Sudden resignation forces Smokies into coaching change

Jim Ingram steps down and Bill Birks steps up behind Trail bench

The first weekend of the Trail Smoke Eaters off-season has turned out to be one of the more tumultuous in recent memory.

On Friday, head coach and general manager Jim Ingram informed the team he was resigning effective immediately.

By Sunday, the Smokies announced that Bill Birks will be taking over the reins after agreeing to a two-year deal.

“This all came right out of leftfield,” said team president Tom Gawryletz.

Ingram, who joined the team prior to the 2007-08 season, said it was time for a change.

“I think it’s time for a change of scenery and I think it’s time for the organization to go in another direction,” he said on Friday.

“This was my call, it wasn’t the board wanting me out or I got pushed out. Not that at all, this was my call 100 per cent. I can’t stress that enough.”

Although Ingram said he doesn’t have any concrete plans in the offing, he admitted he is looking at “some options in the BCHL.”

“I’m going to take a few days and relax and enjoy being me for a little bit.”

While Ingram contemplates his future, the club quickly filled the vacancy by promoting assistant coach Bill Birks.

“He’ll take over as of (Sunday),” said Gawryletz, adding he had already received several applications for the coaching position.

“Bill has four years in the league and worked with us for a year. He knows the ins and outs of our organization, our travel schedule and he’s had a lot of contact with some of the kids we’re working on for next year.

“Now the search is on for a new assistant coach.”

Birks said he was surprised by Ingram’s move and admitted Friday was a “whirlwind day.”

He’s looking forward to the challenge of his first head coaching role in the BCHL. Prior to coming to Trail last season, Birks spent two years in Merritt as the assistant coach.

He’ll jump right in to the new role and prepare for the upcoming spring camp set for March 25 at the Cominco Arena.

Meanwhile, Ingram leaves the Smokies after its most successful of his four-year tenure.

Although the team never reached the second round of the playoffs, Ingram’s recruiting helped develop several players from the region and turned the Smokies into a contender last season before losing out to Westside in seven games in the Interior Division quarter-final.

In his four seasons, the Smokies posted 99 wins, 116 losses with six ties and 19 losses in overtime.

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The team reached the playoffs all four seasons winning four of 18 games. Sixteen players earned post-secondary scholarships during that time. And Ingram played a major role in creating the team’s pre-season tournament.

“I want to stress that I appreciate the board and the opportunity I was given,” reiterated Ingram. “I’m a hockey coach looking to change his job a bit.

On a personal note, Ingram said his family enjoys Trail and they currently have no plans to relocate.

“We have no plans on leaving Trail. This is home for my kids, my wife has a great job here.”

One school of thought could possibly see Ingram, a native of Ladysmith, returning to Vancouver Island where he began his coaching career.

Prior to coming to Trail, Ingram coached the Kerry Park Islanders of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League to a pair of league titles.

Earlier this year Stew Gordon, who owned the Islanders during Ingram’s tenure, became the majority owner of the Cowichan Valley Capitals.

The Capitals failed to make the playoffs this year although current head coach Dale Purinton remains at the helm.

Meanwhile, Birks becomes the 13th Smokies head coach in the team’s 16-year BCHL history.