By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — In so many words, Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney admitted in a Tuesday press conference that Claude Julien was not part of the team’s long-term plans. But the team’s decision to fire Julien in the middle of his 10th season as Bruins head coach isn’t the story on Tuesday, so much as when they decided to announce it.
There is a wide range of opinions about Julien and the job he did behind the bench for the Bruins. Many believe he’s one of the best coaches in the league and didn’t deserve to be fired. Others believed the team was underachieving and needed a new voice. A smaller minority believed Julien wasn’t even a good coach. But virtually everyone agrees that the timing of the decision, to announce it on the day of the Patriots’ Super Bowl parade and to hold the press conference as the parade was happening, was extremely questionable.
And in trying to hide the story behind the celebratory parade, the Bruins’ move has severely backfired.
Those were the first questions posed to Sweeney after he made his opening statements on Julien and the decision to fire the coach. The Boston Herald’s Steve Buckley must have been furious that he had to miss the parade because he went at Sweeney particularly hard with his line of questioning.
Sweeney essentially said he wasn’t trying to deflect the news or bury the story – while simultaneously deflecting blame for the timing of Julien’s ouster. He tried to explain it by pointing to the advantages that the Bruins would get to have a couple of days to practice with interim head coach Bruce Cassidy before getting back to game action.
“I apologize that [the decision] fell on a day where, obviously, New England is incredibly excited,” said Sweeney. “But I didn’t make the schedule in terms of where these days would exist from a practice standpoint.
“I’m not trying to take away in any shape or form, or deflect, or try and mute the decision that I’ve made this morning in moving forward. As I said, the schedule represents an opportunity to have a couple days of practice. I thought that was vitally important, to be perfectly honest.”
When pressed further the timing of the announcement and press conference, he took the Bruins PR team and hurled them under the bus like a puck off the high glass.
“The PR department had explained that, once you make a decision in that regard, you need to stand up in front of people and acknowledge the reasons behind it and move on from there,” said Sweeney.
That’s not necessarily untrue, but it didn’t answer the question. Obviously, it’s a major decision that demands accountability from the people who make it. The issue is, “Why now? Why right this second?”
Sweeney even disagreed that the team is trying to bury the news under the avalanche of Patriots fans and duck boats flooding the streets of Boston on Tuesday – most of whom are likely unaware of what’s happening on Causeway St.
“I don’t think it has that effect, other than people here in this room would be missing the parade. Yes, I acknowledge that and apologize for that,” said Sweeney. “But I don’t think I’m downplaying the impact of the decision and how different it was at all, to be honest.”
The Bruins easily could have made this announcement later in the day. It would not have made a huge difference to the Bruins’ practices if they simply waited a few hours. Even if they had to fire Julien before Tuesday’s practice and wait until later in the day to make the announcement and hold the press conference, it would have been a better look to do it that way than to hold the presser right in the middle of the Patriots’ celebration.
Ostensibly, it was more important to diminish the attention and scrutiny given to this decision than it was to show respect for both Julien and the Patriots.
In firing Julien when they did, the timing of the Bruins’ move may have actually had the opposite effect of its intent.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.