In a move that is both surprising and seemingly inevitable, the Dakota Jackalopes announced that they would not renew the contract of coach Harold Engellund. Over three seasons with Dakota, Engellund compiled a respectable 84-85-11 record, but his teams failed to live up to lofty expectations and the coach never seemed to earn the trust of the front office.
“We’ve really wanted to bring the Vandy home for the fans here,” said Jackalopes GM Paul Mindegaard. “We haven’t been able to accomplish that, and we’ve decided that it was the right time to make a change.”
Engellund’s job with Dakota was in jeopardy last season, when the team got off to a sub-.500 start and the coach was rumored to be clashing with the front office over whether Jesse Clarkson or Christien Adamsson should get the bulk of the playing time in net. The players rallied to Engellund’s defense and the team went on a winning streak to save the coach’s job, but the team dealt Clarkson at the deadline. They wound up finishing with a 32-22-6 record, well behind both Michigan and Anchorage.
This season, the small-market Jackalopes spent a considerable amount of money upgrading their roster with the goal of being a true contender. However, the results haven’t been there. When Dakota struggled out of the gate again, Engellund was once again rumored to be on the edge of dismissal. They were never able to climb into contention, and they wound up finishing 22-35-3, tied with Saskatchewan for third place in the West. Given the gap between expectations and reality, Engellund wound up paying the price with his job.
“I can’t say I’m surprised by this,” said Engellund. “I’ve spent the last year and a half answering questions about when I’m going to get fired. This organization’s made it clear that they expect to win a championship. When that’s where the bar is and you don’t even break 50 points, it’s hard to argue that you deserve to stick around. It’s a shame, but it is what it is. That’s show business.”
Engellund remained popular with the players all the way to the end, and the clubhouse was reportedly very unhappy when they heard the news. “I don’t think there’s a single guy in here who thought that Coach Engellund deserved to be let go,” said LW “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston. “If you can’t play for him, you can’t play for anybody. I feel responsible for what happened. I feel like I let him down. I feel like we all did.”
Although Engellund was dismissed for failing to contend for a championship, it remains to see whether the Jackalopes will be contending anytime soon. Rumors are flying that Dakota won’t be able to maintain their payroll next season and will be forced to tear the team down and rebuild. They dealt fan favorite Vonnie McLearen at the deadline, reportedly because they couldn’t afford to sign him to an extension. Mindegaard declined to comment on the team’s personnel plan for the offseason, but if a rebuilding effort is planned, it would make sense to bring in a new face to oversee it.
Mindegaard said that assistant coach Manfred Obronski remained under contract and would be considered to replace Engellund; if Obronski is not chosen, the new coach will decide whether or not to retain him.