Friday, May 14, 2010

Claude Noel is one savvy man

In my rush to get the prior post out the door, I missed one key component of the Claude Noel approach to the Columbus Blue Jackets' coaching search:

By specifically asking to be the last person interviewed, Noel demonstrated that he understands the selection process perhaps better than any other candidate.

Stop for a second.  Chew on it.  I'm dead serious.  Asking to go last is the sign of a smart, smart man.

I make this assertion based on professional experience - and experience learned from some of the best in my former line of work.  These are guys who have made a LOT of money by being last in the door.  For them, last in meant first out with the deal.

First, let's appreciate that hiring a coach from a field of candidates is like making a purchase of a huge-ticket item.  Unless you're the man who steps off a private plane and shows up at Gordon Gee's door unannounced to lure him back to Columbus, you generally start by making a list of attributes you want in your purchase.  You then survey the landscape for the products that can fill as many of those needs as possible.  And then you check them out.  Doesn't matter if it's a washing machine, a car, a multi-million dollar insurance package...or a head coach for your NHL club.
So you've got your group of potential selections on a presumably level playing field (Sorry, Dineen fans, Scott Howson has pretty much demonstrated that this is anything but a "Dineen or bust" coaching search).  You start checking them out.  The first one - that's the pacesetter.  Consciously or unconsciously, the first examination/interview is the benchmark against which all others will be set.  In Howson's case, that's Scott Arniel.  I like the choice of Arniel for the first interview because he appears to be a very solid choice.  If you look at his record as head coach in Manitoba, he's done some very good things and built up the requisite accolades.  Everything I've heard through back-channels is 110% positive, to the point that I think they would be very disappointed to see Arniel leave the Vancouver system.

Then you have the middle part of the process.  For this purpose, we're talking about Kevin Dineen and Paul MacLean (in that order).  Again, both are very strong coaches and probably would do a great job in Columbus.  But no matter what Scott Howson does or says, he IS comparing each one to the one(s) prior.  Is Dineen a better fit than Arniel?  Is MacLean a better fit than Dineen and Arniel?  This isn't rocket science - it's common sense.  Think of how you buy a car.  You look at the Ford first, then a Honda, then a Chevy.  You compare the Honda to the Ford, and the Chevy to the Honda (and perhaps the Ford, if the Honda didn't overwhelm the Ford).

But then there's the last candidate.  He gets to be the final point of comparison.  He also gets to be the person, if done right, who gets to figure out what items on the "Wish List" haven't been met - and demonstrate how he can fill them.  Now, my business was a little more cut-throat; we actually used that last interview to subtly tear down the other candidates while simultaneously building ourselves up.  I don't think such a move would work as well in a tight fraternity as the NHL, but Noel put himself in a position to feel Howson out over the missing pieces of the puzzle AND be that final point of comparison.

But it's not running that smoothly for poor Claude.  For that, we can thank the Hamilton Bulldogs.

Guy Boucher's team is still in the AHL playoffs, and Howson apparently can't get an interview with him until after the Bulldogs are done playing.  (I hear that he might squeeze an interview in at the NHL combine, however, and don't know how that fits in the AHL playoff schedule.)

Had this gone perfectly for Noel, Boucher's season would have ended and the interview would have been conducted before Noel got his shot.  As it stands, Noel's second to last.  Not the ideal spot - in fact, it's probably the second-worst spot (the second in being the worst) in the pecking order.

What Noel has going for him is that Boucher is by far the greenest of the candidates.  Having been the "young guy" in these multi-part selections processes, I've had good days and bad days.  When I was good, I was as good as anyone out there.  When I was bad, I might as well have not wasted my time as the generation gap would be as wide as the Grand Canyon.

Presuming that this is how the process is playing out, Noel has to:

  1. Play to his unique strength - the fact that he knows this team (and, thanks to the infusion of AHL'ers into Columbus at the end of the season, most of the new Springfield Falcons) better than anyone else interviewing.
  2. Ascertain what Howson is still looking for in a candidate that he hasn't found yet, and become "the answer" to those unanswered questions.
  3. Pray that Boucher is still too raw for the big leagues and leaves Howson somewhere on the spectrum between flat and disappointed.
Having said all of this, I'm still not suggesting that I favor Claude Noel over anyone else.  I'm genuinely pleased with Scott Howson's process and apparent list of candidates.  I am suggesting, however, that Claude Noel intuitively knew the hand he was dealt (interim coach who wasn't going to be handed the job on a platter) and played it about as well as could be expected.  Not a bad indicator for one of the guys who could be leading the Columbus Blue Jackets for the long haul.  Let's hope that all the candidates are so smart.

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