For the last four and a half seasons, Ron Wright has been the driving force behind the Michigan Gray Wolves. He has pushed them hard in grueling practices, demanded a relentless commitment to excellence, and shaped the team’s selfless, hard-nosed identity. It’s an approach that has yielded results, including a Vandy in 2016 and two playoff appearances.
But Wright and his players have grown increasingly disenchanted with one another as the Wolves’ record has sunk. They finished last season in a tailspin, ultimately finishing in fourth place. And this season, Michigan has been battling with Dakota and Kansas City to stay out of the cellar. This shocking performance led to an even more shocking development on Saturday, as Wright resigned as Wolves coach.
“Our performance this year has been a disappointment and an embarrassment,” said Wright. “And the responsibility for that starts with me. I have failed to motivate this team, and our performance has not been up to our standards. So the only responsible thing for me to do is to step aside and let the team find a new leader.”
To say that the move was a surprise would be an understatement. “I think you could sum up the mood in the locker room as stunned,” said C Hunter Bailes. “Coach Wright always talked about the importance of commitment and being all in, and for him to walk away in the middle of a season is – well, it’s unexpected.”
According to sources close to the team, Wright’s intense, hard-driving personality was embraced by the players when the team was winning. But as the team’s fortunes have declined, the grumbling about the coach’s demands and brutal practices have grown louder.
“Most of the guys in here are veterans, and we’ve been working in this system for years,” said one player. “For [Wright] to still be yelling at us like we’re raw rookies, it doesn’t sit right.”
Several players also cited the departure of assistant coach Morris Thompson as a key factor in the decline of Wright’s relationship with his team. Thompson left to become the head coach of the Saskatchewan Shockers for the 2019 season. According to several players, Thompson served as a vital buffer between Wright and the players.
“Morris knew how to get [Wright] to tone it down a notch, cool out when needed,” said one player. “And the players knew that if they had a problem, they could go to Morris and he’d smooth it over. When he left, the emergency brake was gone.”
One theory is that Wright chose a midseason departure in order to control the terms of his exit. Many on the team believed that, barring a second-half turnaround to claim a playoff spot, Wright was going to be fired at season’s end. Rather than wait for the ax to fall, Wright could depart on his own terms.
The team announced that assistant coach Roger Stackledge will take over as interim head coach for the rest of the season. Barring an unexpected turnaround, GM Tim Carrier will face some interesting decisions at the trading deadline and in the coming offseason. The Wolves are the league’s oldest team, and while they arguably have too much talent (starting with G Dirk Lundquist and including a stellar defensive corps) to be torn apart, they do not have enough offensive firepower to be a top-tier contender.
“I was not expecting to be holding this press conference in the middle of the season,” said Carrier. “But I am confident that this team is still capable of being a strong contender. I am confident in Roger’s ability to lead this team. We’ll re-group over the All Star break and come back strong.”