Thunder coach resigns

Published 9:39am Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Paul Willett resigned as head coach of the Albert Lea Thunder Friday after deciding it wasn’t a right fit.

“In the end there were philosophical differences,” Willett said. “It was a personal decision that I felt I had to make.”

Willett wouldn’t elaborate on what those differences were between him and the management team of owner Barry Soskin and director of hockey operations Jim Perkins, but he did say there were many little things that influenced his decision.

Soskin said he was not surprised with Willett’s decision and said he already was planning for his possible resignation last Monday.

“I understood and accepted,” Soskin said. “There were personal reasons involved. Whatever they are, I’m sure he and his wife thought about it.”

Part of the reason Soskin brought in Willett was because of his background with Minnesota hockey.

“I thought he had a great interview,” Soskin said. “I really liked the fact that he knew a lot of the kids in the state.”

Willett was introduced as the head coach by Soskin and Perkins on May 14 at a press conference at the City Arena.

“Junior hockey is something I’ve been looking at for the last couple of years,” Willett said at the press conference. “Looking at Junior opportunities across the country … I’m not going to find a better fit.”

Less than two months later, Willett decided to part from the Thunder.

“It’s too bad this didn’t work,” Willett said. “This is the best thing for me and for the organization.”

Willett said he spoke to Perkins on Thursday and on Friday he submitted his resignation to the team.

The Thunder had found a coach with a long history of working with some of the top talent in Minnesota. Willett had previously served as the head boys’ hockey coach at Mound-Westonka. He also served as an evaluator and coach for Minnesota Select teams and had strong knowledge base of Minnesota hockey players through his 16 years of coaching. Willett also operated hockey camps from Mound.

Willett has not made a decision on whether he will make an immediate return to coaching, but he will continue to reside in Albert Lea. He and his wife have three children and the time spent on the road played a role in his decision making as well.

“Anytime you’re involved in coaching you’re going to miss out on things with your kids,” Willett said. “I’m very close to my kids. Any decision I make as it relates to coaching will always be impacted on whether or not I’ll be able to be with my kids.”

Assistant coach Brian Murphy will remain with the team as it searches for a new head coach. The Thunder were in the process of interviewing candidates Tuesday at the City Arena.

“The way it is with these kinds of sports it comes with the territory,” Murphy said. “Not too many coaches are here for a long period of time. Players as well as owners kind of leave at the drop of a hat.”

The Thunder held a tryout Friday through Sunday in Jamestown, N.Y., and have one more scheduled in Albert Lea on July 26 through July 27. At the conclusion of the final Albert Lea tryout, the final camp will begin July 30 and end on Aug. 1, with the team filling out the roster.

“I’m looking forward to whoever comes in here as the new head coach within a week or two, hopefully sooner,” Murphy said.

Soskin said he has more than 12 names on his list to fill the vacancy and was in the process of interviewing candidates Tuesday in person and over the phone. He has not set a timetable on when a hiring decision will be made.