Yup, I’ve Been Fired!
Please understand that this isn’t something I wanted to write — it’s something I felt I had to write. Shortly you’ll know why.
This entry is also a little late, again for reasons I’ll need to explain.
Ya, you read that title (and various other posts around the Internet) right.
So, why did I feel the need to address all the gory details here? It’s because I’d spent months hyping the new Tropical Elite Hockey League, I’d promoted my new team to every hockey and social media contact I had (literally around the world), and I’d posted regularly throughout Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn. I even had some fun telling about the exploits of little Raggs and me in transition — from our lifelong home in Massachusetts to the day to day grind of me being a GM/hockey coach down here in the Sunshine State. With that, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to just suddenly change my work status without answering a myriad of questions (from upwards of 15,000 on-line folks). So, sadly, the explanation is to follow…
The reason I stalled a bit on this announcement was so I wouldn’t rattle a number of great young hockey players who were still exploring opportunities in the TEHL. There was nothing I could do about the guys I’d already enlisted for my original team (hopefully those kids and parents will come to understand), but I knew I surely could save the few who were still up in the air. (And, thank God, I was able to place a few awesome players elsewhere.)
Okay, so about the firing… It actually took place in what some friends have called a “classless” act — in an email that arrived in my inbox at 1-minute before midnight on September 1. (Just that might give you an indication of what kind of person I’d been “working for” over a few short months.) Needless to say, I spent a number of hours that night staring up at my ceiling, and on occasion climbing out of bed to pace when sleep wouldn’t come. If you can appreciate it, I’d never been fired from anything in my entire adult life. So, classless? Well, you decide…
Actually, I think the situation started badly — on at least two fronts…
First, I don’t think I was hand picked by my team owner, but instead suggested to her by the league’s Commissioner. In other words, she likely felt no loyalty to me, and she didn’t know me from Adam. (At the same time, I suspect I was placed with her for good reason — so that she could rely upon my years of experience over a long and grueling season of high level hockey.)
Secondly, we never even communicated until close to two months after I’d been appointed. She’s a shrimp boat owner from Alaska, you see, and she was evidently extremely busy in her work until very recently.
Then, if there’s a third thing that went wrong in that relationship, it’s that our first ever conversation had to be about money. That’s not a favorite topic of mine, and I’m wondering how many other folks feel the same. Still, I had to ask her at one point if she’d perhaps reimburse me for a very costly trip I had to make — for the team’s sake — to the league’s first tryout camp in Florida.
I’m not the type to take advantage of such situations, so I did everything economy-style, and didn’t even submit receipts for things others might have. No matter, getting reimbursed proved a slight nightmare. In fact, in reflection, I think the entire fiasco ended up being all about money…
As many of my closest friends know, I perceived my new assignment as my “dream job“. And, just like I began with other new positions over my 40-years in coaching, I really dug in, beginning the night I was hired. From that moment on, I (maybe wrongly) even abandoned other work back home to start building my team.
In case you’re wondering, I didn’t connect with my owner for so long because it appeared that the Commissioner was pretty much dealing in her behalf while she took care of the shrimping. That worked for me, because I had plenty to do over those first few months. In fact, already believing I’d make a fairly decent salary once I got on the job, it didn’t initially bother me that I was spending a lot of my own money — mainly going to player showcases and racking up some hefty cell phone bills (picture calls to numerous US states and Canadian provinces, as well as to far away countries like Latvia and Germany).
