Realizing He ‘Used to Be Good,’ Don Cherry Recalibrates His Rancor

Realizing He ‘Used to Be Good,’ Don Cherry Recalibrates His Rancor

Cherry took three scraps of paper, wrote, “Used to be good,” and plastered them around the house as motivation.

“I decided to go back to the way I was,” he said. “And right now, I’m like I was 20 years ago. I’m more of a bully. I’m more aggressive. I’m better.”

Away from the camera, the man affectionately known as Grapes has softer edges and a prankster’s guile.

In October, Cherry changed the location of an interview from his house to his son’s home, just around the corner in suburban Toronto.

“Come around 9 in the morning and you’ll see me sitting on the white veranda,” Cherry said in a voice mail message.

At the appointed time, a skeleton was sitting where Cherry was supposed to be on the Halloween-themed veranda. His son, Tim, opened the door and dryly remarked that his father had been on a strict diet of late.

A few minutes later, Cherry made a less-than-grand entrance, wearing checkered track pants, a T-shirt and a windbreaker.

“It’s a funny thing,” he said. “I can go to Home Depot, and if I’m dressed like this, maybe five out of 10 people will recognize me. But if I put on a shirt and tie, you can’t believe it. Everybody wants a picture.”

Cherry said his fashion sense came from his father, Delmar, a master electrician and a “dandy who was the sharpest dresser of all time,” and his mother, Maude, who was a tailor at Royal Military College.

Cherry’s leap to TV came in 1980 after he wore out his welcome as coach in Boston and Colorado. Mellanby hired Cherry as a guest analyst in the Stanley Cup finals, even though he knew how volatile Cherry could be.

In 1978, when Cherry was coaching the Bruins in the finals against Montreal, Boston’s Stan Jonathan broke Pierre Bouchard’s nose in a flurry of punches, but the replay was not shown on TV.

Cherry believed that fighting was a big part of the game and should be showcased.

During the next game in Montreal, one of Boston’s little-known fighters got cut in a fight, and Cherry stormed down the hall and confronted Mellanby in the control room.

“I bet you’re going to show that one,” he yelled. Mellanby said no — he had a mandate to stop glorifying fights.

“He was yelling and screaming at me,” Mellanby said. “It was one of the strangest events in the history of television for me because the play had started and there was nobody coaching the Bruins. I said, ‘Don, the play has started, you’d better get out and coach.’ And off he went in a huff.”

Mellanby loved Cherry’s showmanship, but by the early 1980s, CBC executives wanted him out because he was mangling names and butchering the language. “I said, ‘If Cherry goes, I go,’ ” Mellanby said, and management backed off.

When MacLean took over co-hosting in 1986, he said, he thought Cherry might last five years “the way he was putting his neck in the noose the way Don does.”

With the move in 2013 to Rogers, a nongovernment entity, Cherry seems to receive less criticism, although he suspects it’s largely because his long tenure at the CBC afforded him more time to offend.

He remembered a columnist calling him a troglodyte and a misogynist, and he laughed it off because he did not know what the words meant. But after more scathing reviews, Cherry began developing a thicker skin.

“When I get a bad write-up, it doesn’t bother me anymore,” he said. “A lot of people don’t like me. I’m right wing. I’m Donald Trump.”

MacLean does not think that Cherry is a softer target now. “You’re either beholden to the dollar or you’re beholden to the government,” he said. “Either one will shackle you.”

Cherry earns about $1 million a year, which is less than market value, but he does not care. He negotiates his own contracts and said the talks last about 90 seconds.

“I never hold out for money,” he said. “I enjoy what I do. When I don’t enjoy it anymore, I’ll get out.”

Moore will not talk about a succession plan yet.

“All I will say,” he said, “is to quote a U.S. broadcast consultant who said you don’t want to be the guy who replaces Walter Cronkite. You want to be the guy who replaces the guy who replaces Walter Cronkite.”

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