For the fourth time since 2009, the BC Football Conference Valley Huskers are making a change head coach.
But where Howie Zaron, Luke Acheson and Tyson St. James went quietly into the night without much notice, the dismissal of popular bench boss Adam Smith is making waves.
The Huskers made the decision at a weekend board meeting, with team president Jack Covey saying the vote to release him was unanimous.
The Husker executive consists of Covey, Nick Bastaja (vice president), Hank Pilotte (treasurer) and Yolanda Court (secretary/registrar).
Directors are Brenda Currie, Geoff Sache, Irene Spalding, Dick Harrington, Steve Hames, Trudy McAuley, Randy Newberry and Wayne Gilmore.
At least one board member, Sache, wasn’t there due to work commitments.
“I went around the room, and nobody, not one person, even said anything about the (0-10) win-loss record,” Covey said. “They just didn’t feel he had the leadership skills to run a team at this level.”
“Everyone had a different association with him, and they weren’t positive, so they voted to make a change.”
The board vote followed the presentation of survey results by general manager Moe Agagnier. Late in the season, players and coaches were issued a questionnaire asking them for an assessment of themselves and football operations.
“All the players and all the coaches had the opportunity to say something,” Covey said. “There were no names, unless they wanted to give a name, and it was 50/50. Nothing stood out. It’s just like a classroom where some people like the teacher and some don’t.”
Covey said the board would have come to the same decision had the Huskers gone 4-6 this year.
“It would have been tougher, but we would have come to the same conclusion,” he admitted. “He had a contract and some of the expectations weren’t lived up to.”
“These are 12 very intelligent and community-minded citizens. I go by what they say and they said no.”
Count team captain Brendan Kohls among those who liked the coach and was shocked by his release. Kohls found out about it through Facebook, waking up Saturday morning to 35 text messages on his phone.
“We all kind of made it clear at the end of the season that we wanted to stay together and felt we had a good thing coming together, so I think a lot of us are shocked and disappointed,” he said.
Rumours had been swirling around the locker room since early September that Smith might be in trouble. The Huskers were 0-6 heading into a bye week when Agagnier called the players together.
“He came to us before a practice and told us, ‘Nobody’s firing anybody. Everyone’s safe. Don’t worry about it. Just play football,’” Kohls recalled. “Moe seemed to make it clear that the board was sticking with Adam and they were confident with it.”
For a team struggling to find its stride, off-field distractions didn’t help. And it only got worse when the questionnaire was handed out.
“We have a Facebook page where all the boys put their input, and everyone who’s weighed in said they wanted Adam at the helm of this team moving forward,” Kohls said. “I wrote a lot on that page. I said it takes more than two years to build a team. Adam’s got the right ideas and he’s the reason why players want to come here.”
“I think it was pretty clear that we wanted him back.”
No one ever wants to be fired.
So Smith admitted Wednesday that he’s upset. But there’s also a sense of relief.
“Where Jack says my interaction with the board wasn’t always positive and they had a negative experience, I would agree,” he said. “When we had registration and stuff was happening that I didn’t agree with, I stood up for the players.”
“When they wanted me to make changes to the defensive staff at the start of the year, when the coaches weren’t paid on time because they blew a grant and there was no money, I stood up for my coaches.”
“Anytime anything came down where I thought my players or coaches were being treated unfairly, I stood up for them.”
Covey said there were no significant or unresolved issues paying coaches.
Graduating receiver Blake Draper, also a team captain, believes an organization that desperately needs stability had made the wrong move. Draper said 90 per cent of the players wanted Smith back next season, adding that many of them asked for their release after the news broke.
“When you look at powerhouse teams like the Okanagan Sun, Langley Rams and Nanaimo, it’s going to be hard to field a successful team without having consistency,” he said. “If you look at those teams, most of their players have been together for at least three years.”
“Adam’s whole objective in this rebuild was to attain consistency, and have players stick around. It’s impossible to win games and be successful if you keep changing coaching staffs like the Huskers have.”
Covey concedes the Huskers need to find stability.
“We’ve got a board who’s been through this once, so hopefully they’ll be knowledgeable and careful in who they hire,” he said. “We’ve got a call out for applications right now and you never know what’s going to come up.”
“I know there are people out there who are capable and hopefully are interested.”
More concerning than anything else perhaps is the notion the junior team may have just taken dynamite to its bridge with Chilliwack’s powerhouse high school program at GW Graham.
Two time junior varsity provincial champions who are in the mix to win their first senior title this fall, the Grizzlies coaching staff is loaded with coaches who’ve been jilted by the Huskers.
Smith, Acheson and Jeff Whitehead are part of the ex-Husker head coach club. Jason Campbell and Suresh Parray are also on the GWG staff.
Football fans who hoped the high school pipeline would start flowing to the Huskers may be disappointed.
“I think we’re still fine with the head coach of the senior team (Laurie Smith), Covey offered.
Kohls, who came directly to the Huskers from a high school program last year, is now weighing his options on whether to return.
“We were looking forward to next season, to getting the whole family back together again,” he said. “It’s a tight group of guys, I love all of them and it would suck if that was ruined.”
The initial anger has subsided, and he’s leaning towards coming back. But he needs to see something from the organization.
“There’s a lot of emotion that goes along with this and it’s tough to think about it right now,” Kohls said. “You hope maybe you get him back if enough of us speak up.”
“If you came to one of our practices in week eight or nine, you’d have no idea we hadn’t won a game. It was competitive balls-to-the-wall every practice and game and the coaching staff was a huge part of that.”
“To see that go away would be horrible.”