The Montreal Canadiens are feeling the heat after tossing aside a French-speaking head coach for an anglophone replacement who can't speak the language that the majority of Quebecers understand.

Many fans had been calling for the firing of Jacques Martin, the veteran coach who was let go from his job Saturday.

But when it was announced that his English-speaking assistant, Randy Cunneyworth, would be taking over behind the bench, some fans still weren't placated.

Cunneyworth can't speak French and for some Habs fans, that is a big slap in the face.

"In Quebec, the Canadiens aren't just a hockey team," sports writer Philippe Cantin said in a column published in Montreal's La Presse.

"They are also an institution. And like all institutions, they have a responsibility to the community."

In other words, some fans think their head coach should be able to speak directly to them in French, just like any other politician or leader would.

Sports columnist Rejean Tremblay said Monday that the coach of the Montreal Canadiens appears on TV in Quebec more often than Prime Minister Stephen Harper or Premier Jean Charest.

For that reason, he argues that the top Habs coach simply has to speak French.

"Eighty per cent of that province is French and that means that you cannot communicate with those people," he told CTV Montreal in a telephone interview on Monday.

The 50-year-old Cunneyworth is the first unilingual English-speaking coach to lead the Habs since Bob Berry in the early 1980s.

The controversy spurred Canadiens' owner Geoff Molson to issue a statement Monday, explaining the decision to promote Cunneyworth to the team's top job.

In his letter to fans, Molson said that Cunneyworth was in the best position to take over the team because of his role as an assistant coach.

"The action was taken to remedy the situation without further delay," Molson said. "Randy Cunneyworth is a qualified and experienced coach who has earned the respect of the players and everyone within the organisation."

Molson said the head coaching position will be re-evaluated at the end of the season. Finding a coach to help the team win will be the top priority, Molson said. However, language considerations will also factor into the decision.

"It is obvious that the ability for the head coach to express himself in both French and English will be a very important factor in the selection of the permanent head coach," he said.

Gilles Rheaume of La Ligue Quebecoise Contre La Francophonie Canadienne, which promotes French language and culture in Quebec, said "a good coach in Montreal is someone who speaks French."

In an interview with CTV Montreal, Rheaume called for a boycott against Molson products.

For his part, Cunneyworth said he hopes to learn French -- something that some Montreal players have done in the past.

And he does have supporters among the general public, who couldn't care less about his linguistic capabilities and more about his ability to get the Canadiens into the playoffs.

"J'ai un très bon feeling!" Sébastien Théberge, a Montreal-based communications professional, tweeted on the weekend after Cunneyworth was announced as the new Habs coach.

On Monday, Pierre Ferland, an executive with a human resources IT company, suggested on Twitter that "the only language fans really care about is WINNING."

With files from CTV Montreal and The Canadian Press