Now, I’m the sort to think in pictures (a visual guy is what I am), so I knew I needed a timetable for how things would work: when my players would need to start school, when the first practices would be, etc. In other words, back in May, I’d have loved to have been able to look at a calendar and visually see deadlines of all sorts. Knowing such things also would have made it easier for me to plan my physical move from Massachusetts to Florida. Unfortunately, nothing more than a permissible start date for practice ice-time came early enough to help me…
Sometime in late June, things did turn a bit. Suddenly the Commissioner thought it important for me to get down south and on the job — like in a hurry. Whoa! I had a huge house and a separate downtown office to empty. And, looking at the combination of what I’d already spent and what it would cost to relocate, I thought it a good idea to know that I’d begin getting a paycheck once I did get on the job. Those things in mind, I suggested a relatively sane date for both the owner’s sake and mine, with August 1 giving me about a month to get a whole lot of things done back home. I think the owner’s response was, “That’s fine.” Oh, it didn’t sound like a thrilled or enthusiastic response, but…
At this point, I have to ask you: What amount of money would you have been willing to spend in order to do something you thought you were going to really love? Well, I’d said good-bye to nearly $5000 by the time I arrived in Florida, and it crept closer to $7000 by September 1.
Okay, so those money issues…
At a time when I could have really used the cash flow, a money order reimbursing me for the tryout expenses arrived botched (it took about 5-days to come in the mail from Alaska to Florida, and it was dawgone unsigned, which caused my bank to inform me that it wouldn’t be good to use for about 7-days). The night before that check did clear, my debit card was rejected at a grocery store as I attempted to buy that night’s dinner. (Talk about wanting to cry.)
That experience — of dealing with checks from far away Alaska — confirmed what my banker had advised me, in that my paychecks should be done as direct deposits.
Of course, I still had the need to use my cell phone — and actually all my own resources — for the sake of recruiting and conducting other team business. So, I thought it time to ask my owner about at least helping with the telephone charges, suggesting that she might arrange a company phone for me.
Her answer to both the direct deposit and telephone questions was, “I’ll have to think about.” With that, she sailed to sea on her shrimp boat for about a week.
I’ll ask you again, just how much of your own money would you have put into what I was doing? No matter, because that was just about it for me. I was close to broke, mainly from spending all my own money on my owner’s business…
Many Facebook friends must have wondered what was going on when I posted the accompanying photo along with the claim that I was temporarily off the job. You see, two weeks had gone by since I arrived in Florida, and the best answer I could get about a paycheck was that my owner would think about it.
Of course, if she rejected the idea of making direct deposits, I’d be left to wait 5- to 7-days for a check to arrive, and then a possible week more for it to clear. If she rejects my request for a company phone, I’m going to continue to shell out tons of my own money to do business for her. So, I ask you yet another question: Who benefits from all these stall tactics? Ha!
Well, despite getting some crap (from her and other unnamed sources), I evidently did get my owner’s attention. I mean, she agreed to send me $1500 (how the heck she arrived at that number I’ll never know). Of course, she must have been chuckling at my pain, as that money order (this time signed) came by way of the usual Alaskan Pony Express.
By the way, I think it’s been well established (over about 40-years) that I love what I do. I’m also nobody’s fool, and I wasn’t really about to quit recruiting, despite saying so. No, as I later told her and the league Commissioner, “I never missed a stroke” during that time I’d threatened to sit out.
Okay, so why do I think I got canned?
To begin, it’s my understanding that my owner put up $5000 for the right to fire me. (Please don’t laugh at the fact that I’ve invested more so far than she has; it pains me too much.) And my job was to recruit enough players to help make her next league payment. (Again, don’t laugh, just because it’s her GM/coach’s blood, sweat and tears — not to mention mostly his money — that would help her to continue to be an owner!) Well, while I didn’t by any means have a full roster yet, my understanding was that I wasn’t doing badly compared to most others. In fact, I was told several times by league personnel that I was doing better than others. Actually, a few more recruits submitted contracts after my firing, and yet more interested players are still becoming available from teams and leagues that are folding, from tryout camps where they didn’t make the cut, etc. So, just to sort through all that, there would have been plenty of players long-term, but I believe my owner was more concerned with not waiting, and not needing to use her own money to keep things going.
