Thunderbirds GM Russ Farwell has made the difficult decision not to bring Rob Sumner back for an eighth season as the team's head coach. This ends a 14 year relationship between Rob and the organization, the first seven spent as an assistant coach.
I haven't spoken to either party involved but this has to be a sad day for both. I know it's a sad day for me. It had to be an agonizing conclusion for Russ to reach. I know he believed in Rob's ability to lead this team. I think Russ would be the first to admit that the roster Rob had to work with at times wasn't what he thought he was giving him, especially recently. Some draft picks just didn't work out.
I know there are some out there who are going to revel in this news. That's because they didn't know Rob. They only see the one dimensional side; the man behind the bench. Most have never spoken with him or had the chance to get to know him. I've been fortunate. I've known Rob since my first year with the organization, 2001. That's ten seasons of riding the bus, sharing pre and postgame meals and conducting countless interviews, not to mention the many conversations off microphone.
I got the chance to see firsthand his passion for the game as well as for the Thunderbirds organization. I remember his first few years behind the bench as head coach and how his emotion would sometimes get the better of him and he'd climb on top of the boards to make a point with the officials, only to end up with a penalty. He learned to tone down that emotion, writing a few checks to the league will do that, but it was always there inside.
I learned a good deal about the game from Rob. He has a very good grasp of the X and O's of this game. He is a solid coach; I witnessed that in practice and during games. I saw him many times jump off the team bus at two or three in the morning, after a long ride late into the night from Spokane, Kelowna or Tri-City, and go immediately into his office to look at video. No one wanted this team to win more than he did and he took every loss to heart and I know these past two seasons wore on him.
More importantly, Rob is a solid citizen. He has a wonderful family with two young boys he absolutely adores. If there is the tiniest silver lining to this, it is that he gets to spend more time with them...that is, until he can find his next gig. And I believe he will coach again. I think it's in his blood, but that is something he and his family will have to sit down and discuss because this profession requires a lot from you and takes a lot out of you.
What's the saying? Coaches are hired to be fired? Very seldom does a coach go out on their terms. As we all know, this is a bottom line, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business and two straight seasons of non-playoff, sub .500 hockey will put any coach, no matter their pedigree, on the hotseat. So, the Rob Sumner era comes to an end with the T-birds. I'm glad to have been along for the ride and wish Rob the best in his future endeavors.
It's a sad day in Thunderbird Nation.