Jackets’ interim coach excelling under pressure
Published: Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Updated: Saturday, June 16, 2012 00:06
Claude Noel is going through one of the most grueling interview processes in the world, and he looks like he's enjoying every moment of it.
Rather than suiting up, practicing some canned answers and calming his nerves before his meeting with the local human resources representative, the Columbus Blue Jackets new interim coach is interviewing by what can be best described as a ‘baptism by fire.'
No one wants his first crack at his dream job to come at the expense of a friend and mentor, but that's the unenviable position Noel found himself in. When faced with such circumstances, the best you can do is to try your best to not cast any further aspersions on your old boss while trying to curry favor with your new ones.
Noel seems to have put his best foot forward so far.
Since taking over for his fired boss, former Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock, Noel has compiled a 3-1-2 record. He has used a combination of unorthodox practices and an increased impetus on conditioning to attempt to propel his team to a solid finish for the season.
His quirky mannerisms and often long and befuddled answers belie a sharp hockey mind that is constantly looking for new ways to motivate his young charges.
But will it be enough to impress Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson to the point of securing the head coaching job for another season?
Howson was non-committal when he first announced Noel as the interim head coach. If he had any insight into his future plans once the season ends, he was holding it close to the vest.
"Claude is the interim coach for the rest of the season," Howson said. "Then at the end of the season, we'll do an evaluation of everything and then move forward. All of the assistant coaches will be candidates if they so choose."
Not the stuff that overwhelming recommendations are made of.
The primary difference between Noel and Hitchcock is the higher level of trust that Noel puts into his younger players. Players such as Derick Brassard, Jakub Voracek and Kris Russell have found themselves in unfamiliar waters of late.
Noel has mixed up the lines those guys were used to. Unfortunately, at times, especially on the power play, their inexperience has showed.
"I'm not going to reinvent the game," Noel said. "There's a short period of time and I'm not going to create more confusion if there's already confusion there."
There is one intangible in that Noel is certainly not lacking in optimism. Despite a deep, deep hole dug for themselves at the beginning of the season on Hitchcock's watch, Noel still sees the playoffs as reachable for the Blue Jackets.
Following a recent loss to the Vancouver Canucks, Noel spoke of the postseason as writers looked around at one another incredulously.
"I know this much, if we make the playoffs, we are going to be a hard team to play against," Noel said. "I really like our team and what we represent, and I like our chances once the season is over."
In the world of NHL coaches, jobs are won and lost at an almost frenetic pace. Never does the old adage that "coaches are hired to be fired" hold truer. In fact, NHL coaches are let go at such a dizzying pace that it would not be a stretch to label every one of them as "interim."
One of the reasons the scorched-earth strategy seems to be so widely employed is that it usually works. During last year's campaign, five of the seven teams that made in-season coaching changes went on to make the playoffs.
It would appear that the days of coaches like Lindy Ruff, whose tenure with the Buffalo Sabres lasted 11 seasons, have gone the way of the dinosaur.
The carnie in charge of this coaching carousel seems to have fallen asleep at the switch.