Reputation

In this article Ian Braisby looks at Corey Neilson the man and how he is perceived.

This week brought the news that Panthers fans were waiting for – who will be our coach next season, and it’s fair to say that opinion is divided on whether the reappointment of Corey Neilson is a good or a bad thing. The merits and weaknesses of his coaching have been debated at great length and that’s not what I want to do here. I want to talk about something else that’s come up in the days since he was named as the man for next season. Thanks to an interesting article by Matt Davies in the Nottingham Post and Wednesday’s interview on the Panthers’ website, we seem to have gained more of an insight than ever before into Corey as a person and this is something that has been broadly welcomed, including by me. It is something I have felt for a long time has been lacking.

There are those who say it doesn’t matter how his personality comes across as long as he’s good at the job. While I would agree with that one hundred percent for a player, I think it’s slightly different for the coach. He can’t let his hockey do the talking, so what he says and how he conducts himself are much more important. He also has to set the tone for the whole atmosphere around the team. Personally, I want a coach who is effective but also one that I can relate to, feel some kind of affinity with, and who I feel is emotionally engaged in leading my club.

Whatever he has done as a coach, there is no doubt that Corey Neilson has picked up a somewhat unfortunate reputation, both among Panthers fans and supporters of other teams. The main accusations levelled at him are that he is a yes man who is in the pocket of the Panthers management, and that he is arrogant and stubborn. Now I’ve never met Corey so, like most fans, my views of him are based entirely on how he comes across during games and in the media. What this means is, no matter what he may be like at home, with his kids, with close friends, even with his players and backroom staff, the way he puts himself across in those public situations is crucial in how people see him. He could certainly do with improving his image, and I think revealing a bit more of himself will help him to do that. The positive reaction to this week’s article and interview suggests other people feel the same way.

So let’s look at the two elements of Corey Neilson’s “reputation” in turn. First, is Corey a yes man? I think this idea comes from many people’s view that Panthers’ management is too involved in playing affairs, even interfering in areas that should be the responsibility of the coach alone. Therefore, Corey’s retention as coach for so long is seen as being down to him accepting this situation and “not rocking the boat” as much as another coach might. But is there any real evidence of this? I would say no. Whatever else we know about Corey, I think it’s fair to say he is a fairly strong character who knows his own mind. I could understand in his first couple of years that he might have felt quite a bit of gratitude to the Panthers organisation – after all, getting your first coaching role as head coach of one of the country’s biggest clubs is a pretty good gig for a player coming up to retirement. But now he’s not a rookie, he’s the most successful coach in the club’s history in terms of silverware; he is in a position of strength when it comes to getting his ideas and opinions acted on. There is absolutely no reason to believe he would accept the kind of interference that some people believe occurs.

Let’s be honest, the main reason people accuse Corey of being a yes man is because he has been known to call Gary Moran “boss” in radio and TV interviews on the website. That’s all. Maybe it’s a joke, maybe it’s not, I don’t know. While I don’t think it makes him the “yes man” that people claim, to be honest I’d prefer he didn’t do it. Much as it pains me to agree with Dave Simms, his recent statement that a coach is the most important man at a club is spot on in my book. I think it is a bit embarrassing to hear the head coach calling the GM boss – it makes him seem weaker and less assertive than he probably is and diminishes the standing of his role at the club.

So what about his demeanour more generally? The arrogance and unwillingness to admit he’s wrong that people accuse him of? Again, I don’t know how accurate those assumptions are but I can understand why people think that way. Corey is a man of few words and does not display a whole load of emotion. Especially when the club is going through tough times, but even at times of great success, fans like me want to see their coach show emotion, not for him to get carried away but to give us the impression that he shares at least some of the feelings they are having about what’s happening on the ice. When the coach doesn’t do this, it’s easy to think he is aloof, distant, disinterested, arrogant, and I am pretty sure that’s where the image comes from. Meanwhile, I think criticism for not admitting you’re wrong is mainly a symptom of a poor couple of seasons – sticking to your guns is strength of character when you win but seen as stubbornness when you don’t. That’s a fact of life in sports coaching.

Now I understand that Corey Neilson may be relatively introverted and finds the media stuff difficult. But like it or not, it is a part of his job and I think he does need to give more attention to how he is perceived, especially if his own team’s fans are getting a negative impression of him. Now I am not suggesting for one minute that he starts behaving in a way that is totally out of character for him, or that he starts pretending to be something he’s not. Nobody in any walk of life should be expected to do that. And there are a lot of aspects of how he presents himself that I really appreciate. He is always smartly dressed, he exudes calmness and control during games, and he does not slate his players or other teams in the media. I certainly wouldn’t want to see him engaging in all kinds of histrionics, having tantrums behind the bench, and whinging about officials or opponents in interviews, as certain other coaches have a tendency to do. Overall, I like the feeling that our coach is a rational, considered and decent man. But letting down the mask a little bit would not hurt. Express your frustration after a defeat, or your delight after a win – then we know you share what we are feeling. Fans warm to that sort of thing. We don’t like to hear the same old trite clichés – we have seen the performance and we want honesty, win or lose.

I also understand that it’s not just Corey’s fault. There is a long-standing culture of “spin” around the Panthers when it comes to their public pronouncements at all levels. The Panthers website has loads of interviews but they are rarely revealing, just a token effort in my opinion. But they are an opportunity for the coach to talk directly to fans and to show the kind of person he is. I’d like to see honest coach’s reports before and after every game. At the beginning of the season I’d like to see a season preview, when Corey tells us a bit about the players he’s signed – not just “been on my radar a couple of years, we’ve heard good things, sure he’ll do well for us” like we get for every signing, but what kind of players they are, who the jokers are, what previous players they are similar to. Bring out your personality and the team’s. Get us investing in coach and players as individuals, not just names. I’d also like to hear his thoughts on other teams and their rosters, and some of his ideas and predictions for the season ahead, and regular reviews of how things are going.

These are all relatively small things, compared to the many other things the coach has to deal with. And many fans might not even think they are necessary. But my view is that there is scope for the club and Corey to do better in this area. Next season is being seen as a new start for the club and for Corey Neilson. I hope this will include giving us a chance to see more of the man behind the suit.It would be a shame if his legacy were to be a coach who was respected for his achievements more than as a man who fans remember with great fondness. I don’t expect him to turn into the world’s greatest speaker or a stand-up comedian overnight, just to be himself but to show us that he is one of us too.

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1 Response to “Reputation”


  1. 1 Phil Cooper April 25, 2015 at 11:49 am

    I met Corey at the golf “Grudge Cup”. he was very polite and self-effacing. He was also very friendly and willing to talk. I understand from people who know him better that he does not like being in the limelight and sometimes its something he has to do. Publicity sessions are better left to Gary Moran. It seems that he likes to keep his private life just that. He is also a committed Christian.
    The golf was a great opportunity to have a chat with players from both camps. Finnerty came over as a nice chap and Legue a real gent. The people who at times are the ones we shout at away from the game were really pleasant people.As with Corey you don’t judge the book by its cover.


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