For four days, Danny Belisle's Thunderbird sat in the parking lot of Spinner's Motel here, the left front tire flat as a 1974 Capital. Belisle was just too busy to have it fixed.
From September to April, or with luck, Ay, a hockey coach has little time for his family, or crossword puzzles, or flat tires. He spends his hours trying to find ways to win hockey games and, if he can't find enough, he thinks about a new profession.
Belisle took over the Washington Capitals two days before the start of the 1978-79 season and earned mixed reviews for a 63-point campaign. Now he begins the second half of his two-year contract, faced with the task of boosting the Capitals into a competitive position -- or else.
Belisle is not fazed by the outlook. He expects to have a stronger club, a playoff team that will give long-suffering Capital Centre fans something to cheer about. He wishes, though, that he knew exactly how much improvement should be expected.
"It's hard to measure a coach's accomplishments," Belisle said. "Sometimes you lose even though you've done the right things, prepared the players mentally and worked the bench perfectly. Other times you make mistakes and win anyway.
"I'd be happy if we could put all the talent in a computer and each team would be rated as worth X points. Then you could see how well you could do. If you got more points than that rating, you'd have done a good job.
"Last year some people told me I did a hell of a job, others thought I was just so-so. I have to do my own measuring. I was a rookie coach and I was bound to make mistakes. I feel I really grew up a lot last year, maturing as a coach.
"It was an extremely difficult year for me and it took me a long time to get the feel of it. This year it's pretty well known that we have to improve. We can't go backward. Our business is winning.
"I'm confident we'll have a good year and the challenge is there for me. I'm not concerned that it's the last year of my contract. If I had three years left and I had a lousy season, I'd still get fired. I'd just have two years extra pay. I have confidence in myself and I'm sure if we have a good year I'll be rewarded with a new contract."
Scotty Bowman and Gary Green are two names that intruded on Belisle's summer vacation. Bowman was offered Belisle's job and declined. Green is the new coach at Hershey and it has been written that he will eventually coach the Capitals. In neither case has Belisle been flustered.
Of Bowman he said, "That's one of the hazards of the business. There's nothing I could do. It's beyond my control. If it had happened, what could I do?"
Of Green, he said, "It's a plus for me having a guy like Gary here to help the young guys. I don't consider him a threat. If the team goes bad, I'll be fired anyway, whether they have to go out of the organization to get a replacement or not."
Belisle does not expect to have a bad season. He is optimistic, within reason, that the Capitals finally are on their way to better things.
"It's a great feeling to come to camp and see so many players with skills," Belisle said. "There is some genuine fighting for jobs. We have some good self-motivators on this club.
"The fans are at a holding pattern and they're looking for bigger and better things. I don't blame them, this year should give them some pleasure, at last.
"I don't know how good this team will be, though. The Gartners and Lehtonens and Rausses haven't played in this league before and there's no way to tell exactly what they'll do."
Until somebody rigs up that talent computer, Belisle must expect to be judged by optimists who will always see ways he could have done a little better job, regardless of how the new faces adapt to the NHL. Considering the size of the payroll he is supporting, one of those optimists is surely named Abe Pollin.
Have great expectations created more pressure for Belisle this season than last?
"I can't be a coach and escape pressure, Belisle said. "All over the league genearl managers and scouts are sitting and saying what a hell of a year their teams are going to have. If they're wrong, you know who will get the blame."