Earlier today, the Flint Firebirds announced they have fired head coach John Gruden and assistant coach Dave Karpa. Sergei Kharin, the Firebirds Director of Hockey Operations, has been appointed the Firebirds interim head coach. It is the second time this season that the Firebirds have fired Gruden and Karpa.
Firebirds Fire Coach John Gruden Again
Back in November, the first-year Firebirds of the OHL made international headlines after players from the team revolted against management for firing the coaching staff after a game against the Oshawa Generals. The reason for the firing was that Firebirds owner, Rolf Nilsen, was upset at the coaching staff for not giving his son, Firebirds defenseman Håkon Nilsen, enough ice time. According to reports, prior to the game against the Generals, the Gruden meet with the entire team (with the exception of Nilsen) and told them that he was planning on giving Nilsen more minutes due to a request from the owner. Nilsen played 17 minutes during the game, including power-play minutes, but the coaching staff was fired after the game nonetheless. After learning about the firings, the Firebird players, including Nilsen, stormed into the front office and threatened to quit the team if the coaching staff was not re-instated.
The day after the incident, it was announced that Nilson had re-instated the coaching staff and had given them three-year contract extensions. The Firbirds owner apologized to the team and admitted that he had made an “irresponsible mistake.” Gruden was also promoted to be the Firebirds general manager last month.
Today’s news provides another shocking twist to this saga, and could have major implications for the team in the future. Firebirds players participated in a players-only practice today. After the situation back in November, a number of Flint players requested, and were granted, trades to other teams. Among the players that were traded were Carolina Hurricanes’ draft picks Josh Weasley and Alex Nedeljkovic and New Jersey Devils draft pick Connor Chatham. No reason has yet been given for today’s firing.
— Dhiren Mahiban (@dcmahiban) February 17, 2016
The Firebirds, formerly known as the Plymouth Whalers, currently have a record of 16-31-4-2 and are sitting in ninth place in the Western Conference standings.
Editors Note: The Ontario Hockey League has released the following statement on the firings.
“It has come to the league’s attention that the Flint Firebirds ownership has once again made significant changes to their coaching staff,” OHL Commissioner David Branch said in a statement Wednesday. “This change, the manner in which it occurred and the way it was communicated to the players and to the league is of great concern.”
Branch said the league had been in contact with Firebirds captain Alex Peters and intends to meet with the rest of the players and their families soon.
“The players and their playing experience is of the utmost importance to the league and we will continue to work to ensure that they are treated with respect,” Branch said. “It is the league’s intention to immediately review the actions of the Flint Firebirds before we determine the next steps we will take to address this situation.”