BY MIKE GRIFFITH Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
It was a surreal setting in the club room at Rabobank Arena on Tuesday afternoon.
There was Condors President Matthew Riley in front of a background, speaking to the media about what led him to tell Condors coach Matt O'Dette his services were no longer needed after two tough years at the helm of the team.
In the background was O'Dette and assistant coach Kevin Barrett, looking as one might expect: forlorn.
Fifteen minutes later, it was a role reversal with O'Dette doing the talking and Riley in the background.
Sort of like a public divorce with both partners being as polite as possible.
The setting was perfect as the view from the club room was a sheet of concrete on the arena floor, the ice from a dismal season having already been melted and drained away.
While the other eight coaches in the ECHL Western Conference are preparing for the playoffs, O'Dette and Riley were explaining what went wrong the past two seasons (22-44-6 this season and 24-41-7 in O'Dette's first year as a head coach in 2011-12).
O'Dette broke the news late Saturday night after the Condors lost their final game 5-1 to San Francisco, noting that he had been told six days earlier that his contract was not being renewed.
"It's just been a pleasure getting to know Matt O'Dette over the past two seasons, dealing with him on a day-to-day basis," Riley said. "His dedication to the Condors organization made the decision not to bring him back paticularly painful and difficult. He was non-stop Condors 24/7, always willing to do what was in the best interest of the organization.
"Of course, this is a results-based business and the decision not to bring coach O'Dette back was purely one of our win-loss record."
That said, Riley admitted that his former coach, who is finishing up post-season business for the team, was operating under handicaps: basically starting a team from scratch his first season after he was hired in mid-summer, no NHL affiliation, the NHL lockout that lasted half of this season and an organizational cost-saving philosophy that left him with mostly first- and second-year single pros, no married players and only a couple of veterans.
"None of this is a reflection on the effort Matt O'Dette put forth," Riley said. "In addition to the lockout he had other things working against him and it kinda sucks, it really sucks that we have to make this decision. But it's something we feel is in the organization's best interest for long-term success and right or wrong we're moving forward."
On Saturday night O'Dette said there was no tougher place than Bakersfield to coach "for many different reasons" and the experience had prepared him for anything.
Tuesday, O'Dette said he would have liked the opportunity to try to make it work here -- Riley said the organization will be looking to bring in more older players, more top-line players in the future -- with a more level playing field.
"It's disappointing that the two years you're judged upon played out the way they did," he said. "The first being basically a rebuilding year and the second being a lockout. But that's sports. Whatever reasons a team is unsuccessful, usually the coach is the guy that goes down. That's nothing new. I knew Matt and Jonathan (Fleisig, the team owner) were in a tough spot. You gotta do what you gotta do. I don't hold anything against them that way, I know it was a tough decision for them. But life isn't fair and neither is sports and I think this is one of those cases."
Asked if he got a fair shot, O'Dette said: "I could sit here and (say) all the things that went wrong and all the things that weren't under our control that didn't go right for us but the bottom line is as a coach, no matter what the odds are, or how the deck is stacked against you, you gotta find a way to do it.
"As hard as I tried I couldn't find a way to overcome the odds. That's just the way it is, you know? That's life."
And now Riley and O'Dette are in positions neither want to be: Riley in the process of looking for a new coach and O'Dette looking for another coaching job."