Jesse Wallin is not bitter. He’s fine. And he’s hoping for the best for the Red Deer Rebels.
Then again, he’s a quality person, a class act. His responses to the questions he was asked by the Red Deer media on Thursday were precisely what one would expect from such a well-respected individual.
For starters, Wallin isn’t feeling any self pity. Yes, he’s no longer the head coach of the Rebels — having been relieved of his duties and replaced by owner/president/general manager Brent Sutter on Wednesday — but, as he noted, the sun came up Thursday morning.
“I had a lot to digest yesterday, but breaking the news to my kids was probably the toughest part of the day,” said Wallin. “I had a coach myself who once told me that you have a day to feel sorry for yourself, then you have to pick it up the next day and get back right after it, and that’s where I am today.”
And on Thursday Wallin was all smiles as he treated the local media to lunch as a show of appreciation for the support he’s received over the years. And speaking of support, the number and tone of the messages he received on Wednesday was nothing less than awe-inspiring.
“I’ve been overwhelmed to the point of almost shock,” he said. “Friends and family, people from the community, fans, people from the hockey world, from within our league, former players and parents . . I’ve just been overwhelmed by the support I’ve received. I’m just really touched and really thankful for all of the support. I’m appreciative of every text, every phone call, every e-mail, ever message that came in.
“It makes you reflect. It’s really about the relationships. At the end of the day, that’s really what’s important — those relationships that you build along the way. That’s what you cherish when it’s all said and done and I’m just very thankful for that and very appreciative.”
Yes, Wallin is a popular man as well as a knowledgeable hockey person.
But all of that knowledge did him no good when it appeared that the Rebels players had perhaps tuned him out as the voice of reason.
“I can’t disagree with that,” he said, in reference to the possibility that the players were indeed not responding to his words of guidance. “We weren’t performing well consistently and Brent wasn’t happy about that and I certainly wasn’t happy about that.
“It certainly felt at times that the message was falling on deaf ears. Why that is I’m not exactly sure. I spent a lot of time thinking abut it yesterday and over the last two months. I have my own thoughts and theories on why that is. There are some things that are in your control and some things that aren’t. You do the best you can with what you can control and try to work as much with what you don’t (control) and let things fall where they may. I did the best that I could.”
At the same time, he didn’t necessarily expect to receive his walking papers.
“I wouldn’t say that I was anticipating it, but certainly when you get into this business and take on a coaching position, you know that this day may inevitably come,” he said. “It’s not something you anticipate will happen, but you know that it can. It’s not something that I spent a lot of time thinking about, but it didn’t come as a total shock, either.”
Wallin is anything but bitter about his dismissal. He and Sutter are good buddies and business, is, well . . . business.
“I didn’t want this to be about me,” said Wallin.
“Brent and I are very close on a personal level. He’s a very good friend. I owe a lot to Brent and he and I are very close, there’s no secret about that.
“I’ve always said to him that I don’t want that to interfere with business and he and I both understand that there’s a separation there. I’ve always been very forthright with him that if the time ever came that we had to separate for the benefit of the organization that I didn’t want to hold back on that because of our relationship.
“We sat down and discussed the performance of the team and where things were at and ultimately he made the decision. I’ve preached to my players from Day 1 that you fight through adversity, that you have to stay with it. I wasn’t going to walk out the door and set the example of quitting. I wasn’t about to quit on anything. I did the best that I could and stuck with it and ultimately if a decision was to be made that I wouldn’t be the coach, it would have to come from Brent.”
Wallin has no immediate plans. He’s been offered another position with the Rebels and he and Sutter may sit down in a week or two and discuss what that job might be.
Or maybe not.
“I’m in no hurry,” he said.
“When you’re in coaching you’re immersed in it . . . it’s all encompassing. I’m just stepping back from that and we’ll see what comes up next. I just want to spend some time with my family and get reacquainted with some friends and take some time to digest things.”
Wallin does know that he wants to stay in Red Deer. If he wants to stay in hockey, he might take Sutter up on his offer of another position within the organization.
And then again . . .
“I love hockey, I love the game, yet at the same time it’s not my complete identity either,” said Wallin.
“I’m open to staying in the game and yet I’m going to explore some other opportunities as well. If there’s something else that’s a better fit that allows us to stay in Red Deer then we’ll look at that. At the same time, if there’s an opportunity in the hockey world that I can’t turn down I may have to temporarily leave Red Deer. But we love it here as a family and I’m proud to call Red Deer home. We’ve raised a family here, we have a lot of friends here, a lot of ties and a lot of interests in this community.”
When asked his thoughts on the potential of the team he just left, Wallin was non-committal. And yet, he was able to sign off on a positive note.
“I don’t want to speculate, I’m out of it now. It’s not my team. I’m removed, so I don’t want to make any predictions,” he said.
“What I can say is I’m still a Red Deer Rebel, I always will be. It’s the organization I played in, the organization I was tied to for a lot of years. I will always be proud to be a Red Deer Rebel. I really do hope that they can get it going here and get the team back up to the level we all want it to be. I want to see the players have success, I want to see the team have success. The fans of this city deserve that.”