MONTREAL — The past week has gone by in a flash for Patrice Bernier.
Last Wednesday, the former Montreal Impact captain went to Centre Nutrilait and trained with academy players, like he always does. But the day took a sudden and surprising turn before he was finished — Impact president Kevin Gilmore informed Bernier that Remi Garde had been let go and asked if Bernier would join new coach Wilmer Cabrera’s coaching staff.
“The president asked me to come over and help out because there was a change with a new coach,” Bernier said. “It’s another perspective because I was at the club but I wasn’t part of the staff.”
With only a few hours on the job, Bernier barely had time to fully wrap his head around the situation. He focused most of his energy on helping Cabrera and the Impact take on the last eight games of the season after the abrupt coaching change.
“The reality is that the days are a bit longer, I knew the (first team) group but not internally,” Bernier said. “It’s about getting to know the squad and putting them in the best conditions for the next game.”
As the news made the rounds, a few hundred congratulatory messages swarmed Bernier’s phone, many of which he admitted not responding to. He had to adjust to his new role in the midst of the buzz created from a high-profile midseason coaching switch.
“It’s been intense but I grew up in football — it goes fast,” Bernier said. “We need to adjust but the good side is that players or coaches need to adjust quickly and to give your input as fast as possible.”
“I have to play the role of captain”
In his new role as an assistant coach, Bernier sees the chance to channel his experience as a former player.
“I have to play the role of captain, it’s funny to say,” Bernier said. “The coach needs to look at everything so there’s little things that I see and that I could bring. I think that I bring more to the side where I was a former player, I lived through this.”
Bernier doesn’t think that players need to be calmed down following the tough spell that led to Garde’s firing. For him, the task is rather to set Cabrera’s vision as quickly and smoothly as possible.
“It’s normal — every player drops into uncertainty when there is a coaching change,” Bernier said. “Will I play or won’t I play? After that it’s about reframing them and telling them that there are new possibilities and that they could do well.”
With Bernier taking on assistant coach duties, comparisons with former Impact coach Mauro Biello seemed inevitable. Biello was a former star player for the Impact who became assistant coach in 2009. He then took on head coaching duties in 2015 and stayed at the helm until 2017.
For Bernier, however, fans are jumping to conclusions too quickly.
“I think that people think way too far ahead,” he said. “I’m thinking about tomorrow. I don’t even know if I’ll be here at the end of the year. I’m happy to be back but it doesn’t indicate nothing about the future or the long term.”
Bernier added that Biello’s story doesn’t mean a head coaching position will be offered to Bernier down the road. He would rather focus on furthering his development in the coaching world and help the Impact finish the season well.
“There are similarities,” he said. “But I can tell you that Davy Arnaud was coach in D.C. three years ago just after he retired and it didn’t mean that he was going to be a head coach in D.C. Now he’s a head coach in Houston. Nothing is guaranteed.”