Claude Noel speaks to media most days, answering the tough, well considered questions like "GET BETTER!" and "WHY???????" It’s the 15 minutes a day where I really feel for the guy.
We’ve listened to Noel ask the media what they want from him, and ask rhetorically what he can do with the 12 forwards he was given. But today’s conference included a whole new level of bizarre.
What are you going to do about it?
It’s very hard to hear the questions asked of Noel at these events, but from his answers and exasperation, it seemed it was really just one question being asked – the team is inconsistent, so what are you going to do about it?
His answers began – smartly – with a call for patience and level headed, rational hockey analysis. He harped that his job was to figure out the ‘why’ and solve it, not to punish his players.
"My job is to find out why – all the time. My job is to find solutions to the issues."
He even expressed some empathy for the press. "The beautiful thing about this job is I can at least look and try to solve it with my actions, and see if I get results. You guys have to watch and wonder. And report." There was a hint of disdain on that last word, but overall a generous overature of understanding.
Ever the populist, he also had kind words for the fans, lauding their passion and stating his appreciation for the ethic of Jets fandom.
"What I like about the passion here is that they [the fans] just want us to work the right way. They’d like us to win, and they’d like us to win the Stanley Cup, yes. But really – realistically – people in Winnipeg, they just want to be proud of what we’ve got. Is that asking too much? Not in my view… So why can’t we just do that?"
A call for a return to working class sportsmanship is appreciated, but it’s not like the players aren’t skating hard. They’re out of position and making poor decisions. The mental side of the game – the side of the game Noel prepares them for – is the most lacking.
But in two moments, Noel lost control of his message and exposed a troubling reality with the team.
At 5:26, Noel tried to make a relatable comparison when he said he brings the same relentless care to coaching the team as parents do with their children. In searching for answers and ways to support and motivate, Noel said, "[i]t’s no different than with your children," you’ll "go to the ends of the earth."
But in that answer – that started with three audible sighs and lasted from 4:51 to 7:01 – he covered a lot of ground. The comparison to parenting started with a display of genuine and steadfast regard for his players and the team, and slowly sank into the complex frustration that must be his every day job. It was an Oscar-worthy monologue in the end.
"Would I like to have a full 60 minutes? Well sure I would," he said with a shrug. "But [clears throat, shrugs again], you know [long pause, he looks to the ceiling as his body language sinks], it’s, it’s not that easy with our group right now," he continued more softly. "And so that’s what I have to solve, and that’s what I have to keep figuring out. You know, it’s been like this for over two years. But that’s okay. That’s what I’ve got. That’s what we’ve got. We’re trying to [trails off, looks up at ceiling again]."
A member of the press picked up his dead-air and asked another inaudible question. Noel’s pensive emotionality turned to anger, and he fired back, "What would you like me to do?"
Brad Pitt hardly did better at capturing the stress and emotion of a professional coach in his role in Money Ball.
Claude Noel Is a Real Coach, Not an Actor
Then we have a problem, because the last part of his press conference continued the cinematic experience.
It’s sometimes said in sport that when the Manager gives a vote of confidence to his coach, the pink slip is in the mail. Today, Claude Noel gave himself a vote of confidence, indicating perhaps just how hands-off this management group is. Or, worse, just how few answers Noel has left for his group.
"If you’re asking me, you know, ‘did I think it would be this difficult?’ Well, I didn’t know. I had a little bit of an idea, but I didn’t know. But I’m a big boy. You know, I can deal with it. And this what I’ve got and I’m gonna deal with it the best I can and try to keep some order to my mentality."
What Does It All Mean?
The morning after a third loss at the hands of the Chicago ‘Hawks, it’s understandable the coach is frustrated. But his performance at the podium today hints at a much bigger problem.
It seems even Claude Noel feels he’s running out of answers after two and quarter seasons of up and down hockey.