Babcock was born in Manitouwadge, Ontario and grew up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. As of September 2017, he is the only coach to gain entry to the Triple Gold Club, having guided the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup in 2008, as well as leading Team Canada to gold at the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships in 2004, the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Babcock is the only coach to win six (or even five) distinct national or international titles, guiding Canada to gold at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey and the IIHF World Junior Championships in 1997 and the University of Lethbridge to the CIS University Cup in 1994.
Babcock played for the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL in 1980–81, and spent a season with the Kelowna Wings in 1982–83. In between, he played a year under Dave King at the University of Saskatchewan, and transferred to McGill in 1983 under coach Ken Tyler. In September 1985, Babcock also had a brief try-out with the Vancouver Canucks.
Babcock graduated from McGill in 1986 with a bachelor's degree in physical education, and also did some post-graduate work in sports psychology. In 146 career games with the Redmen, he tallied 22 goals and 85 assists for a total of 107 points and 301 penalty minutes, graduating as the second-highest scoring defenceman in McGill history. Playing for McGill from 1983–84 to 1986–87, he was a two-time all-star rearguard, served as captain, and also won the Bobby Bell trophy as team MVP.
On June 2, 2016, Babcock was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws (LL.D) by the University of Saskatchewan.
He moved to the United Kingdom in 1987 as a player-coach for Whitley Warriors, who missed out on the league title by two points. In 49 games, he contributed 45 goals and 127 assists, accumulating 123 penalty minutes.
Babcock is one of four McGill University players to coach an NHL team (Lester Patrick with the New York Rangers; George Burnett with the Edmonton Oilers; and Guy Boucher with the Ottawa Senators). In 2008, Babcock became the second McGill hockey player to coach a Stanley Cup winner, the other being Lester Patrick.
Babcock has had a distinguished coaching career, and entered the 2011–12 season with a lifetime 798–540–148 regular season coaching record in 18 seasons overall, including a 373–188–95 NHL mark in eight seasons (two with Anaheim and six with Detroit). He also guided Team Canada to gold medals at the 1997 world junior championships in Geneva, the 2004 IIHF world hockey championships in Prague, the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, and the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. In addition, he guided the University of Lethbridge to a CIS national title in 1994.
Detroit marked the seventh coaching stint for the nomadic Babcock, a native of Saskatoon, SK, who has lived in six Canadian provinces (Saskatchewan, Quebec, Alberta, Ontario, British Columbia, and Manitoba) and four American states (Washington, Ohio, California, and Michigan).
In 1988, Babcock was appointed head coach at Red Deer College in Alberta. He spent three seasons at the school, winning the provincial collegiate championship and earning coach-of-the-year honours in 1989.
Babcock moved to the Western Hockey League (WHL) in 1991, where he guided the Moose Jaw Warriors for a two-year term.
He then served one season as coach of the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns, earning Canada West coach-of-the-year honours in 1993–94 after guiding Lethbridge to their first-ever appearance in post-season play and an entirely unexpected Canadian university national title with a 34–11–3 overall mark.
In 1994, he was appointed coach of the WHL's Spokane Chiefs, where he posted a regular-season record of 224–172–29 over six seasons for a .564 winning percentage. He was named twice as the West Division coach of the year (1995–1996 and 1999–2000).
From 2000–01 to 2001–02, Babcock guided the American Hockey League's Cincinnati Mighty Ducks to a 74–59–20–7 record, including a franchise-high 41 wins and 95 points. The team qualified for the playoffs both years.
Babcock was named head coach of the NHL's Mighty Ducks of Anaheim on May 22, 2002, and through two seasons, guided them to a combined 69–62–19 regular season record (including 14 overtime losses). In the Stanley Cup playoffs with the Ducks, he posted a 15–6 record, leading the Mighty Ducks to the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals, where they lost in seven games to the New Jersey Devils.
Following the 2004–05 NHL lockout, Babcock declined an offer to remain with the Ducks, and on July 15, 2005, was named head coach of the Detroit Red Wings. In his first three seasons, Babcock led the Red Wings to a combined 162–56–28 regular season record and a 28–18 playoff record. He and the Red Wings were eliminated by his former club, the Anaheim Ducks, in the Western Conference Finals of the 2007 playoffs.
In the 2007–08 season, Babcock earned his 200th NHL career win in Detroit's 5–2 victory over the Florida Panthers on December 15, 2007. Heading into the 2008 All-Star Game, as the top team in the NHL, Babcock was selected to coach the Western Conference in the All-Star Game. On June 4, 2008, he led the Red Wings to another Stanley Cup championship by defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.
Babcock was announced as a finalist for the Jack Adams Award for the 2007–08 season, awarded to the coach who best contributes to his team's success, but ultimately finished third behind Bruce Boudreau of the Washington Capitals and Guy Carbonneau of the Montreal Canadiens.
In June 2008, Babcock signed a three-year contract extension with the Red Wings. In the 2008–09 season, the Red Wings again made the Stanley Cup Final, but lost in seven games to the Pittsburgh Penguins. With the loss in Game 7, Babcock became the first head coach to lose a Stanley Cup Final Game 7 with two different teams.
