Few head coaches have taken on a job in worse circumstances than Jason Quinter did when he became the Valley Huskers head coach last fall.
Quinter replaced Adam Smith, whose services weren’t retained after a winless 2015 season. Smith didn’t guide the Huskers to many wins during his two year run, but he was popular among the players.
They were in open revolt as Quinter assumed command.
“Right after I took over, we had a meeting in the change-room with just me and the players, and I said. ‘Just tell me how you feel,’” Quinter recalled. “And it was an hour of yelling and screaming, discontent and disgust and every other conceivable emotion you could think of.”
For the next few weeks Quinter had several ‘testy exchanges’ with players who wanted out.
“A lot of them were adamant about wanting to go and I was adamant about them not going,” Quinter said. “For some, it took three or four months to get them to come around.”
Quinter admits there were times when he would get off the phone and wonder what he was doing.
But every time he had negative thoughts, he remembered that first meeting.
Unpleasant as it was with all the yelling and screaming, he remembers feeling hopeful because the players cared.
“I saw some positives that led to me to believe we could make a change and do it quickly.”
Quinter got veterans like Blake Draper, Brendan Kohls and Jesse Deering back into the fold and took a deep breath.
Then he turned to recruiting.
Pitching the Husker program has been a HUGE problem. How do you sell a prospect on playing for a program that averages between 0-1 wins a season?
“We brought out two kids from Calgary who come from one of the most storied programs in Canada (Notre Dame), just to see what’s going on,” Quinter said. “Once they got here they saw what Chilliwack looks like — the environment and the stadium.”
“They started to see that it’s not bad, and then they asked, ‘So why have these guys been so bad for so long?”
“And that’s where you get into the honesty about what’s existed with the program and what’s going to be changed to make it better.”
Quinter didn’t try to sugar-coat the win-loss record.
What can you say about four wins in six years?
He sold them on the idea of being in on the ground floor of a fast-track rebuild.
Both players bought into it and signed.
Which is great.
But winning one battle doesn’t win the war, and what about financial resources?
Each of Quinter’s predecessors said it was… difficult… out-recruiting richy-rich teams like the Okanagan Sun and VI Raiders.
Occasional victories might be possible, but it’s long been felt that BCFC heavyweights can get who they want through sheer financial clout.
“It doesn’t cost anything to get on social media and create relationships with players,” Quinter countered. “You simply have to be active and adamant about doing it and follow up on it.”
Without leaving the province once, Quinter said he added 20 out-of-province players at spring camp — kids hailing from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
“Fourteen of them are provincial all-stars and all of them are top players,” he said. “I never made a trip to do that.”
“That was simply watching video online, getting to know the kids, talking to parents and coaches and other players. You get referrals from players to other players and it builds.”
Of course, it’s easy to be optimistic in July. Smith was just as psyched about his team the last two years before the rest of the BC Football Conference punched them in the mouth.
Quinter understands the skepticism from Husker fans and knows it permeates his own locker room.
“I know some of the kids still believe we’re going to lose, especially the ones who’ve been here for two or three years,” Quinter said. “It’s going to be a progressive change that’s not going to happen overnight, and I need to earn their trust so they understand that what I’m telling them is not BS.”
Quinter is dead serious when says he is targeting a playoff spot, and he’s not afraid to throw it out there.
“We’ve got kids we feel can elevate this team quickly, and by supplementing what we already had I think the process will go smoother than I originally thought,” the coach said. “We’re still viewed as the bottom feeder in this league and that’s fine.”
“I want them to think they’re going to come in here and roll right over us.”
“We’ll see what happens when we get on the field, but I feel we can compete with anybody.”
The Huskers get a big test right out of the gate when they host the defending BCFC champs.
The Sun will be in town July 23 for a 7 p.m. kickoff at Exhibition Stadium.