Gary Green was late for practice at Fort Dupont yesterday, 15 minutes late. When he arrived, he relayed to his players the news he had received earlier, from owner Abe Pollin, that he no longer was coach of the Washington Capitals.
"There were tears from some, and to others it probably didn't matter," Green said. "I don't want any sad songs. I don't want to place any blame on the players. If any of those players did like me as a coach and didn't put out 100 percent, I hope they realize now they have control of other people's lives.
"If any didn't like me, and didn't put out 100 percent, maybe there will be a lot of coaches in those players' lives that they don't like.
"I am relieved in my own mind to know that I worked hard and I coached hard. For some reason, it didn't work, but at least I tried."
It did not work because some players did not work as hard as Green, because some were not as talented as Green and General Manager Max McNab believed, and because there were holes in the lineup, where a hard-hitting policeman and a puck-moving left defenseman were not in evidence.
"There are a lot of good hockey players here, but there is a lot of questionable talent," Green said. "That's not a knock on any individual player. I knew there were spots that had to be filled. You do what you can with what you have.
"When complacency sets in, you either fire the team or fire the coach. It's a lot easier to fire the coach. You can't fire every hockey player and you can't trade them, either. We brought the talent here, they're our responsibility, and we'll take our lumps.
"I have no regrets about coming here. I believed I could do something here and it didn't work out. I'm going to take a while and try to contemplate the situation."
When Green returned to Capital Centre, he was greeted by hordes of media personnel. He saw them, smiled and cracked, "What's going on here? Did somebody get fired or something?"
Green's departure was in marked contrast to his arrival, on Nov. 14, 1979, as, at age 26, the youngest coach in NHL history. The man he replaced, Danny Belisle, refused to talk, then later leaked to a Philadelphia writer the story that he had been "a victim of the Washington media."
Green made a point to try to take public pressure off owner Abe Pollin, the man who had just cast him adrift.
"Mr. Pollin is as fine an owner as any coach could ever work for," Green said. "He lets you coach and all he asks are results. We didn't give them to him. I feel sorry for the man. He deserves better. Nobody tried harder. It's cruel to see the public blame him for what's happened.
"I could be totally bitter, because he's the man who fired me. I told him very clearly I understand he has to make the move. I'm a businessman as well as a hockey coach and I would have done the same thing. Mr. Pollin has given his money, his heart and soul. He never once blocked a trade or refused to pay to sign anybody. He gave us the opportunity to do whatever we wanted."
As Green spoke, Wes Unseld stopped to express his regrets. Green turned to Unseld and said, "Wes, I'm sorry I couldn't be there for your ceremony Tuesday night. I'm afraid I was too busy."