If she can hang anything on me, it’s that certain other things I should have accomplished haven’t yet been done. If I have any excuses — about finding housing for some kids, or finding jobs for some others, here goes… First, I’m uneasy about putting extreme pressure on a few local folks who volunteered to help. Secondly, if you get the sense that I’m all alone down here, you’re right. My owner has threatened to come for several weeks, and still hasn’t shown. Moreover, with her asking far too often how many kids I had signed, I too often dropped those other projects and jumped right back on the recruiting. Again, I’ve been alone here, and I could only do one thing at a time.
Here’s the bottom line, though, along with a final question… How well would you function if you were trapped to extremely low resources? I’ll tell you this: I can shift into overwhelm mode when I’m worried about bills. And, faced with still having to pay for all my recruiting efforts, just imagine how I feared making or taking too many long distance calls, or buying the gas to attend meetings or games where recruits might be seen. In other words, while my owner was crying about needing more players to pay her bills, she was actually keeping me poor and hampering my ability to reach those players. Some might call that “penny wise and pound foolish”, but I spell it “S-T-U-P-I-D”!
You might even laugh at me again, as I tell you that I spent $30 on gas to travel to and from Orlando for a showcase — on the two nights leading up to my firing. Maybe you’ll also laugh at me, knowing that I’ve been paid a grand total of $1500 for exactly one month’s time on the job (from August 1 to September 1). To this day, she still owes me about $50 that was missing from my reimbursement check. (At first I thought that was just a clerical error, but not after following her track record. My guess: She just tried to beat me out of that money.)
Lastly, although I’m far from home and without a job right now, and although my reputation might be slightly tarnished, I’m almost relieved to be relieved. In all my conversations with that woman, I found her kinda hard to like — a hockey mom with power and (supposed?) money (some of it still mine).
Footnote 1: If there’s another reason I needed to write this, it’s for closure. So, unlike any other post I’ve ever written, this one is only staying visible for awhile — mainly so it answers friends’ questions, and somehow unwrenches my gut (punching a keyboard is more productive than other alternatives).
Footnote 2: Shortly after my firing, a friend asked who might replace me. A light suddenly came on, and I blurted out, “Someone like that doesn’t pull the trigger unless she already had a coach more to her liking (like someone she can control, and get for even less money)!” God help him. Hopefully he sees this, too, so that he might find a way to be paid in advance.
Footnote 3: I’ve already explained why I believe I was fired — mainly because I didn’t recruit enough players to fund her next steps in the team purchase. However, once that team is full, she and her players are going to miss what I could have done for them — in the way of coaching and readying them to please scouts, and in making the necessary college and pro contacts several months down the road.
Footnote 4: In case anyone is wondering what the current recruiting process is like, I need to start by saying that a lot of potential recruits don’t exactly tell the truth. Oh, some players are sincere from the get-go, and they either sign or don’t sign fairly quickly. The majority of kids, however, only let the GM know that they’re “fairly interested”. The GM seldom gets a real explanation, but they likely know that they’re going to attend a number of other tryouts before making a final decision. Some have dreams of a higher level, some are hoping to make a team closer to home, some are hoping to avoid paying to play — or paying less than our league, and so on. As you can see, then, it’s a drawn out process, that requires numerous follow-ups — in the way of phone calls, emails, social media messages, etc. And that’s something my owner both failed to realize and actually hampered me in doing.
Footnote 5: There are folks “out there” who are hoping the TEHL fails. And, upon first glance, someone is going to think the above is good fodder for them to write about and cheer about. Sorry, SH, but this is a story about one difficult owner, and not an indictment of the league and its concept. The other owners and coaches I’ve met or talked with so far are hard at it, and doing things the right way. For sure I feel at least slightly wronged by the league, but that’s an issue for another time.
Footnote 6: Do I believe anyone could have helped save my job — other than me, or a smarter owner? I guess I’m going to leave that to the consciences of a number of folks. I did surely take note of the calls and messages that came in (or didn’t come in) right after the firing. In fact, my first Facebook post on the morning after noted that, “The silence is deafening!” Ya, and some still haven’t said a word.
Footnote 7: What’s going to come of me and Raggs? Well, God’s had answers in the past, and I’m betting he has another one in store for us. Stay tuned.