Report: Flint Firebirds Fire Coach, Team Walks Out

This tweet may have been the last before some real madness started in Flint, Michigan.

The Flint Firebirds of the OHL were down 3-1 to the Memorial Cup champion Oshawa Generals before coming back for a 4-3 overtime win.

That’s when things get weird. Multiple reports have the team’s owner, Rolf Nilson, firing the entire coaching staff, including head coach John Gruden, following the comeback win.

The firing precipitated the team walking into the owner’s office, throwing their jerseys on the floor and walking out, according to ESPN’s John Buccigross. It’s a strange situation and is coming through piecemeal at the moment. The first report of the coaching staff being relieved came from Buccigross, as quoted below.

Winging It in Motown cites CJ Jiuliante as saying that part of the divide between ownership and coaches stemmed from the owner being disappointed in the ice time his son, a defenseman, was getting.

The report notes that the owner’s son is one of the players who has walked out.

Buccigross confirms this.

As the night carried on, more and more reports began coming out.

This is the OHL franchise’s first year in Flint. Formerly owned by Carolina Hurricanes owner and 2015-16 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Peter Karamanos Jr., the team moved to Flint and rebranded prior to the start of this season. They were formerly the Plymouth Whalers.

These are all just reports at the moment, but we will have more details as they become available.

A local ABC affiliate has said that an official spokesperson for the team has declined to comment on the situation, but the channel’s “sports director Greg Molzon has confirmed through a source that the reports are true.”

The reports continue to gain validity as the CHLPA tweeted out that they are providing pro bono representation for all of the Firebird players.


The team doesn’t appear to be prepared to take questions or criticisms about the situation. They also don’t appear ready make an announcement about what’s going on despite ample speculation making the rounds, as they have disabled their Facebook page.

Additionally, Jeff Marek jumped on Sportsnet 590 The Fan’s Dean Blundell & Co. on Monday morning to discuss what is known so far and labeled it “an absolute mess.” Adding that some of the difficulty coming down the pike is that Nilsson, the owner, “doesn’t care what people think about him.”

Marek has also noted that there is a little flexibility for a few kids who have already been drafted by the NHL, but that the kids who haven’t been drafted, particularly Will Bitten, who has been labeled by Central Scouting as a 2nd or 3rd round pick in the 2016 draft, may be making things hard on themselves by walking out on the team in their draft year.

George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press reports that the Red Wings, who have 2014 3rd draft pick Vili Saarijärvi on the squad, are looking into the situation.

“I don’t know anything about it,” Red Wings assistant general manager Ryan Martin told the Free Press this morning. “I was traveling and didn’t get home last night until a little bit after 11. I contacted Vili’s agent.”

He continued, “I’d like to gather some information and see what’s going on. At the end of the day, I’m sure the commissioner of the (Ontario Hockey League) will be involved today, working with the owners of that team, trying to come to some type of agreement with the players.”

Buccigross reports that there will be a noon meeting between the OHL, Rolf Nilsson, Flint coaches and the team.

On Hockey Central at Noon Marek came on to update the situation, saying all reports indicate that the Firebirds are a “first class” operation — outside of this debacle — with fantastic billet families.

Following a meeting with OHL commissioner David Branch and Rolf Nilsson, Gruden and the coaching staff have been reinstated with new three-year contracts, according to @OHLInsiders, who has had, as their name suggests, an inside scoop throughout this story.

Following the OHL Insiders report, more sources have come out saying that the coaching staff has be rehired.

The team has finally released a statement.

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