Two years ago, the Washington Galaxy shocked the SHL world by firing coach Rodney Reagle and hiring Peter James to replace him. Although Reagle had lead the Galaxy to two SHL Finals, the team’s record had slipped, and the team ownership reportedly felt that the coach’s goofy, lighthearted, sometimes outrageous approach was no longer working. By picking the low-key and serious-minded James, Washington hoped to change the team’s culture and return to contention.
Instead, the ensuing seasons have turned into a disaster. James failed to connect with his players and failed to charm either the media or the fanbase. The team ‘s record plummeted from mediocrity to abject disaster. The team’s attendance drooped along with their on-ice performance. GM Ace Adams lost his job due to the team’s struggles. Most of the team’s stars have left, either in trade or via free agency. And after two years and a 37-78-13 record, the Galaxy have apparently seen enough; this week, they announced that James was being let go.
“We thank Peter James for his service to the club,” said GM Wilson Shuster. “No one doubts his hard work and dedication. Unfortunately, it’s become clear that this wasn’t the right fit, for Peter or for the team. It’s time to begin a new chapter for this team.”
According to team sources, James’ attempts to crack down and impose greater discipline on the team met resistance from Galaxy veterans, most of whom liked Reagle and were displeased about his firing. Their defiance undermined the coach’s authority, and James in turn urged the front office to get rid of them and turn to younger players from the minors. But the minor leaguers proved overmatched, and they found James remote and difficult to talk to.
Things went from bad to worse this season, as Washington finished with the league’s worst record. The team’s best player in 2020 was arguably C Harvey Bellmore, who signed a four-year free agent deal with the club before the 2019 season. But Bellmore is a well-known partier and practical joker, and he and James grew to detest one another. Team sources say that Bellmore’s strong year was fueled by the hope that a contending team would want to acquire him. But he stayed put, and his defiance of James only grew. He mocked the coach behind his back, mimicking James’ rigid posture and awkward speaking style in fake pep talks during practices and on team flights. The coach in turn hit Bellmore with multiple fines and complained repeatedly to the front office, to no avail.
Meanwhile, James struggled to escape the shadow of his larger-than-life predecessor. Ironically, Reagle’s penchant for wacky costumes and colorful quote might have been a welcome distraction during the last couple of down years. Instead, reporters largely tuned out James’ colorless press conferences and gave the team less coverage. And fans started to stay away altogether. There was a group of diehards who sat behind the home bench at Constellation Center and called themselves “Reagle’s Eagles,” wearing curly wigs and fake wings to every game. They loved to interact with the coach, who would frequently toss them pucks and autographed T-shirts. When James arrived in town, the diehards swapped their wings for six-shooters, renamed themselves “The James Gang,” and tried to connect with the new bench boss. But James didn’t engage with them, and they eventually stopped coming to games.
The Galaxy tried a number of gimmicks to goose attendance, using the B-52s’ “Cosmic Thing” as a rally song and turning the team Twitter account over to star RW Jefferson McNeely‘s wife to post memes of the couple’s daughter during a game. But as the losses piled up and the stars kept leaving town, Reagle’s Eagles weren’t the only fans who weren’t turning out anymore. This combination of trouble factors caused the front office’s faith in James to evaporate quickly, leading to this week’s dismissal.
Reached for comment, James thanked the Galaxy for the opportunity and said, “I wish it had turned out differently.” He declined further comment.
Washington is one of several teams that will be seeking a new coach this offseason; the Michigan Gray Wolves, New York Night, and Milwaukee (formerly the Dakota Jackalopes) also have openings. It’s believed that former New York coach Nick Foster and former Dakota coach Flim Dahlgren will be on the Galaxy’s shortlist, along with Hamilton Pistols assistant Jack Thornberry and minor-league coach Mel Longian.