Sports

Two decade reign over as Smyl leaves Chiefs

Harvey Smyl was all smiles when the Chilliwack Chiefs came back to town prior to the 2011-12 season. Now, he’s leaving the team he’s coached for the last 21 years. - JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS FILE
Harvey Smyl was all smiles when the Chilliwack Chiefs came back to town prior to the 2011-12 season. Now, he’s leaving the team he’s coached for the last 21 years.
— image credit: JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS FILE

After 21 years behind the bench of the Chilliwack Chiefs, Harvey Smyl is leaving the team.

The BCHL squad announced Wednesday night that the long-time coach and general manager will not be renewing his contract when it expires at the end of May.

“We met last week and I gave him a written contract proposal,” team president Glen Ringdal said Thursday morning. “I can’t talk about what was in it, but the offer, in my opinion, was very fair. It wasn’t a situation where I low-balled him and he got pissed off. I don’t feel that’s it at all.”

Smyl went to Alberta for the weekend, returning to Chilliwack Tuesday morning. Smyl came into the Chiefs office and delivered the somewhat surprising news.

“He said that it wasn’t a matter of countering the proposal or anything like that. It was just time,” Ringdal said. “I got the very clear feeling that he’s just at that stage of life when change is in order. To do a job for 21 years, the longest I ever did a job was for nine years and I was done.”

Smyl is 52 years old and the youngest of his three children is graduating high school this spring. On a personal level, it kind of makes sense.

Smyl is also coming off the most difficult year of his career, one that saw his team finish 14-37-2-5. This is the first time in his BCHL tenure that Smyl’s team has missed the postseason.

Still, at various times during the season he seemed intent on coming back, and to most Chiefs followers it seemed a slam dunk — if Harvey wants to come back, he’s back.

“That’s not the right mind-set to have in the job that I do,” he noted at the time. “It’s the nature of the business that you’re only as good as your last game. I understand that, but I do hope they consider years prior.”

That’s a quote from Jan. 22, one that indicates a desire to return.

So what changed?

It’s fair to wonder if being left to coach out the last year of his contract played a role. Ringdal said he wanted to let this season play out before making any long-term decisions.

And while he eventually decided to move forward with Smyl, it’s not a stretch to think a coach with his track record may have been wounded.

“I’d feel a lot worse if we’d re-signed him six months ago and then his head got to this place,” Ringdal countered. “I hope that didn’t play into it and I don’t think so. We were on the same page this season and I think he wanted to see how things played out too.”

One final fly in the ointment might have been the potential for ownership changes.

Ringdal confirmed that two people have kicked the tires on buying into the Chiefs, though nothing’s ever gotten beyond exploratory talks.

But if Smyl thought himself unable to work with a new owner, that would be a plausible reason for his departure.

“He does care who he works for and if we sold it to someone he didn’t appreciate, that would be tough and he wouldn’t want to be tied into that,” Ringdal said. “There’s an open invitation for local ownership to get involved and I think Harvey knew there were people interested. Did that play a part? I think there were a whole bunch of factors that led to this.”

Ringdal doesn’t know what Smyl’s going to do next, or where he’s going to do it.

He’s an Alberta boy.

The AJHL perhaps? Ringdal does have assurances that Smyl won’t resurface elsewhere in the BCHL.

“I think he’s probably looking for a fairly significantly different challenge, something he can sink his teeth into,” Ringdal surmised. “I understand that. You only live once, so don’t hesitate to follow your heart.”

His departure leaves the Chiefs looking for new guy, something they haven’t done in a long, long, long time.

Two new guys, actually, because assistant coach Doug Ast has also moved on.

He had one resume arrive within an hour of the Smyl press-release going out, and two more have arrived since.

Ringdal boils it down to four positions; general manager, head coach, assistant coach/teacher of fundamentals and recruiter.

Of those four, he places the highest priority on recruiting.

For that reason, Ringdal’s open to hiring two people to do what Smyl did on his own, one to coach and one as the GM.

“I want to know the guy has connections and the ability to scout effectively across North America,” he said. “I’m not against a dedicated GM at all, but I really don’t know right now how we’ll divide those four functions.”

What about experience?

Bill Bestwick, like Harvey Smyl a BCHL coaching legend, is currently on the outside looking in after being fired by the Victoria Grizzlies last season.

Will Ringdal gravitate toward candidates with full resumes, or give a young gun his big break.

“I think everyone applying for this job would appreciate that you better have a good network of connections,” Ringdal said. “If they don’t know how important recruiting is then they won’t be on our short-list. We’re not going to hire a 22 year old who’s just finished his playing career, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the guy we hire is in his 30s.”

Heading into the team’s 25th anniversary season, with the desire to put a strong product on the ice, Ringdal doesn’t believe this will hurt the team’s recruiting.

Ringdal would love to have new hire in place by mid-April, though he concedes that would be moving quick.

“I think we have enough players coming that we’ll have a very good team next year, and I think Harvey was confident that he wasn’t leaving us with a lame team,” Ringdal said. “He didn’t feel he was leaving us with an empty sack.”

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