Matt Darlow has hit back at Blackburn Hawks after his shock dismissal by the NIHL North outfit – calling the decision “disrespectful”.
The ex-Sutton Sting boss was appointed by the reigning Moralee D1 champions in May, but endured a difficult summer as the majority of the players quit the club.
Hawks’ new look roster won three of their opening six league games, but Sunday’s 6-0 defeat at Whitley Warriors in their seventh outing has turned out to be Darlow’s final game in charge.
“It’s a shock to me – I got a phone call last night telling me my services were no longer required – not because of results, but a cryptic message that we don’t want to risk losing any fans or players,” said Darlow.
“I was asked how I felt things were, which was largely irrelevant seeing how I was being released immediately.
“I spoke with every player from last year about coming back this season and quite a few warned me about joining Blackburn.
“A few had already decided they were leaving, so you have to take as you find – obviously now I can take as I find.
“Most of the warnings surrounded false promises being made – not from any of the coaching staff though.
“Maybe some of those players had an agenda, but then you look at the amount who left it tells its own story.
“I didn’t know any of the guys at Blackburn – I’d never coached any of them before. They didn’t know me, I didn’t know them, so you can pretty much take that out of the equation.
“The warning signs were there and it wasn’t easy putting a team new together – especially when you’ve got guys telling you they don’t want to play there.
“I thought my toughest pre-season had been with the Sheffield Steeldogs a few years ago, but with hindsight it’s by far this one with the Hawks.”
Darlow admitted he thought he had the full support of the club’s management, with everyone on the same page that the rebuilding job would take time.
However, he says that despite many people claiming the club operates with the largest playing budget in the league, that isn’t the case.
“Up until yesterday’s phone call I thought I was being backed, but the reality has turned out to be something completely different,” Darlow added.
“People think there’s a big budget at Blackburn – there really should be, but there isn’t. To be then scratching around trying to get handouts for players is pretty disappointing.
“We’re seven games in – a couple of those we’ve lost by the odd goal and we put in epic performances against Solway (in the cup) and Telford despite never really being able to ice a full squad.
“From my perspective, being released isn’t disappointing – it’s disrespectful. To be told you don’t want to risk losing players or fans and then getting over 500 messages of support from Blackburn people – that says it all to me.”
Since joining the Hawks, Darlow was also appointed as the Director of Hockey for the junior set-up. He believes the plans he had to develop that side of things have been blown apart.
“One thing I want to make clear is the people involved with Blackburn juniors are the best I’ve ever worked with,” said Darlow.
“We were trying to achieve things to join the club together, but that’s now likely to be very, very difficult to achieve without the senior role.
“This was a three to five-year plan to try and make the club one of the best in the country, but in my mind that now lies in complete tatters.”
With Darlow told results were not the issue and with a long-term plan in place to improve the sustainability of the club, the now-former Hawks boss believes his dismissal is purely for financial reasons.
“There were certainly players available to come in that my wage now frees up to do that. There’s no doubt in my mind that’s what this boils down – that money can bring in two decent guys.
“Let’s not forget as well that I spent three months of the summer building a team for no financial return.
“You can dress this up any way you want, but it’s definitely a cash-based decision.
“I’m philosophical about it and I’ve now got to try and rebuild a coaching career that’s been damaged for no other reason than money.
“I was 100 percent confident we were heading the right way with all our players available and perhaps a couple of additions. My dismissal lets them do that.
“To find out you’ve been released when you’ve not had so much as one negative word from within the club – it’s just staggering.
“The feedback has been that the club has never been so vibrant – there was a purpose to what we were doing and where we were going.
“I was confident that the prospects programme we created would help the club become self-sufficient – something it’s never really been.
“While I’ll be pursuing other areas in hockey from now on, there’s no doubt in my mind this is the last time I’ll stand behind the bench as a head coach in the UK at any level.”