By Mark Hebscher

(ISN) – If you were making 8 million dollars a year, and agreed to be interviewed and the reporter suggested you might be difficult to coach, how would you respond? Would you suggest that it was a bad question and then challenge the reporter and call him “stupid”, like Phil Kessel did to Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star?

Having asked several thousand questions over the years, I know it’s impossible to ask your subject a great question every time. It’s especially tough when you’re in a “scrum” with cameras rolling and reporter’s notebooks and pens at the ready. Instead of listening to the same blah, blah, blah, you want to ask a question that will elicit a different kind of response from the subject, and hopefully make your story. Sometimes it works beautifully and you’ve got yourself a great quote. Unfortunately, everybody else present gets the same quote thanks to your courage and inquisitive nature. That’s what happened with Feschuk and Kessel. Had it been a one-on-one interview, Kessel would not have called Feschuk “stupid”. But since the question was asked in front of others, Kessel got his back up and challenged Feschuk, while social media debated whether or not the question was appropriate. Of course it was. Kessel could’ve offered a “no comment”, or even a “next question”, but since he agreed to be interviewed, he had to know that someone might ask a challenging question instead of a garden variety softball question.

Back in the spring of 1990, I was challenged by then Boston Bruins coach Mike Milbury after game 2 of the Stanley Cup final at the Boston Garden. The Bruins had lost the opener to Edmonton on Petr Klima’s goal in the 3rd overtime, and then went down 2 games to none after being throttled 7-2 by the Oilers. Upon leaving the ice, the Bruins were greeted with jeers from the boo-birds at the Garden. 10 minutes later, the media gathered in the hallway next to the Bruins dressing room to hear from the coaches. In those days, it wasn’t a podium that the coach stood at, but rather a makeshift table with lots of microphones on it. Milbury came out, clearly pissed, and proceeded to answer softball questions from the Boston media. With my 11:30 deadline approaching for Sportsline, I decided that I was going to break in and ask the next question, although I didn’t know what I was going to ask. When Milbury finished his answer, I blurted out “Is your team humiliated in there, coach?” Silence. He looked in my direction, recognized me, shook his head and said “F**k Off. That’s a stupid f**kin’ question and you’re a stupid f**kin’ reporter” Silence. I felt like I had just had my pants pulled down in front of 50 members of the media. So I shot back “Well, you’re a stupid f**kin’ coach”. It was at that exact moment that I knew I had BECOME the story. In fact, the headline in the Edmonton Sun the next day didn’t point out the Oilers win, it had a big picture of Milbury lashing out with the headline “HE SAID WHAT?”.

The Bruins thought I was trying to make Milbury look bad, when, in fact, I only wanted him to answer the question. “Yes, they’re humiliated and they should be after that game” was the response I was expecting when I asked the question. But the Bruins went to the NHL and the NHL went to my bosses at Global TV and threatened to take away my credentials unless I apologized to Milbury. “Like Hell”, was my response. It was a legit question and now I was being looked at as the villain. But, the next day I approached Milbury and asked if I could talk to him in private. He apologized for swearing at me and I apologized for swearing at him, but I stood by my question, and explained why I had asked it and what response I expected. After that, we were good. In fact, many years later, Milbury became a controversial TV commentator who said some pretty outrageous things on the air. I guess he learned a few things from our clash back in 1990. Sometimes you’ve got to say stuff that gets you recognized.

There have been several occasions when coaches and players have gone off half-cocked, and many of those outbursts were recorded and played back ad nauseum. Remember “Playoffs? Playoffs?” from coach Jim Mora. That came from a reporters question. How about “The Bears are what we THOUGHT they were” from coach Dennis Green. That came after the question “What did you think of the Bears?”. Stupid question? Hardly. Look at the answer it provided. And that’s the point with Phil Kessel. He rarely says anything that’s quotable, but when he does, it’s front page news. If you’re trying to do a story on Kessel, you need to ask this type of question or you’re going to get the same old drivel. I give Feschuk credit for asking the question, and I think Kessel was childish when he called Feschuk “stupid”. Hopefully Kessel learned that if he’s going to say something, he’d better think about the repercussions.

The greatest quote machine I ever witnessed was Hall of Fame slugger Reggie Jackson. Once, after he had hit a game winning homer in extra innings against the Bluejays, the media gathered by his locker to ask him some questions. After the first couple of questions, which had to do with the hit (i.e. “What type of pitch did he throw you?”) one wiseguy reporter dared to ask Reggie why he didn’t run out a sure double in the 5th inning and stayed at first base instead. “Why don’t you go f**k yourself?” said Reggie to the reporter, who was standing in a scrum with 6 or 7 others. “What do you mean?” asked the reporter, hoping for a good quote now. “If your d*ck is big enough, shove it up your a**hole”. That particular quote did NOT make the papers the next day, nor did the clip air on radio or TV. But, now that I think of it, it was a HELLUVA question.