BLOG: Does Corey Neilson deserve more adulation?

Nottingham Panthers won their second trophy of the season last Sunday, giving Corey Neilson his 11th major honour in eight years.

Since taking over Mike Ellis in 2008, he’s won six Challenge Cups, four play-off titles and one league title and has firmly established himself as one of the top coaches in the Elite League.

So, with a record like that, why is Neilson not given more adulation for what he’s achieved in his time as the Panthers’ coach?

To consistently finish a season with at least one trophy in the bag is what most other coaches aspire to, so why is he not given more respect for what he’s done?

It’s a curious question and after they picked up their latest play-off title with a hard fought 2-0 win over Coventry Blaze, some detractors were quick to beat him with the ‘home advantage’ stick.

This is an argument that comes up every time Panthers get ready to appear in a play-off finals weekend. Whether it’s fair or unfair is for others to decide.

Panthers don’t have an all-conquering record at home and while it can be argued they can enjoy more home comforts than the other teams, they still have to beat who faces them on the ice.

Because of where the finals are held, it instantly makes them the team to beat. Even though league champions Sheffield Steelers didn’t make it this time, Panthers were still the main target.

Bear in mind, they hadn’t qualified in the last two seasons and to not make it for a third consecutive year would have been disastrous for them.

But Neilson, having won the Challenge Cup last month, got his team there and went on to take the silverware.

The public perception of Neilson is that he carries an arrogance about him that perhaps makes him difficult to warm to.

He has an cold intensity that gives off an intimidating presence and, depending on his mood, can make him tricky to interview at times.

You would assume with that level of success, that he’s well loved by the Panthers fans.

However, that’s not strictly the case as Nottingham Post Sports Reporter, Matt Davies, highlighted when asked just how much love there was for Neilson.

“I think there’s an appreciation for what he’s done, but it is tempered by a few factors,” said Davies.

“He’s ‘only’ won the league once, while the Steelers have profited in that competition. Until the play-offs are expanded, if that is possible, then the league will be the most valued prize.

“The fans love winning the play-offs and Challenge Cup, but it seems to be getting to the stage where people just brand them a cup team – as if winning those trophies is easy.

“In general I think Corey is a popular figure with what I perceive as a minority wanting him to move on.

“In a sense he has a distant relationship with the fans because he isn’t overly flashy in the media.

“He has been described as arrogant and in a way he is – good coaches have to be. But he’s also a man of integrity and a family man.

“That rarely translates in public because he keeps that side of his life private – as is his right of course.

“To me, lack of success in the league doesn’t blemish his record. Trophies are not to be sniffed at and another coach told me earlier in the season it would be crazy for Corey to be allowed to leave.”

Neilson has layers it seems and the man off the ice and away from microphones and recording devices is different to the one we all see.

He’s generally regarded as a success for what he has achieved with the club, but the question set at the top still remains.

Does Neilson deserve more respect for the success he has with Nottingham Panthers? The Cat’s Whiskers‘ blogger and podcaster Jono Bullard believes so.

“He definitely does deserve more plaudits for what he’s done, not just from Panthers fans, but from fans around the league also,” Bullard said.

“How many of those that mock him would want Panthers success at their clubs I wonder? To put that into perspective Panthers have won the last 10 cup finals they’ve been in.

“By anyone’s standards that is a phenomenal record and deserves the utmost respect.

“However, general opinion on Corey is very much split at the moment and I guess that isn’t helped by not knowing if he is or isn’t going to be coach next season.

“To be honest though it’s always been that way, despite the success he is still very much a ‘Marmite’ figure amongst the fan base.

“That’s due to the success we’ve had, but Sheffield winning back-to-back titles has put more focus on our own league finishes which, 2012/13 aside, have been average.”

So it appears Neilson has got some winning over to do, but it seems he’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

The bottom line is, along with Paul Thompson, Neilson is one of the Elite League’s most successful coaches and whether you like him or not, you have to appreciate his record.

He may not be the most personable of coaches in an interview situation, but there’s definitely a case for saying he deserves more respect for what he’s done.

Not everyone will agree of course, but Nottingham fans need to be careful what they wish for if Neilson decides to take his talents elsewhere.

(Image permission: Karl Denham)

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