"I just can't believe I'm not going to be the coach of the Washington Capitals," Tommy McVie said after he'd been fired yesterday.
McVie was planning practices for the Capital's road trip this week when he was summoned to owner Abe Pollin's Capital Centre office and informed that he had been fired because the team was not progressing.
McVie still found the fact hard to accept last night.
"I gave my soul to this team," McVie said. "I pushed and I pulled and I put everything into it. I neglected my family to work for this team.If they have a team here 100 years from now, they'll never have a man more dedicated, more hard-working or who cared more than Tom McVie.
"I feel just like I did the last year I played hockey. They put me on waivers and nobody called. I thought the world had ended. But I bounced back and worked my way up in the National Hockey League."
McVie took over the Capitals on Dec. 30, 1978, in the midst of a 25-game winless streak. The team was scorned as the worst in professional sports. It lacked discipline, pride and conditioning, as well as ability.
McVie worked daily from dawn well into the night, never taking a vacation, trying to turn things around. He succeeded so well that he was runner-up in the coach of the year voting in 1977, when the team's record was 24-42-14. The following September, both he and General Manager Max McNab were given contract extensions at higher pay.
The team had been playing on emotion, however, and McVie felt the success could not continue without an infusion of talent. Last year, after enduring a 20-game winless stretch, and beset by injuries, the team finished with a 17-49-14 record, second worst in the NHL.
"If we had won two years ago what we won last year and won last year what we won two year ago, then everybody would have been happy," McVie said before his latest training camp started.
A lot of people were not happy with the regression, however. Season ticket holders called to cancel. McVie's children were taunted by schoolmates. Players criticized management for not trading draft choices for immediate help.
"The players are unhappy; how about the coach!" McVie said one day at a pratice in Fort Dupont. "Do they think it's easy trying to win in this league when you don't have the talent?"
"Nevertheless, McVie never disputed Mcnab's plan to retain draft choices and build for the future. Outsiders' doubts were immediately refuted by a standard reply: "I believe what Max MaNab is doing is the right thing and its going to pay off."
Yesterday he refused to quarrel with McNab or Pollin. Instead, he ventured that possibly they had made the right decision.
"Maybe they need Danny Belisle right now," McVie said. "He's a lot easier going than Tom McVie. Maybe he'll be more understanding. I've been trying to win so hard and pushing the players so hard, maybe they'll respond better to an easier approach.
"I straightened this organization out and I think the effect I've had on the organization is going to be here for a long time.Anyone coming in now has got a bunch of dedicated hockey players to work with. He's coming into a lot nicer situation than I did.
"But I've got nothing bad to say about anybody. I tried for 20 years to get to the National Hockey League and except for Max McNab and (former president) Peter O'Malley and Abe Pollin I wouldn't have made it.
"Up until today, they've been great to me."
McVie's forthrightness was probably his undoing. Unlike some diplomatic coaches, he refused to evade a question, or hint that the team would accomplish something it couldn't. He thought of that yesterday, as he climbed the stairs to Pollin's office.
"It was the first time I'd been there in a year," McVie said. "He called me up a year ago when one of the quotes in the paper didn't hit him right. I explained it to him. One thing I've never done is lied - or said anything that I didn't mean."