There aren’t many head coaches who are wallflowers. After all, it’s their jobs to wear suits and make split second decisions and yell at people who either could be close to their own age or young enough to be their sons. This is not a career path for the meek, weak-willed or shy.
Still, even within that strain of hockey society, few coaches can match the tumultuous path taken by former Sabres and Islanders coach Ted Nolan. He’s dealt with ownership squabbles, personality clashes and widespread rumors regarding him sleeping with the wife of one of his players. In the mean time, he also managed some impressive results with some wildly mediocre teams in only four scattered years of NHL coaching.
Yet, the one thing that makes him truly unique – his First Nation*
Native American heritage – is what Nolan claims is holding him back. In a sport better known for its European diversity than (necessarily) its racial diversity, Nolan says that racism explains why he cannot find another head coaching job in the league.
“I’m different. I didn’t go to their hockey schools, I don’t look like them. Racism, when I was younger, was in your face. And I almost preferred that. When you become an adult it is less pronounced but it’s there, just not to your face. It’s hard to deal with.”
As usual, the truth is likely somewhere in between when it comes to Nolan. There’s certainly something odd about the fact that Nolan went a decade (96-97 season with the Sabres, then 06-07 campaign with the Islanders) before he received another opportunity. After all, Nolan won the Jack Adams award as coach of the year during the 96-97 season.
But you can’t completely blame NHL teams for hesitating to hire him, either. He’s known for being combative. His career 147-140-19-21 record isn’t going to get him in the Hall of Fame. While some teams show the stones to make visionary moves, most teams take the sheep mentality with their decisions. Hiring Nolan is risky while making a bland decision such as giving the keys to Mike Keenan will keep the sharks from circling (even if Keenan will also keep your name off the Cup, unless you find another Mark Messier).
So what do you think? Is Nolan the victim of racism or his own renowned temper? Will he get another chance to turn a team around? Does he deserve one? Feel free to discuss this issue in the comments.
(H/T to Kukla’s Korner)
* Thanks to Justin Megahan for catching that factual error.