I'm illiterate, ex-Habs coach Demers says

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Then coach Jacques Demers hoists the Stanley Cup following the Montreal Canadiens 1993 victory.

Nov. 3, 2005. 08:27 AM

I'm illiterate, ex-Habs coach Demers says

Result of tough life because of abusive father

'It really hurt me because he took my childhood'


MONTREAL?Jacques Demers, a coach and later a general manager in the NHL for 15 years, admits he is illiterate.

That and other revelations about the life of one of the NHL's more colourful coaches is revealed in a biography in French released yesterday called Jacques Demers En Toutes Lettres, which roughly translates as "Jacques Demers From A To Z."

The book was written by Journal de Montreal desk editor and former Montreal Canadiens beat writer Mario Leclerc.

Demers said at a gala book launch that his inability to read and write resulted from an impoverished childhood. His father beat and psychologically abused Demers and his mother.

"All I wanted from my father was to treat me with love," Demers said. "Not to beat me up when I did something wrong. Not to beat up my mom. It really hurt me because he took away my childhood.

"The other thing I wanted to say was that if I could not write or read, it was because I had so much of a problem with anxiety because of the things going on in the family. I couldn't go to sleep at night. I'd go to school and I couldn't learn anything.

"So the message is, leave the kids alone. Don't beat them up. They're defenceless. Don't beat up their mom in front of the kids.''

It is remarkable that Demers was able to coach the Quebec Nordiques, the St. Louis Blues, the Detroit Red Wings, the Montreal Canadiens and the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he was also general manager in the late 1990s, without being able to read or write.

Only a few people knew of his problem. He finessed his way through most of it, he says in the book, by asking secretaries and media relations people to write letters for him, saying his English wasn't good enough.

Even his wife Debbie didn't know until, after haranguing him for days over not writing cheques for the household bills, he broke down and told her his deepest secret.

As general manager, he brought in Cliff Fletcher and Jay Feaster as assistants to handle contracts he couldn't read.

"I never really was a GM," he said. "I hired Cliff Fletcher and Jay Feaster because I knew I couldn't do that.

"I could read a little bit but I can't write very well. I took to protecting myself. You put a wall around yourself. And when I was given the possibility of talking, I could speak well and I think that really saved me."

The book takes readers from his rough childhood in the Cotes-des-Neiges neighbourhood near downtown Montreal to his rise up the coaching ranks to his current job as hockey analyst at the French-Language RDS network, where he has worked for four years.

He coached very good Detroit teams that reached the conference finals twice in the 1980s and his crowning achievement was taking the Canadiens to their 24th Stanley Cup at the old Montreal Forum in 1993.

One of his players on that team, Benoit Brunet, said he never guessed Demers was illiterate.

"That was a big surprise," said Brunet. "I've worked with him at RDS and we had a lot of preparation to do before games and I never noticed a thing.

"But when a guy comes out in a book and says that, he's putting his head on the block.

"That's why he always had the respect of the players. It's incredible that he went so far without knowing about reading and writing."

When asked why he elected to make his troubles public, Demers said "because I'm free now. I'm liberated.''


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Truly surprising to me. I have more respect for Jacques now for coming out. It must be somewhat embarrasing but kudos to one of the best coaches in the modern era.

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that's incredible how he has done so much, and how he's a broadcaster over at RDS and he can't even do what seems to be the simplest thing to do which is to read and write

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I have to wonder though how he treated people around him. When there was something to be read or written did he just yell at his lackies to do it? Seen it before.

Still, quite cool that he came out.

Mais, maintenant il faut qu'il apprend tout la grammaire francaise ecrit comme l'accord. Ca c'est assez de peine.

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