It is the toughest job in sports. Tougher than managing the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox. Tougher than coaching football at Notre Dame or Alabama. Tougher than coaching basketball at UCLA or Kentucky.
Good luck to Michel Therrien, the not-so-new coach of the Montreal Canadiens.
"I know the market. I know the expectations," Therrien said over the telephone this week.
Therrien is from Montreal. He coached the Canadiens for parts of three seasons from 2000-03. He moved back to Montreal last summer from Pittsburgh and did broadcasting work for French television.
No one knows the market or the expectations better than Therrien.
Good luck wishes still are in order.
Therrien takes over a Montreal club that finished 28th out of 30 NHL teams this past season. He must please a demanding fan base that isn't happy with anything less than the Stanley Cup. The fans are especially angry now because their team was so bad and because management had the nerve to finish the season with an interim coach -- Randy Cunneyworth -- who doesn't speak French.
That won't be a problem for Therrien.
That's something, right?
Don't get the wrong idea. I think Therrien was a great hire. He did strong work when he coached the Penguins, taking over a team that was in disarray in December 2005 and leading it to the Cup final in June 2008. He still might be coach if star defenseman Sergei Gonchar hadn't missed the first half of the 2008-09 season with a shoulder injury. Therrien was fired in February 2009 with the Penguins in 10th place, five points out of a playoff spot. Dan Bylsma took over and led the team to the Cup championship.
Therrien deserved another chance. He came close to getting the job in New Jersey and Minnesota. "I was always optimistic and always had faith," he said. "I have a lot of confidence in myself."
Therrien talked of "good chemistry" with Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin. The two met three times in the past few weeks, finalizing a deal Sunday night during a barbecue at Therrien's home. Therrien has a three-year contract. He beat out Marc Crawford, who won the Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 1996, for the job.
Not all of Montreal has reached out to embrace Therrien. According to the newspapers, fans aren't thrilled about bringing back a guy who failed the first time. Therrien is one of nine men who failed as the Montreal coach since Jacques Demers led the Canadiens to the Cup in 1993.
Therrien pointed out it's a much different Canadiens team now. There's new ownership. Only one Montreal player -- defenseman Andrei Markov -- played for him the first time.
Most of all, Therrien said, he's a new man.
"I was 38 then. I'm a different guy. I'm a better coach now. I've learned so much. That's a big plus for me."
Working in Montreal television should help Therrien do a better job of communicating in two languages with fans and media. That's a must in Montreal. As far as coaching, Therrien seems willing to soften his edges just a bit when it comes to dealing with his players. He has a reputation of being a tough guy. That goes back to the first time he coached the Canadiens, but it was magnified early in his time with the Penguins. Remember his infamous rant in January 2006 when he called their defensemen "soft" and accused them of trying to be the worst defensive corps in the league?
"I don't like that reputation. I don't like hearing that I'm so tough. I don't believe that," Therrien said.
"I want my players to be successful. I want to get the most out of them. I'm demanding on work ethic. I'm demanding on fitness. I'm demanding on a huge commitment. I'm demanding on discipline on and off the ice. I don't want guys to be afraid of that. That's the only way you can improve. That's the only way you can be successful."
I did say soften the edges just a little bit, remember?
Therrien is going to be his own man and do things his way. He would be a fool to try to be somebody he isn't.
Therrien's way worked for the Penguins for a long time.
"I had to change the culture there," he said. "I tried to bring work ethic and structure to the young guys that we had. I feel very good about where that team was when I came to Pittsburgh and where it is today."
Therrien said the first thing on his to-do list with the Canadiens is to reach out to captain Brian Gionta. He long has believed the coach-captain relationship is the most important in hockey. It's no surprise he became close to Sidney Crosby after making him the youngest captain in NHL history with the Penguins. He said Crosby was one of the first people to contact him to congratulate him on his new gig. "He was pleased for me." It says something about Therrien and his image that players such as Crosby, Max Talbot and Rob Scuderi were quick to call him and say thanks after the Penguins won the Cup in 2009.
Therrien didn't make any predictions this week, but he had a couple when he did his first interview not long after the Penguins made that run in '09.
"I'm more convinced than ever that my recipe is good. I know I will coach again. I know I will win a Cup."
I don't know Montreal or the expectations nearly as well as Therrien, but I'll offer a little advice anyway:
Win that Cup quickly.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. First Published June 8, 2012 12:00 AM