On December 17, the struggling Montreal Canadiens dismissed head coach Jacques Martin and replaced him with assistant Randy Cunneyworth on an interim basis. However, Cunneyworth doesn’t speak any French, which has drawn the ire of fans and media alike.
Dave Stubbs of the Montreal Gazette joined Bill to discuss the controversy.
“Since their birth in 1909, this team has been much more than a hockey club, certainly to the French-Canadian population in the province of Quebec,” Stubbs said. “The Montreal Canadiens have been almost a cultural institution.”
This perhaps makes Montreal a unique market in North American sports. One would be hard-pressed to find another sports franchise that would be thrust into turmoil over a head coach’s native language.
“The customer is always right,” said Stubbs, “and if the fans say this is something that is very important to them, then great. My feeling is that it might not be as important to the fans as it is to some people in the media who believe that they are sort of standard bearers in the defense of the French language.”
However, Stubbs believes Cunneyworth’s future as the head coach in Montreal next season will be dictated more by whether or not he can lead his team to victories.
“There’s very much a lightness of step in Montreal when the Canadiens are playing well,” he said. “The city’s pulse is dictated for better or for worse by how this hockey team is going. We kind of chuckle sometimes that Montreal is seven months of Canadiens hockey and five months of poor skating.”