With the Canadiens in the middle of a six-game slump after a very promising start to the season, the calls for head coach Michel Therrien to be fired are starting to get louder. Never mind that he’s missing Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher or any other host of reasons for their current difficulties, the bottom line is that the Canadiens are struggling mightily and when that happens, people get antsy.
Contrary to popular Angryphone spin, however, nobody with an ounce of credibility is saying the Canadiens’ coach has to be francophone, from Quebec or a registered member of the Parti Québécois. He just has to be able to speak French.
But that’s not the subject here. He’ll lose his job eventually: All coaches are hired to one day be fired, it’s the nature of the business.
The issue here is the thorny topic of the coaching talent pool for the Habs being limited to contain only people who speak some degree of French. My issue, specifically, and the reason I’m writing this post is to defend that position.
Of course the Canadiens coach has to speak French.
Contrary to popular Angryphone spin, however, nobody with an ounce of credibility is saying the Canadiens coach has to be francophone, from Quebec or a registered member of the Parti Québécois.
No, the perfectly-reasonable expectation is that the head coach of Le Tricolore be able to communicate in the language of the vast majority of its fan base and the media that covers it.
To say it’s not important for the Canadiens’ main representative to speak French is to be willfully ignorant. The Habs are not “just a hockey team” – they are a cultural institution beyond that of literally any other in Quebec.
The most popular counter-argument aside from the bogus claim that there are no or not enough high-quality coaches who speak French is “well, nobody cares what language the Alouettes (or Impact’s) coach speaks.”
As much as a dearly love the Montreal Alouettes, they never have and never will have the same significance as the Canadiens to Quebecers. The Als, Impact, once-upon-a-time Expos, and any other team that plays, played or will play in this city are not French-Canadian institutions – they are sports institutions. That’s not to diminish their importance, it’s to acknowledge the like-it-or-not supremacy of the Habs.
Do I think it’s right, wrong or in between that the Canadiens should limit their talent pool? Well, first of all, I don’t believe the talent pool is so limited. If Mike Babcock, for example, who went to McGill and speaks functional French had come to the Canadiens instead of the Maple Leafs, nobody credible would have objected.
There are dozens of quality junior and lower-tier coaches with NHL dreams who speak functional-or-better French who could be good candidates. As far as the pool of experienced NHL coaches looking for work today goes, the top of the heap is occupied French-speakers anyway: Guy Boucher and Marc Crawford being the top two names. (I personally wouldn’t touch Crawford with a 1,000-foot pole, but that’s a subject for another blog). Even the Habs’ theoretical next-in-line farm-team head coach and former Canadien Sylvain Lefebvre – is a francophone.
So is it right, wrong, or in between? I think the answer doesn’t matter. Sometimes people just have to accept reality, and the reality is that the Canadiens will not pull another Randy Cunneyworth-sized error under the leadership of Geoff Molson. The Canadiens’ coach will be able to speak French.
I suggest Habs fans get with the program because like it or not, that’s how it’s going down.