Is The Montreal Media Out Of Line?

December 22nd, 2011 5 Comments

The recent firing of Jacques Martin and subsequent hiring of Montreal Canadiens head coach Randy Cunneyworth has sparked a huge controversy in Montreal over the fact that Cunneyworth does not speak French.

Former Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau was one of the first to add fuel to the fire when he recently said that “there’s no doubt in my mind that the coach of the Montreal Canadiens has to speak both languages, at least to some extent”.

Carbonneau’s comments were reinforced by Team owner Geoff Molson who was quick to point out to the Montreal fans that Cunnyworth’s position with the team was on an interim basis and that a French speaking coach would be hired next season.

When you consider the comments of Carbonneau and Molson, Cunnyworth must feel like he is on a very short leash. Talk about a vote of confidence!

That said, when your team is currently sitting out of a playoff spot and looking very disorganized on the ice, one would think that Montreal fans, media and ownership would be more concerned with the product on the ice rather than what language the head coach speaks.

Hockey, or more specifically, the Montreal Canadiens are like a religion in Montreal. Montreal fans are known to be both passionate and ruthless when it comes to their team, which is often viewed as an extension of the French culture.

Many fans and media members have argued that the head coach must speak French so the Montreal fans can hear his pre and post-game comments in French, which is interesting.

Last time I checked, just about every player in the Montreal Canadiens locker room spoke English, should they be traded? Last time I checked, just about every Montreal resident spoke English and have access to French language newspapers. Last time I checked the French newspapers always seem to manage to take quotes in English!

Sure, ideally the head coach of the Montreal Canadiens should speak French on some level, but it should never be the deciding factor as to whether or not he is hired or fired, right?

From my point of view, the media and fans should be able to adapt to an English speaking head coach. They have done it in the past, why should this time be any different? Are the media so spoiled that the Montreal Canadiens organization should bow down to them? Is this Molson’s team or the media’s?

It is widely viewed that French speaking coaches do not get a fair shake at the NHL level, often being overlooked by other NHL teams in favor of English speaking coaches.

While there may be some validity to that feeling, there is no reason for the Montreal organization to overlook an English speaking coach if he is the most qualified candidate. Then again, I have never read a story that said an NHL team was refusing to hire a coach because he spoke French—how preposterous would that be?

Besides, shouldn’t the media be able to communicate in both English and French? Are they not able to communicate with players that speak English only? Sure they are! Are they not able to translate? Sure they are! If not, maybe they need to be fired, not the English speaking coach!

The fact is, the media adjusts to the language barriers. Is it really too much to ask the media and fans to adjust where the Montreal Canadiens head coach is concerned?

In September of 2000, Saku Koivu was named the 27th captain of the Montreal Canadiens. He was the first European-born captain in the history of the Canadiens and he did not (in fact he refused) to speak French.

The announcement of Koivu as captain was seen by many fans and media members as preposterous—how could a English speaking player from Finland be captain of the Canadiens? How would fans and media members communicate with Koivu?

Well, you know what? Koivu did a great job as captain and, despite his inability to communicate in French, Koivu’s sound bites were often found on local television stations and newspapers alike.

The point is the fans and media adjusted, which is what they should be willing to do in the case of Cunneyworth.

To suggest for a minute that the head coach of the Montreal Canadiens MUST be French speaking is both ignorant, offensive and short sighted.

Nobody is saying that French speaking coaches cannot get the job done, of course they can and have in the past. That said, shouldn’t the same respect be given to English speaking coaches? I mean, other than the language barrier, isn’t Cunneyworth the best man for the job? And, if Cunneyworth is not the most qualified for the job, why was he hired in the first place?

Scotty Bowman (who spoke little French) is regarded as one of the all-time greats when it comes to Montreal Canadiens head coaches of seasons past. Few French speaking fans were complaining when Bowman was guiding the Canadiens to Stanley Cup victories using the Queen’s English, were they?

The bottom line is, should Cunneyworth fail to deliver results in the form of wins he should be fired. Language should never be the sole factor when considering a mans ability to coach, and the fact that so much chatter surrounds Cunneyworth’s inability to speak French is laughable.

I have all the respect in the world for the fans of the Montreal Canadiens— they know their hockey, are as passionate as any hockey fan on the planet and are a very proud fan base. That said, when it comes to demanding that the head coach of the Montreal Canadiens be French speaking we will have to agree to disagree.

Give Cunneyworth a chance. If he fails, it won’t be because of his inability to speak French and if he succeeds, nobody is going to care.

Until next time,



  1. Xalvion says:

    Bang on, Mark. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  2. sean rumney says:

    way out of line….. way way out of line, can we say blatent prejudisim

  3. MarkRitter says:

    Thanks Xalvion! The article is actually being received fairly well, as it is not a knock against Montrealer’s, the French or the team, rather what seems to be a media fueled revolt. I understand their are protests scheduled- can you imagine if Toronto protested against a French speaking coach being hired- there would be heck to be paid!

  4. MarkRitter says:

    Sean, why am I predjudice? Sorry, you cannot conclude I am predjudice, just that my opinion differs from yours. In comparision, are those that think it’s ok to protest a English speaking coach predjudice? No, just of the opinion that it is alright.

  5. Hoogy says:

    It is absurd to think that only a french speaking coach will do. As you have stated, they did not object to Scotty leading them to the Stanley Cup. Other organizations have hired from other cultures. MLSE hired a dutch guy(he does speak english)but the first criteria should always be, Is he/she qualified and the best person for the job.

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