MONTREAL (AP) - Guy Carbonneau understands Randy Cunneyworth's plight, but the former coach of the Montreal Canadiens also knows that the new man in that job should learn to speak French as quickly as possible.
"He's living a dream, which is doing what he loves for one of the best franchises in the NHL, and he's caught in a storm," Carbonneau said. "It's premature. You have to give him a chance to show what he can do and if he's willing to learn.
"But there's no doubt in my mind that the coach of the Montreal Canadiens has to speak both languages, at least to some extent."
The Toronto-born Cunneyworth, the Canadiens' first English-only speaking coach since Al McNeil in the 1970-71 season, landed in a swirl of controversy when he was made interim head coach after Jacques Martin was fired on Saturday.
Cunneyworth has said he hopes to learn French. Until then, the debate is likely to rage on.
Many see the Canadiens as not only a hockey team, but as an institution representing the French-Canadian people, and that its coach should speak the language of the majority of its fans.
Former general manager Serge Savard blasted the move, saying the team "belongs to the people." Team owner Geoff Molson issued a statement that underlined the job is "interim" and that next season there will be a French-speaking coach, whether it is Cunneyworth or someone else.
"Its one thing to say he's willing to learn it and another to actually learn it," Carbonneau said. "The job he has now is really demanding. You have to prepare the team. You have to eat and sleep. I don't know where learning French is going to fit in his schedule."
The struggling Canadiens lost their first two games under the new coach, which hasn't helped Cunneyworth's cause. The French-language newspaper Le Journal de Montreal rubbed it in by printing its front-page headline in English: "Another Loss For Cunneyworth" to make sure he understood.
Some suggested that Quebec residents would be more willing to accept an English-speaking coach if it was a big name with a proven winning record, such as Detroit's Mike Babcock, but not a first-timer like Cunneyworth.