David McLellan says interference from the Nelson Leafs’ board of directors has led him to resign as the team’s head coach and general manager.
McLellan and assistant coach Greg Andrusak both told the board they were stepping down Wednesday morning.
McLellan, who was hired by the Leafs in August 2014, said in an interview with the Star that he wasn’t comfortable with the direction of the franchise or the board’s influence on roster and team decisions.
“They’re really out of touch with modern hockey,” said McLellan.
Leafs president John Dooley denied Thursday the board ever interfered with hockey operations. He said he planned to fire McLellan in a meeting Wednesday morning, but McLellan declined to attend the meeting and resigned instead.
“We had absolutely no interaction into hockey operations,” said Dooley. “The only interaction we would have with him on roster moves, if he was making a roster move, he would have to make us aware immediately because that would generally trigger a response from the billet co-ordinator to move a player to a new residence, in or out.”
Sean Dooley, John’s son, who has served as assistant coach since 2010-11, will replace McLellan as interim head coach and interim GM. John Dooley said the board will consider permanent replacements during the holiday break.
McLellan declined to say if the board directly interfered with trades or roster moves, but added that he grew uncomfortable following a pre-season meeting in which he began to receive opinions outside the coaching staff.
“I get that [the board] are volunteers, but they should stay in the volunteer realm and not move into the hockey realm too much,” he said.
John Dooley said he thought the board started the season on good terms with McLellan, but had made clear at the pre-season meeting that they wanted to avoid another mishap like one during the 2014-15 season. McLellan was suspended in January for the remainder of the season after the KIJHL found the Leafs used an ineligible player for nine games.
The Leafs were also fined $5,000 in October by BC Hockey for trying to sign a player without getting permission from the player’s previous junior B team, which Neil Murdoch Division vice-president Larry Martel confirmed in an email to the Star. The team is appealing the fine.
Dooley said on-ice results were secondary to McLellan’s handling of off-ice interaction with billeting families and volunteers, which he alleged were non-existent. Those responsibilities, Dooley said, were made clear to McLellan and the reason why the board planned to fire him.
“He was not in touch with the billet families,” said Dooley. “He was not making sure the students were attending school. He got 40 cards this year to sign players and we have two left. That’s absolutely unheard of. We have had a revolving door of players in and out of our dressing room, in and out of billet families in Nelson from September right up until now. And that’s just simply not acceptable. We as a board are responsible for that oversight.”
McLellan said he initially drafted a letter of resignation in October. The Leafs snapped a seven-game losing streak Tuesday night, but McLellan said that had nothing to do with his decision.
“We just got the feeling that [Dooley] in particular, and the board, just doesn’t really know what junior hockey’s about anymore, how you recruit,” said McLellan. “We were really trying to rebuild a whole program that had nothing left this year. I don’t know if there’s another team in the league that started with 15 new bodies and only returned five players.
“So I spent the whole summer recruiting, conducted very successful camps. We’ve got a really young team … and unfortunately the board in my mind is in the 1990s. They think players just show up and try out for a team. They don’t understand recruiting. I wasn’t really seeing a program being built. It’s a haphazard program at best.”
The board, Dooley said, met with McLellan on Dec. 3 – one day after the Leafs’ 9-0 loss to Castlegar – to bring forward their concerns. Dooley said McLellan reacted poorly and told them the board shouldn’t be involved in player movement, education well being or finances.
McLellan said he hadn’t had a chance to speak to his players before the decision was made. Injuries and plenty of offence with little to show for it have left the Leafs with just three wins in 17 games going back to Oct. 31. The Leafs are 14-19-1 and in fourth place in the Neil Murdoch Division following Wednesday’s 4-2 road loss against the Spokane Braves.
“For our players I feel bad,” said McLellan. “They’re going to face another disruption and that’s directly a responsibility of the president of the board.”
Prior to joining the Leafs, McLellan coached the BCHL’s Burnaby Express, the PIJHL’s Delta Ice Hawks, and also did a stint in Japan.