One of Canada's most winning hockey coaches, whose association with the Weyburn Red Wings spans nearly five decades, took "early retirement" effective immediately, the team announced Thursday.
The Red Wings sent out a brief statement, stating that "after discussions between the Weyburn Red Wings and Dwight McMillan, the Weyburn Red Wings regretfully accepted his decision to retire."
According to team president Scott Sabados, McMillan told a meeting of the board of directors, "he felt it was time to retire." Assistant coach Darcy Pindus has been appointed as the interim head coach, and Ron Rumball will carry on as the general manager.
In an interview with the Weyburn Review, McMillan had an entirely different story about what happened with the board of directors, namely that they fired him as the head coach. He noted at the start of the season, the executive gave him a two-and-a-half page contract outlining how he was to coach. His approach initially had been to be the assistant coach to Darcy Pindus, as this was going to be his last year coaching, to ease the transition over, but they didn't want to go that way.
"I coached for the first five weeks, then I took a planned four weeks off to help my wife, who had to get a hip operation," said McMillan, so he was gone from Sept. 21 to Oct. 20. In November, team president Scott Sabados called him and asked him to take a leave of absence for a month, "as the players wouldn't know who to listen to as the coach, me or Darcy."
Then, on Dec. 22, McMillan was asked to meet with the board of directors, "and they fired me; they terminated me, and that's the truth."
He felt this might not look very good for the team, so he suggested to the board that they could say that he took retirement, which the Wings' press release did state.
What McMillan took exception to was an interview on CTV about him, and in a release put on the SJHL website. First of all, he objected to their saying they "regretfully" accepted his decision to retire, when it was the board who fired him. Secondly, he felt that the tone of the CTV interview was painting him as the bad guy, as the one responsible for the Wings' losses and their current status of last place in the SJHL, six points behind the nearest team, Estevan.
Asked about which of his accomplishments he was proud of, McMillan noted the honour of when he reached his 1,000th win "wasn't that big a thing. I'm coaching for the young guys, and I push them hard. I guess I've been told by many others that my approach is tough love."
He added that when the news came out that he had retired suddenly, many people called and e-mailed him with support, and to ask him if he had really quit.
"The calls I've gotten from past players is unbelievable. They're smart enough to know, I'm not a quitter. I've never quit anything in my life," said McMillan, adding he has fielded many calls from NHL players and scouts, other coaches, past players who are in college, "even people I had forgotten about … they know, I'm not a quitter."
McMillan added that he has most enjoyed the coaching of the players over the years, "trying to turn boys into men, so they can handle life, because life isn't not always kind. My belief is you have to be accountable and responsible, and be coming to play. I know that goes against some of the present board, but that's my style."
"We'll probably wait (to appoint a new head coach); we're not in any hurry, and then we'll see what presents itself. It was something that was going to happen sooner or later," said Sabados.
"When you coach as long as Dwight has, you gain a lot of knowledge. It's going to be hard to replace his knowledge of the game and of the league. I guess it's something everybody is going to have to deal with," he added.
The team president noted that McMillan has pulled the Red Wings through a lot of tough times, and said, "I doubt if the club would even be here today if it hadn't been for him and the sacrifices he's made. He's touched a lot of lives."
A native of Lashburn, McMillan was first associated with the Red Wings as a player from its inaugural year in 1961, and after a stint coaching the Red Wings farm team, which was a Junior B team in Weyburn, he joined the Red Wings as head coach in 1972; after missing a couple years in the 80s, he has coached for 25 consecutive years since then, for a total of 44 years of association with the Red Wings.
Among his many accomplishments is twice winning the Junior A national championship, in 1984 and again in 2005, and notching his 1,000th win on Feb. 1, 2008.
In all of hockey, only two other coaches have accomplished this, Scotty Bowman, former coach of the Montreal Canadiens, and Brian Kilra of the Ottawa 67s in the Ontario Hockey League.
A year after that, he and GM Ron Rumball were inducted into the SJHL Hall of Fame as part of the inaugural group who were inducted in October of 2009.
In addition to the two national titles, he coached the Wings to six league championships and four Anavet Cup championships. McMillan also was awarded as Coach of the Year in the SJHL three times.
Winning against some very tough coaches and better hockey teams were some of "the great moments" that he treasures as a coach, said McMillan.
He noted he had the opportunity to go coach in the American Hockey League, and in the WHL, "and I stayed here. I'm very happy I stayed; PanCanadian treated me excellently, and now I've got my oil company, Openfield Energy, which is going very well."
He added he may coach or help out at the minor hockey level, but likely won't coach again at the junior hockey level. His son Tyler is busy as a geologist with his company, so he is no longer involved with the Wings.
"I've had great memories playing and coaching hockey in Weyburn. Am I disappointed? Yeah. Bitter? Yeah," he said, noting he wanted to make a good transition in his final year; he and Darcy coached together for about 19 years.