When Pete DeBoer received a message first thing on the morning of Dec. 26 to meet with New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello, he had a fairly good idea what was next. But if you're looking for any hint of bitterness, you're not going to get it from the fired Devils head coach.
In DeBoer's first interview since being let go by the Devils, he had nothing but praise for his former boss.
"I loved working with Lou, I'll be honest with you,'' DeBoer told ESPN.com Tuesday morning. "I learned a great deal. It was a great investment for me as a person and as a coach to be around him for the last three and a half years.
"I had come from Florida where I had a little bit of a bad taste in my mouth about the NHL, having gone through three ownership groups and three GMs in the three years I was there. Lou was exactly what I needed at that point in my coaching career. I don't have any regrets about coming here and I sure don't have any regrets about working for him.''
The fact is that DeBoer, like most coaches, saw it coming.
"Yeah, I think in most of these cases, it doesn't come out of left field," said DeBoer. "I think if you ask coaches that go through this, most of them get a sense that it's a definite possibility. When you sign up for the job, it comes with it.''
Even if he doesn't want to say it, I will: DeBoer fell victim to an aging roster that needs some serious fine-tuning. But DeBoer says he truly felt the Devils had the pieces to be a playoff team.
"I felt if everything went right that we could potentially be a playoff team; I believed that going into the season," said DeBoer. "I liked the idea of signing [Mike] Cammalleri and [Martin] Havlat; we were trying to address some of our scoring issues; we knew we'd be going with a young defense, but I think we liked the idea of some young D mixed in with [Bryce] Salvador, [Andy] Greene and [Marek] Zidlicky as the anchors on defense. Plus, we had [Cory] Schneider as our starting goalie without having to deal with anyone looking over his shoulder or anyone competing for the starting job ... that was the optimistic view heading into the season, but not a lot went right.
"We had a ton of injuries. We were a team that I thought needed everything to be right to be in a good spot. And it didn't go right. And my responsibility is for that, too. The best players didn't perform up to expectation, and that's on me.''
Jaromir Jagr publicly backed his coach just a few weeks ago, so you didn't get the sense the players wanted this change.
"Nobody quit, even through the last game I really felt guys were working at what we were asking them to do and trying to give us what they had," said DeBoer. "I told players over the years, you're either part of the problem or you're part of the solution, and I think it just became evident that we weren't going to be part of the solution. With coaches, that's what happens. Were we part of the problem? I don't know the answer to that, I guess that'll sort itself out here over the next 2-3 months. But I understand why the move was made.''
After getting the news from Lamoriello on Dec. 26, DeBoer and his family headed to the Toronto area, where one of his sons was playing in a hockey tournament. They were able to visit with family and relatives for three days while in the Toronto area, which was the silver lining to it all. DeBoer said he doesn't think it was easy for Lamoriello to make that decision and deliver the news.
"It wasn't easy on either party," said DeBoer. "But you get through it. And I really hope they turn it around. I have a lot of respect for a lot of people there, including the guys [interim coaches Scott Stevens and Adam Oates] who took over.''
In the meantime, DeBoer's phone has exploded with messages from the hockey world.
"It's a phenomenal fraternity," he said. "Former coaches, current coaches, current players, former players that played for me -- the support has been much-appreciated.''
DeBoer has the rest of this season plus next season remaining on his contract, but like every coach who has ever lived, he wants back in "as soon as possible,'' DeBoer said with a chuckle, getting the words in before the question was even finished.
It would be an absolute shock if DeBoer isn't behind an NHL bench next season. The reaction from other NHL team executives last week to his firing was that a very good coach is now available. He will be in demand, there is no question about it. He's eager to get back at it.
"Failure is a part of the job," DeBoer said. "What drives you is the wins and what eats you up is the failures. All coaches at this level have that internal drive, that internal pride to get right back and prove they can win at this level. I feel very strongly about that.''