Gadsby’s Strange Firing Still Perplexes Him

The Philadelphia Flyers made news at the start of the 2013-14 season by firing coach Peter Laviolette after just three games (all losses).

The Red Wings can beat that. In 1969, the team fired coach Bill Gadsby—after two games (both wins!).

Actually, “the team” was owner Bruce Norris, and to this day, Gadsby doesn’t know why he was given the ziggy.

That is, unless he has been enlightened since my interview with him in 2007, which is doubtful.

“We won the first two games, and the second one was in Chicago,” Gadsby told me via phone as we chatted for one of those “Where Are They Now?” pieces for a magazine.

“(Bruce) Norris came up to me after the game, put his arms around me and said, ‘Bill, you sure have the boys playing good.'”

So imagine Gadsby’s surprise when he was summoned to Norris’ office the next day inside Olympia Stadium and was given the sobering news of his firing, ironic because Norris was a notorious drinker.

I pressed Gadsby about whether he thought the owner was looped when he fired Bill.

“I don’t know,” Gadsby said, “but there was a glass of some amber-colored liquid in front of him.”

The official reason given for Gadsby’s firing was that the Red Wings wanted a more “modern” coach, whatever that meant. But that didn’t really ring true, because all Norris did was replace Gadbsy with his predecessor—GM Sid Abel.

But as Gadsby spoke more about Norris, maybe Bill was better off after being let go.

“He used to have a telephone hooked up behind the bench,” Gadbsy told me. “It was connected to the owner’s suite and he’d sit up there with his buddies and they’d call down during the game, making suggestions.”

Could you imagine such a scenario today with Mike Babcock and Mike Ilitch?

Bill Gadsby photo now
Gadsby in recent years (above) and as a Red Wings player (below)

Gadsby player

Gadsby said that he eventually got fed up with the phone calls—he said often Norris seemed drunk—and had the phone ripped out.

Gadbsy, a Hall of Fame defenseman, never won a Stanley Cup but played 20 NHL seasons, with Chicago, the New York Rangers, and the Red Wings.

Abel stepped down as coach, concentrating on his GM duties, and hired Gadbsy as coach prior to the 1968-69 season, during which the Red Wings compiled a 33-31-12 record.

Then, the following October arrived, and Detroit got off to that 2-0 start that wasn’t enough to save Gadsby’s job.

Gadsby said that he had a chance to coach in St. Louis after the Red Wings gig ended, but he decided to go into business as a manufacturer’s rep instead.

“The Detroit experience kind of soured me on coaching,” Gadsby told me.

Can’t really blame him, I guess.

But it didn’t sour him on hockey, per se.

“I loved everything about (playing hockey),” Gadsby said. “I never won a Stanley Cup but I loved it. I even loved practicing!”

Gadsby is 86 and still lives in Metro Detroit. He often shows up at Joe Louis Arena and elsewhere for alumni-related events.

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