Coaching in Montreal & Bilingualism

It’s been less than 24 hours since I heard of Jacques Martin’s firing. I’m on the west coast, and if the puppy doesn’t get an exhaustive outing first thing in the morning, there is hell to pay for the rest of the day. So I didn’t sit down with coffee and iPad in hand to read news and check Twitter until about 4 hours after the story broke.

I speak 3 languages, and as someone whose employment has always depended on having the 3 languages, I feel I can speak to this issue. I worked for the Canadian government in Chile – speaking Spanish, French and English was a requirement. I’ve subsequently worked for Canadian companies with interests in South America; my language skills made me the preferred candidate for each of those positions. I also recently obtained my certification as a Spanish/English translator; obviously, knowing those 2 languages is a requirement for that.

Being bilingual in Montreal is not a requirement; in fact, only French is the official language there. You must speak French if you want a job in the belle province. I get that, and have a deep appreciation for that. I love the city of Montreal, it’s my favorite city in Canada. And I LOVE the French language, and sympathize with and fully comprehend the people of Quebec who fiercely protect their heritage and language.

Speaking French, however, is not a requirement for a coach to be employed by the National Hockey League. It’s an implicit requirement for being the coach in Montreal. I consider it a “nice-to-have”. Nice to be able to communicate with the Francophone press and citizens. But that’s all.

The coach of a team SHOULD have the respect of his team, and should be able to communicate with the PLAYERS. Having the added prohibitive “requirement” of speaking French pares down the talent pool considerably, and has routinely adversely affected the talent search in that city.

Last I checked, Francophone media have no problem interviewing Montreal Canadiens players, of whom, I believe, only one can speak French. So why not speak English with the coach, too? And then use the bilingualism to translate resulting news pieces? It’s not hard!!

The issue in Montreal is purely political, it’s not about hockey. Hockey is about assembling the best available talent, players and coach alike, then going out and winning games. And winning the Cup. THAT’s what hockey is.

I believe Pierre Gauthier has been scrambling to save his own skin by throwing upset Canadiens fans proverbial bones with the firing of Perry Pearn, the Spacek trade, and now the firing of Jacques Martin. But you have to admire his “cojones” by naming an interim coach who is not fluent in French. The Francophone press is not happy, in fact, it’s all they seem to care about. Let’s give Randy Cunneyworth a chance – if he doesn’t do a worse job than Martin, it’s already a step in the right direction.

French Canadian ex-player and coach Guy Carbonneau said it best at his press conference after being fired by the Canadiens, when asked the “all-important” question about which French speaking coach might replace him, and said the fans shouldn’t care if the coach could only speak Chinese, as long as the team won the Cup.



  1. I completely agree. You would think that a so-called knowledgeable fan-base would fully support any coach who can lead this team to a Stanley Cup after an 18-year draught, but clearly being “politically correct” is still more important than having a winning team.

    Plus, the Montreal media (French or English) needs to have something to whine about. If it’s not the coaching staff, it’s the lack of trades, and if not that, then it’s about how Gomez/Cammalleri/etc. are not playing to their potential/salary. It never ends.


  2. seriousHabit says:

    A very cogent concise view! I fully agree as an ex Montrealer whom has been fortunate enough to travel and work in other countries. The value of language can never be underestimated, but as you have so thoughtfully stated this should not be the only reason. Cheers!


  3. Absolutely nothing to disagree with but…this is not going to change and in fact I would imagine, like most things on this planet, can become even worse (ie an even more strict requirement to hire French), if that’s possible. We as fans must learn to live with it and cheer our Habs and keep the faith.


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