Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
Like his players, Noel must be accountable
Claude Noel has displayed some defensiveness recently, suggesting he’s feeling a touch unattached. While it’s understandable, it is also counterproductive.
Act like you’re guilty and someone just might start to think that’s the case, including fans, management but most importantly, the players Noel is charged with leading.
Following Saturday’s 6-4 loss to the Dallas Stars, Noel was asked about his decision to put Anthony Peluso on the ice immediately after the Jets had knotted the score at 3-3 and erased their third deficit of the game.
Peluso promptly ran Stars blueliner Alex Goligoski into the boards and picked up a five-minute major. The Stars potted two on the power play and the Jets lost their fourth in five games.
We’ll never know the thinking behind Noel’s decision in the moment because his response to the question, "Why not? Because he can’t play?" was flippant, non-informative and mostly defensive.
Noel wants his players to be accountable, but he must be as well. Was it a poor decision? Can’t say because we don’t know the thought process behind it. But the result was absolutely damning. At the very least, a confident coach would explain his thinking behind the decision and then shrug his shoulders over the result.
Taking a pass on the most crucial segment of a game however, doesn’t scream accountability. Regardless of intent, putting Peluso on the ice in this instance proved a costly mistake.
Noel is part of the inner circle and knows the course Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has set for his organization better than anyone. He understands the patience and lack of panic that guide Cheveldayoff’s decisions. Noel, and sure this is easy for me to say, needs to walk and act like a man with a long-term deal. Behaving like a man on a short leash can often become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The talk of Noel having lost his room is false. So is the suggestion he doesn’t prepare his team properly. Noel is a solid coach and given the right mix of players can guide a winner. Monday night’s 3-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets was further evidence when the Jets follow his lead they win. The Jets haven’t tuned Noel out and his message is solid. But he has to believe this or no one else will.
The group Noel is coaching took a long time to develop habits that all too often cost the Jets wins. Breaking players of those habits has proven difficult and in the end may be an impossible task. They may need to be separated before the Jets can move forward.
However, the stubbornness of this group doesn’t relieve Noel of blame for his own coaching miscues. It might make it difficult to accept responsibility when things go wrong but Noel must rise above the instinct to deflect.
Three seasons of .500 hockey doesn’t fall on Noel, but he has had a hand in what the Jets have accomplished and where they’ve come up short. He was delivered a non-playoff roster, and while Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has improved the outlook of the organization from a talent perspective, the impact on the everyday lineup is still in the infancy stage.
Cheveldayoff has drafted well and the players, starting with Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba, are beginning to trickle in.
The future has yet to arrive. Noel has no hand in that and his task is to coach what he has today.
The core, which has been unsuccessful in a handful of seasons together, is mostly unchanged. They must shoulder the bulk of the blame for being intractable and unwilling to change their ways despite the clear evidence of the results.
Noel, from this vantage point at least, has been given the benefit of the doubt in terms of providing his team with the tools to win. They just refuse to use them.
This leaves Noel in a tough spot. But he has no control over whether he’s going to be fired and he needs to coach as he knows best with confidence and purpose. Coaching from a defensive standpoint will only hasten his end behind the Jets bench.
The Jets need clear and defined authority at the top of the pyramid and if Noel isn’t sure of his footing, or is incapable of presenting an outward appearance of such assuredness, it will be difficult for others to follow his lead.
A public vote of confidence is useless and not Cheveldayoff’s style. Cheveldayoff can’t tell Noel his job is safe. It just doesn’t work that way and with the Jets, the security of the head coach is a very fluid proposition.
Noel likes to say he lives in a house of mirrors. He needs to have another look.
It’s OK to be wrong and better to admit it. It conveys strength and confidence. Avoiding responsibility just makes the errors loom larger. In a leadership position, it provides a poor example and a worse message.
Historically, that’s not what this coach has been about. And it’s not what Noel or the Jets need right now.
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About Gary Lawless
Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.
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