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How Babcock went from 'head spinning' to signing on as Maple Leafs coach

05/21/2015 05:45 EDT | Updated 05/21/2016 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - Mike Babcock lay awake at 3:30 a.m. Wednesday morning as his youngest daughter Taylor printed off pages for a high school paper. He and his wife Maureen went to sleep Tuesday night with one plan for his future as an NHL head coach and when the sun came up had another.

For almost two weeks, Babcock was a hot free agent being courted by the Buffalo Sabres, San Jose Sharks, Toronto Maple Leafs and his Detroit Red Wings. By Wednesday Babcock chose the Leafs on a US$50-million, eight-year contract, but there were many sleepless nights leading up to his decision.

"When you get fired, someone offers you a job, you just take the job," Babcock said at his introductory news conference Thursday at Air Canada Centre. "When you now start going through the process and adding everything up and over-analyzing and beating stuff up, you get your head spinning. I enjoyed it a ton, but it was hard."

The Red Wings' season ended April 29 after a loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs. That night Babcock expressed concern about aging stars Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, but at Detroit's exit day May 1 said he didn't know for sure he was leaving.

On May 8, Babcock got permission to talk to other teams. Leafs president Brendan Shanahan spoke with Red Wings general manager Ken Holland and filled out the necessary paperwork to interview Babcock and within 10 minutes was on the phone with him.

"I just told him the truth about where we were and the size of the mountain here," Shanahan said. "Mike asked hard questions, and I did not lie. I told him the truth. I got off the phone and wondered whether I had just made a huge mistake."

Undeterred, Babcock flew to Toronto on the Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment plane May 9 to talk with Shanahan and director of player personnel Mark Hunter. By May 10, Shanahan said he gave Babcock the Leafs' financial offer.

That day, Babcock met with Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula and general manager Tim Murray and toured their brand-new HarborCenter facilities. On May 11, Babcock flew to the Czech Republic to see Red Wings prospect Dylan Larkin and talk more with Shanahan and Holland.

Shanahan could see in Babcock's eyes that the 52-year-old was struggling with the decision. The Leafs' president was glad he and Babcock shared a vision for the Leafs' future.

"Mike's questions for me weren't pushing back against the build and the vision, it was what we've talked about here for years: Do we have the ability as a city, as an organization to stick to it through the hard times," Shanahan said.

Upon returning from Prague on Sunday, Babcock had only the Sharks left to talk to. According to reports out of Buffalo, the Sabres thought they had a deal with Babcock on Monday, but he said they were one of three choices left as of Tuesday night, along with the Leafs and Red Wings.

Babcock talked contract terms with Detroit and Buffalo, and the Leafs interviewed Guy Boucher just in case they didn't get their top choice. By Wednesday morning Babcock told Shanahan and Murray he needed a few more hours to make his decision and met with Holland at his suburban Michigan home.

"It was very emotional," Babcock said of telling Holland he was leaving the Red Wings. "I had to get the Kleenex box out when I sat in his office there because of what he's done for me."

On Wednesday afternoon, Babcock called him to say he'd be coming to the Leafs.

"(The Sabres) got lots of great things, but in the end I couldn't make it go for my family and I wanted to be the coach of the Maple Leafs," Babcock said. "That's it."

This wasn't on the level of "The Decision" show LeBron James put on several years ago as an NBA free agent, but Babcock was glad to be done with the NHL coaching version of it.

"When I called I was exhilarated and I was relieved," Babcock said. "In the end, I wanted to coach the Maple Leafs, and this was the best fit for my family."

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