Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Carbonneau is not Julien

A lot of people are going to want to draw comparisons between Guy Carbonneau and the three men who preceded him as coach of the Habs, but the only thing they all have in common is that they were fired in-season.

With Carbonneau's departure, there is a risk that he turns up elsewhere in the NHL and continues his development as a coach. But the big difference between Carbonneau and Claude Julien, Michel Therrien and Alain Vigneault is that the Canadiens were the first team Carbonneau ever coached at any level.

Vigneault was a successful junior coach before coming to Montreal, while Therrien and Julien both proved themselves at the junior and AHL level. You could see based on their track records that they were good hockey coaches, especially in Julien's case.

Carbonneau? There's nothing other than last year's success to suggest that he will one day become a great coach, and he may very well become just that, but the comparison is not justified.

Another opinion that will be spouted off over and over until a new head coach is hired is that the new man should come armed with an NHL track record, something no incoming Canadiens coach has had since Jacques Demers. I personally think that would be ideal, but it's not absolutely necessary.

What is necessary, and it's a reality that many people won't want to confront, is that the next Canadiens coach will have to be able to speak French. That's just the way it is, so there's no point complaining about it. While there are relatively few Francophones in Montreal who don't at least understand English, the same cannot be said of the rest of Quebec and it's important to the organization that the head coach be able to speak directly to those fans.

Anglophones, and even some Francophones may not like it, but that's the reality of the situation. So anyone who thinks Don Lever is being brought on board to be groomed for the head coaching job should probably think again, unless he's willing to take French lessons.


Topham said...

I should tell you this: I am a big fan of English soccer.

Their fans are some of the biggest xenophobes around, not to mention the biggest nationalists in England.

Current coach, Fabio Capello had to speak through a translator to address the press the first time. There was a big huff with the first foreign coach, but he did quite well, his English successor did not. The accepted wisdom was that a whole country of $60 million football fanatics had not produced anyone worthy enough to face the tactics of Brazilians or French or Germans. Simple as that.

It would be a brave management group who chose the best coach available for the Habs (I don't think the Quebec junior league has been producing much at lately, let alone coaches). I don't think that day is here either.

Just remember, stranger things have happened.

pierre said...

I am impressed Arpon by the quality of your report since the news broke out and there are very few rocks that you have left unturned in the process...... I agree with the whole of your thoughts.... so much that I have nothing substantial to add to it.

Of course I am all for this late substitution ... bring on the excitement ! bring on some good hochey for god's sake !...... the season has been terrible and there are only 16 games to go.

Carbonneau was a failed experiment under which our team regressed on the first season and now again on his third season with our club...... Gainey seems to lack vigilance and makes way to many mistakes season after season...... we will never get anywhere special with him as a GM.

B B said...

This Anglophone knows the next coach must be able to speak French; the team is Les Canadiens, and the hertiage of the franchise was built on the Quebec rule. I don't care if the next coach speaks only French as long as they win... and do not have a mullet. Allons les boys!

Arjun said...

I don't think there was a big kerfufle in Quebec City when the Nords hired Marc Crawford. He learned french - and it was painful to listen to (but he's painful to listen to in English as well). I'm telling you, Bob Hartley. Watch his name pop up now. Unless Don Lever is a quick study. Here's a thought though: Lever knows the kids. The Habs have all these UFAs to sign. I'm doing the math... And McGuire is so anti Gainey I can just tell he's angling for the GM job. Well, I can't tell, but Matt can, and I'm going to intuit this vicariously through him.

Arpon Basu said...

I agree it would take a gutsy management team to bring in a unilingual Anglo as head coach, and that this is not the team to do it. But the comparison to Premier League soccer and its fans is lacking in one area.
English soccer fans have no ingrained sense of their language being threatened, or coming under attack, as Quebec hockey fans do about French. Hiring a head coach who does not speak French would be so much more than a sports decision, it would prey on the insecurities of much of the Habs fan base. Already, there aren't enough Francophones in uniform for many fans liking, to add the coach to that list would be seen as an insult to so many, particularly the media covering the team (who, like it or not, shape the opinions of a large majority of the fan base). It would be even more insulting than a 16-year Cup drought or missing the playoffs, even though it could argued that this requirement is the leading cause of the team's longest stretch of mediocrity in its history.

Topham said...

I know all that.

This is not Premier League either. This was the English national team. The symbol that many in England hold onto for their nation. England World Cup runs are national holidays here, in a country that has precious other national celebrations. If you don't think English people are worried about their identity, then you must know something I don't about England.

In any case, the solution may be simple enough. Bilingual media face, coach by consortium. Pander to the media machine that bills itself as an institution in its own right now, all the while bring in good coaching behind the scenes.

Maybe Melanson could earn some money by facing cameras. Goodness knows he does little else worthy of remunneration. Besides the media gig is distracting and wearing on a coach. How much better would it be to delegate it to a figurehead?

Arpon Basu said...

Admittedly, the national team is a different animal than the Premiership and there are definitely identity issues in play. But I still don't feel the comparison to the Canadiens is on the mark, though I see your point.
I also read this morning that Jacques Demers suggested it may be time to look at a non-francophone, which surprised me because if anyone knows the significance of such a move, it would be him.
As to your final point about the media, I will say that Carbonneau spent way too much of his energy reading newspapers and listening to sports talk radio. He always knew exactly what was written and said about his team, and that may have ultimately been his undoing.
The new coach will need to have blinders on, because I'm convinced Carbonneau sometimes refused to make what seemed like obvious changes simply because they had already been suggested in the media, and he didn't want to let the media dictate what he did.
If you don't know what the media is saying, you'll make a decision based on merit, and not out of spite.

pmk said...

Could gainey be that figurehead? He speaks some french and has been embranced as the gm so perhaps gainey and lever could coach together with lever taking on most of the instructional coaching duties and gainey taking on the media (and perhaps player relations- ie kovalev)
Maybe its not enough but I could see that happening... plus if we trade for vinny who cares who the coach is! now that would make everyone happy...

Topham said...

That's cool, spite. Which ideas do you think he rejected in that way? I'd love to hear.

Jacques Demers is quite lucid when he has time to reflect on what he's about to say. I'm sure he knows a thing or two about the QMJHL which has all but dried up for players nowadays. Perhaps, perhaps. I'd be happier with their choice if I knew they considered everything.

Anyway, new week, new controversy.

What's your guess for next Monday's headline?

Arpon Basu said...

The one thing I can think of is Ryan O'Byrne, who was clearly reeling and feeling the heat from the media glare, but I think Carbonneau stuck with him a little longer than he should have simply because everyone was demanding he be dropped. I could be wrong, maybe he wanted to give him a chance to play out of it, but that's how I saw it.
I feel the same thing might also have been true of Begin, when the press was calling on Carbo to put him in for a boost of energy, yet he refused even though effort was exactly what he had identified as a problem.
In any case, it's clear he made some mistakes, but now we'll have to see if Gainey makes the same ones.

Arpon Basu said...

Oh yeah, and I like the idea of Gainey staying on as coach with Lever, Muller and Jarvis doing the heavy lifting. He would have enough of a support staff in both coaching and management, and he's a pretty big delegator as it is. This would be the only way for Gainey to take full responsibility for this team, especially considering next year's roster will look wildly different from this one.

Mekano said...

Yesterdays editon of Antichambre on RDS after the game had some pretty vicious anti-Anglophone rants, directed at the fact that Don Lever has become the 4th anglo coach.
The clips are still up at RDS.ca

Here's what one blogger has to say;