Nearly two years after retiring as president and CEO of MLSE, Richard Peddie opened up about his time at the helm of the Maple Leafs, Raptors and eventually Toronto FC. Speaking on TSN 1050's TSN Drive show, Peddie touched on his hiring of both rookie and experienced GM's and the most memorable relationships and interactions he had with former players and executives.
Coming from a business background when he was named MLSE's inaugural president and CEO in February of 1998, Peddie admitted to having to learn on the fly early on.
“It's a different mindset,” Peddie said of the difference between sports and business. “There's really one winner and 29 losers. In business there isn't that. You could have an industry that all had good results, all had bad results or you can have an industry where there's winners and losers. In sports there's only one.”
Taking over at a time when both the Leafs and Raptors were enjoying success, Peddie was eventually forced to lead the franchises in a transition period with changes coming in the front office. His decision to hire two rookie general managers is something he regrets.
“I should've gone more experienced,” Peddie said of his decision to hire John Ferguson Jr. as the Leafs GM. “You DO NOT hire a rookie to run the Toronto Maple Leafs.”
In retrospect, Peddie said when he was involved in the hiring process and made a call to the Canucks to speak with Dave Nonis, he should have instead reached out to the man he would end up hiring five years later, Brian Burke.
“I should've asked permission to talk to Burkie then,” Peddie said.
On the basketball side, Peddie was questioning his hiring of Rob Babcock in the summer of 2004 less than six months into his tenure, when the Vince Carter trade proposal was brought before the MLSE board of directors in December.
“I had a new general manager that I had started to become really worried about,” Peddie remembers. “I'm thinking if I pull the plug on this then I've meddled, then I've basically fired the general manager. In hindsight I wish I had. It set back the franchise years.”
Being witness to both the rise of “Vinsanity” early on in his tenure, followed by the falling out Carter had with the team and city years later, Peddie was present for nearly all of his career in Toronto.
He observed that Carter was a “Mama's boy” who's life was dominated by the family and entourage he surrounded himself with early on.
As to why Carter was unable to meet the lofty expectations levied upon him early in his career, Peddie says it may have come down to work ethic and internal drive.
“There are guys like Kobe, Jordan – they're killers and Vince didn't have that,” Peddie said, while also noting that the team's trainers would report Carter having leg issues heading into the off-season, which he would then fail to rehab during the summer months.
Following the trade of Carter and the failures of Babcock and Ferguson, Peddie said he learned from his mistakes and hired experienced, respected leaders.
“I went and hired, arguably two of the best general managers,” Peddie said of Brian Burke and Bryan Colangelo.
Although Burke was fired from the team prior to the start of the 2013 season, and failed to lead the Leafs to the playoffs during his tenure, Peddie said he still thinks Burke “would've brought Toronto a Stanley Cup.”
Besides the NBA and NHL teams, Peddie touched briefly on his dealings with Toronto FC, noting that he saw the 2007 expansion franchise serving as a type of apprenticeship for former MLSE COO Tom Anselmi.
“I was thinking about retiring and I thought Tom Anselmi would benefit from dealing with a general manager, dealing with the media and I gave him full reign on that one. And we hired badly – we've been through eight coaches. I chalk that up to our lack of football knowledge.”
Asked about his successor, Tim Leiweke, Peddie was complimentary saying, “I thought it was a good choice,” noting the former president and CEO of AEG played an important role in bringing an MLS to the city and in the design of Maple Leaf Square.
He disagreed however with Leiweke's statements that a culture change was needed inside of MLSE.
“I didn't believe the culture of the business side needed to be changed at all, but on the team side we weren't winning, so he's focusing on winning,” Peddie said.
“He uses fear. I mean he would go after me a whole bunch of times and he went after owners. He's really smart, he's very successful and he uses that.”
“Studious and brilliant. Ken takes a long time to make a decision.”
“Stubborn Irishman, had great success.”
“Very polished, very experienced, wish he'd had more success...Bryan wanted to win and man, he wore that. He liked to pull the big trades and they weren't working out.”
“Fighter. I got along very well with Tie, but his temper would flare up even off the ice occasionally.”
“Smiling assassin…Isaiah and I could not work together. I think we made a mistake right off the bat to not make him president of the basketball team day one. I offered it to him two weeks after I joined, but he chose not to take it and we didn't work together very long.”
“He's legit. He loves the city, loves the team, has credibility with the players. How good can he be with free agents? He could be a tipping point.”