Coach’s cornered: sudden death for Grapes?

Did the publishers of Chill magazine know something?

There’s a reason Don Cherry is the biggest TV star in Canada. It is not just the crazy suits. It is not just the flag waving patriotism. It is not just the dog or the Lincolns. It is not just that he could say anything on any given night. It is not just that many Canadians feel he has something to say. It is not just that he speaks for many Canadians.
It is that he is authentic, true to himself, real. His passionate, unfiltered opinions stand out in an era of corporate cheer leading like a Christmas-coloured plaid blazer in a sea of burgundy. The league and the broadcaster may hate that he’s off-message, but that’s why Canadians trust him.
He is Canada’s longest running, most popular reality show.
Still, at nearly 80, and with a sea change in NHL broadcast ownership, Is Don Done? The question was asked this month on the cover of Chill magazine. (A beer store publication which bills itself, like Cherry, as “Proudly Canadian.”)
There is some speculation that we are about to find out Saturday night. That’s when Cherry says he will address the blockbuster deal which puts all nationally televised NHL hockey games for the next 12 years in the hands of Rogers and Sportsnet.
This includes Hockey Night in Canada, where Cherry has been a lightening rod for 30 years as the main attraction on CBC’s Coach’s Corner.
Now, nothing and no one lasts forever. After an unparalleled sports media career, Howard Cosel left Monday Night Football under a cloud. John Madden eventually pulled himself out of the booth after too many bus rides. Even Lloyd Robertson left the CTV anchor chair after five decades delivering the news.
Nobody knows if Rogers plans to keep Cherry or Ron MacLean or Coach’s Corner. Rogers Media president Keith Pelley indicated at the Tuessday press conference that all the pieces are on the table. He did indicate that it was a brave new world, and that there would be change. There’s been talk of more player profiles between periods, perhaps based more on the Vancouver Olympic broadcast model.
Cherry’s involvement may rest largely in the hands of Scott Moore, Rogers president of broadcasting and the former CBC sports boss. The affable executive likely had a big say in CBC being gifted this window on Hockey Night in Canada over the next four years.
Nevertheless, Cherry could go down with the CBC ship. If Sportsnet shuts down Coach’s Corner at the start of next season he could be offered other kinds of involvement on the hockey broadcasts, perhaps on several games a night, perhaps as a panelist (like how former Bears coach Mike Ditka brings gravitas to the ESPN NFL desk). A contract player, he could also take his act to TSN if they offered more of a Coach’s Corner-like showcase for their remaining regional games. (If TSN winds up with the theme and Cherry, they might as well track down Murray Westgate for the commercials.)
What he won’t do Saturday or on any night is quit. He still loves his job and in many ways it probably keeps him young. How many more Canadians tune in to hear what he has to say Saturday night may go a long way towards determining what happens next September.

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