After an 8-10-0-2 start to the season the Oshawa Generals felt the need to shake things up. The team, far better on paper than their record suggests, announced on Monday morning that Chris DePiero was no longer the head coach but would stay on as the organization's general manager.
"Something had to happen," said DePiero on Monday afternoon. "This is a different way to shakeup the room and maybe challenge the guys to play to the level of their expectations.
"I believe 100 percent that this is the right time (for a change)."
To help right the ship, the Generals went out and hired Gary Agnew, who was most recently an assistant coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets for four seasons up until June 2010.
"I'm thrilled to be a part of this tremendous organization," said the 51-year-old in a team press release. "The Oshawa Generals have a long and distinguished history and I'm confident that we can add to that winning tradition this year. We have a very strong team and I looked forward to working with everyone here."
In the release announcing the change, the Generals only mentioned DePiero once. There with no quotes from him and with no mention of anything the 43-year-old had accomplished in Oshawa over the last four seasons since taking over as coach from Brad Sellwood during the 2007-08 season.
According to sources the decision to relinquish coaching duties was not DePiero's, but that of the team ownership group which includes Rocco Tullio, former NHLer Adam Graves and current New Jersey Devils coach Peter DeBoer.
So it seems the Generals feel DePiero is fit enough to manage the players he's no longer capable of coaching. For his part, DePiero, one of the leagues more congenial and well-liked figures, took the high road when asked about any potential second-guessing or meddling from ownership on potential trades now that his duties are solely those of a GM.
"I feel confident in that respect," said DePiero, whose contract with the team expires in 2012. "I think going forward it's going to be about communication from all parties involved to get a gauge and handle of where we're at and where we can go. So, I think it's more about focusing on what we can do going forward versus what's happened in the past."
Agnew, who last coached in the Ontario Hockey League more than 10 years ago, will now have to familiarize himself with his new players 20 games into the season. There's also the fact he'll now be reporting to the man he's just replaced behind the bench, though DePiero says the two have already spoken and it's been anything but awkward.
"The first thing he said was, ‘listen, this is one of those situations,' but for me, I look at it like this is for the betterment of the organization as a whole," said DePiero, who started as an assistant coach with the Generals. "It was my opportunity to convey to him, ‘let's work together to go forward' and he's on board with that.
"It wasn't uncomfortable at all – he's a good guy."
Expectations at the start of the season had been high in Oshawa for a run at the Eastern Conference championship after a successful 2010-11 campaign where they finished 39-19-4-6 and made it to the second round of the OHL playoffs. Returning to the team were a number of offensive stalwarts from last season including NHL prospects Nicklas Jensen, Boone Jenner, Christian Thomas, Lucas Lessio and Andy Andreoff.
"My personal disappointment is not being able to get our guys over the hump, or through that inconsistency on a daily basis," said DePiero. "Obviously that's my responsibility and I'll take full responsibility for that."
And while DePiero feels as though he had never lost the players in the dressing room, he thinks having a different perspective might help wake up the struggling squad who have lost two straight and are 4-6 in their last 10 games.
"With Gary and his experience bringing a different voice and different ideas too, maybe the guys need that," said DePiero. "His experience will be invaluable to our players both individually and as a group.
"We have 48 hockey games left, so there's a lot of hockey to play. So we're still pretty excited for what the future holds."