
Burke was holding court here at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference on Friday, appearing on a panel entitled: “It’s Not You, It’s Me: Breakups in Sports.” Seeing as he’s a little more than seven weeks removed from his own unceremonious parting from Leafland, the former GM was both a perfect panelist and a prickly one.
While Burke acknowledged that being shown the door as Leafs GM was difficult to swallow — “There’s a humiliating aspect to it,” he said — it’d be difficult to make the case it humbled him.