In the 2011 playoffs, Babcock's Red Wings fell behind the San Jose Sharks three games to none in the second round, but won three-straight to force a Game 7, which the Wings lost 3–2. At this point into his coaching career, Babcock has accumulated an impressive NHL playoff record of 63–39.
In October 2010, Babcock signed a four-year extension with the Red Wings that saw him through to the end of the 2014–15 season.
On April 8, 2014, Babcock earned his 414th career win as head coach of the Red Wings, surpassing Jack Adams as the winningest coach in Red Wings history. Babcock was announced as a finalist for the Jack Adams Award for the 2013–14 season, his second nomination, but finished second in voting behind Patrick Roy of the Colorado Avalanche. On December 6, 2014, Babcock earned his 500th career win as a head coach, becoming the second-fastest coach in NHL history to do so; only Hockey Hall of Famer and former Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman reached the 500-win plateau faster.
After failing to come to terms on a contract extension with the Red Wings, Babcock requested and received permission to seek employment elsewhere on May 8, 2015. The Buffalo Sabres were considered the most serious contenders for Babcock's services, with the St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks also being in the mix. However, on May 20, 2015, it was announced that Babcock would become the new head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He reportedly received an eight-year deal worth $50 million ($6.25 million per season average), and will be the highest paid coach in NHL history. Prior to Babcock signing the deal, Todd McLellan of the Edmonton Oilers was the highest paid coach in the league, reportedly earning $3 million per season.
On February 4, 2016, Babcock coached his 1,000 NHL game against New Jersey Devils. The Maple Leafs finished last in the entire league during Babcock's first year, compiling a record of 29–42–11 and 69 points. Despite this, praise was given to Babcock's coaching and patience with a team that was expected to do extremely poorly. This season was also the first time Babcock missed the playoffs since the 2004 playoffs when he was with the Mighty Ducks.
The last place finished allowed the Maple Leafs to win the draft lottery, and the number one pick was used to select coveted centre Auston Matthews. The next season was marked by many high end rookies in Toronto's system, including Matthews, William Nylander, Mitchell Marner, Nikita Zaitsev and Connor Brown, among others making the team to play out the 2016–17 season. Babcock worked closely with these rookies, and their youthful energy and talent, coupled with the addition of netminder Frederik Andersen allowed the team to qualify for the post-season, marking a rare occasion where a team goes from last in the league to capturing a playoff appearance. Toronto faced the top seeded Washington Capitals in the first round, and though many analysed the series as lopsided in the Capitals' favour, the Maple Leafs again defied expectations, pushing the Capitals to six games (with five going to overtime, tying an NHL record) before the team was eliminated by the Capitals. Babcock's coaching was praised throughout the playoffs as it was during the regular season, with many lauding his attempts at player development whilst maintaining a high level of team success. In recognition for these achievements throughout the season, Babcock was nominated for the Jack Adams Award.
Babcock's teams generally focus on skills and puck possession. Babcock is also one of the game's most respected coaches by way of line combinations, match-ups and overall game strategy.
Babcock continued his tradition of building a team with skills rather than enforcement in Detroit. Since the 2005–06 season, Babcock's teams have consistently had the fewest penalty minutes of any NHL team. From 2005 to 2015, the Red Wings averaged 22 percent fewer penalty minutes than the league average, and 44 percent fewer penalty minutes than the highest league total.
Babcock coached Canada's team at the 1997 World Junior Championships, where the country won a fifth consecutive gold medal.
On June 24, 2009, Babcock was announced as the head coach of Canada's men's national ice hockey team for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The team finished the round robin with a regulation win over Norway, a shootout win over Switzerland, and a loss to the United States. In the elimination rounds they defeated Germany, Russia, and then Slovakia to advance to the gold medal game where they defeated the United States 3–2 in single overtime.
With the win Babcock became the first coach (and only thus far) in the International Ice Hockey Federation's Triple Gold Club. In addition to the Olympic gold, Babcock earned a World Championship title coaching Canada in 2004 and a Stanley Cup championship coaching the Detroit Red Wings in 2008.
To honour Babcock's entrance into the Triple Gold Club, the City of Saskatoon announced that July 17, 2010, will be known as "Mike Babcock Day."
On July 22, 2013, Babcock was announced as the head coach of Canada's men's national ice hockey team for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The team finished the round robin with regulation wins over Norway, and Austria, and an overtime win over Finland. In the quarterfinals they defeated Latvia, and in the semifinals they defeated the United States to advance to the gold medal game, where they defeated Sweden 3–0. With the win, Babcock became only the second (Viktor Tikhonov led the Soviet team in '84, '88) head coach to lead one country to a gold medal victory in consecutive Olympic appearances.
Babcock coached Canada to victory at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey on September 29, 2016, making him the first and only coach to date to have won the Stanley Cup, an Olympic gold medal, a World Cup, a World Championship, and a World Junior Championship.
Mike and his wife, Maureen have three children: Alexandra, Michael III, and Taylor. Although he was born in Manitouwadge, Ontario, he grew up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. He spent the majority of his childhood moving around between Northern Ontario, Manitoba and the Northwest Territories, before his family settled in Saskatoon, which he considers his hometown, in 1975. Babcock attended both St. James Elementary School (since closed) and Holy Cross High School on Saskatoon's east side. Babcock is one of the many notable graduates on Holy Cross High School's "Wall of Honour."