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Sutter had no choice but to replace coach

Brent Sutter had no choice regarding the decision he announced on Wednesday — he had to separate the business side of being a Western Hockey League general manager from the personal side of the position.

And so it was that the Red Deer Rebels owner/president/GM relieved Jesse Wallin of his head-coaching duties and moved himself into the role on an interim basis. Sutter, who has hired Jeff Truitt as an associate coach and retained assistant Bryce Thoma, wasn’t enamoured with the club’s play this season and was convinced nothing would change unless a coaching change was made.

“After discussions with Jesse I made the decision to move forward in a new direction with our head-coaching position,” said Sutter.

“Coaching is a tough racket. Jesse is a very good coach, but for whatever reason the message just wasn’t getting through to the players and I really don’t know the exact reasons why that was or has been the case.”

Sutter said Wallin recognized that the players had at least somewhat tuned him out, so therefore . . .

“The right thing is to make a change,” said Sutter.

“Sometimes in life it’s never easy to do the right thing, but this is the right thing to do today moving forward. It’s too bad, though. It’s not a day that I’m sitting here feeling good about at all. It’s just not. But I know it’s something that has to be done.”

Sutter, whose contract as head coach of the Calgary Flames was not renewed last spring, has been nothing short of frustrated while watching the Rebels this season.

Admittedly without the likes of accomplished rearguards Alex Petrovic and Justin Weller and Swedish power forward John Persson, this is basically the same team that started the 2011-12 campaign with a 14-4 record before being stricken with an astounding number of injuries that killed the season. And the current squad sits a game under .500, with a record of 10-11-1-1 and coming off an 8-1 loss at Kelowna last Friday.

“We’ve been inconsistent, with a good-game, bad-game type of pattern. That’s the way it’s been,” said Sutter. “Coming off a season like last year where it was a tough year on everyone with not making the playoffs and the (large) amount of injuries, It was really important to start this season strong.

“But we seemed to really struggle getting out of the chute. We were zero-and-six in the preseason and then we lost our first three regular-season games which kind of put us behind the eight-ball.

“We haven’t been able to get any traction going. With one more game, we’re a third of the way into the season, so I just didn’t want it to go on any longer. After my discussions with Jesse it became pretty clear what had to be done. In saying that, the message is very clear to the players that we need more, that we need all of them board. There can’t be any grey areas, it’s all black and white. It’s time to get going here.”

Clearly, the players will be held accountable from here on in.

“The onus is now on the players and they need to respond. We’ll see what we have for character and we’ll see what we have for a team. We’ll see what our leadership is about,” said Sutter.

“Outside of probably our captain (Turner Elson) our older, 18- to 20-year-old players, have been up and down. They have to get some consistency in their game and get going.

“Our 16- and 17-year-olds are going to be good players, but they need some time to develop and grow. When you’re a younger player in the league you need that (leadership) from your top-end guys. If you’re going to have success at this level your older players have to step up to the plate. The message, for whatever reason, wasn’t getting there and now it’s going to come from a different person.”

Sutter will be behind the Rebels bench on Saturday when the Swift Current Broncos visit the Centrium, and will be joined by Thoma and Truitt, who will arrive in Red Deer today.

Truitt is a former Western Hockey League assistant, associate and head coach with the Kelowna Rockets (2000-07) and was an assistant with two American Hockey League teams — San Antonio and Texas — the past two seasons. Truitt was an assistant coach with the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns this fall until signing with the Rebels.

“I’m happy and pleased to say that we have an associate coach coming in like Jeff Truitt, a guy who has been through a lot as a coach himself with success at the major junior level and experience at the pro level,” said Sutter. “He’s very knowledgeable and has a very good understanding of the game, which is huge plus for us.”

While he’ll be the head man, Sutter insisted the coaches will work as a committee.

“To me there’s always too much emphasis put on the head coach,” said Sutter. “It’s about a staff, about working well together as a group and getting the message through to the players. It’s going to be our job to make sure that happens and it’s going to be the players’ job to make sure they get the message.”

The Rebels might not be a championship contending team this season, but Sutter feels they have the potential to be better than what they’ve shown to date.

But how good?

“I’m not going to give projections because I’ve seen so much inconsistency this season,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen here but I do know we need to be better. We have to be a harder working team, a more disciplined team in how we play and I know those are areas Jesse was focusing on.

“It’s about competing every night and doing it the right way, playing the game the way it should be played, and that’s with a lot of passion and intensity and emotion. I want us to be a team that’s on its toes, that’s responsible with and without the puck.”

Sutter insisted he won’t remain as the head coach long term, that he feels his plate is already overflowing with his GM duties.

“I don’t know if we’re talking days, weeks or months, but I do know the next head coach has to be the right fit here,” he said.

Sutter said Wallin, who has been the Rebels head coach since 2008, will be offered another position in the organization.

“ I told Jesse to go home for now and be a dad and a husband and spend time with your family, and then we’ll sit down in a couple of weeks,” said Sutter. “Jesse is a really good person and a good hockey man, but his time here (as a coach) ran its course. That happens in coaching and it’s not his fault, or anyone’s fault.

“You have to move forward and I had to make this decision, which was not an easy one to make.”

gmeachem@reddeeradvocate.com

 
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