Axed Southland Sharks coach Richard Dickel feels let down by the board and is now looking at opportunities overseas.
Dickel was the foundation coach of the Sharks during their first three years in the National Basketball League but has been replaced by former Tall Black and New Zealand Breakers point guard Paul Henare for the next two seasons.
After a miserable 2012 campaign, and with Dickel off contract, the Sharks board called for expressions of interest in the top job.
The Sharks performed admirably in their first year in the NBL in 2010, qualifying for the top-six playoffs but took backward steps during the past two seasons - winning just 11 of 33 games.
Towards the end of this season, Dickel appeared to have lost the respect of the locker room and there were question marks over his ability to take the team to the next level.
Dickel, who reapplied for his job and made the final shortlist, was dejected when he was told he had missed out to Henare.
He said leading the start-up franchise to playoff appearances in their first two seasons in the league was a superb achievement for the organisation.
Dickel was confident the team would have been able to bounce back from their dismal five-win, 11-loss record this season, with smarter off-season recruiting and more pre-season training time together.
He was optimistic about his chances of being retained and was gutted the board had not shown faith in him.
"I'm very disappointed. It was pretty gut-wrenching [to miss out]. It's pretty disappointing the way it went down," Dickel said.
"As far as passion for the region goes, nobody has any more than I do. I always thought I had a good chance [of returning].
"That's their call. They have made a decision they think is right and I have to live with that."
Dickel will remain employed as Southland Basketball's development officer but said his desire to be a head coach had not waned.
He was searching around for job opportunities and said he was open to the possibility of taking up a position overseas.
"I'm definitely looking elsewhere. I've got to find myself a new challenge now," he said.
"I want to stay coaching basketball. I want to be the best coach I can possibly be.
"I've got a family to think of. It's not just me.
"There's only nine NBL franchises. There's not too many jobs going around in the league. To be honest, I'll probably look overseas."
Sharks board chairman Carl Alsweiler said Dickel needed to be commended for what he achieved as the inaugural coach of the team.
He said it was always the board's intention to advertise the position following the completion of the Sharks' third season, which coincided with Dickel's contract expiring.
The head coaching decision had been an incredibly difficult one for the Sharks' interview panel and board to make.
"Richard has done a fantastic job for the franchise," Alsweiler said.
"We had a great range of candidates. Richard was certainly one of the top-line candidates. It was extremely tough.
"He's been instrumental in trying to take the young talent we have here and introduce them to a league of basketball that hasn't been seen here before."
When asked whether he would consider serving as an assistant coach to Henare, if approached, Dickel was unsure.
He said it would be tough to take up a lesser role with the side, after being in control since day one.
"It's his [Henare's] call. At this point in time, I don't know. I know to never say never," Dickel said.
"I'd have to sit down and work things out. Every man has their price. I've got to do what's in my best interests."
Dickel said Henare was a promising young coach and he congratulated him on his appointment.
He said Henare would need to adapt to coaching in a new, "unique", environment but thought he could do well.
"The biggest thing he's going to have to adjust to is the culture down here. He's smart enough to be able to adjust," Dickel said.
"He's a very good coach and does have some things to offer."
In a wide-ranging interview, Dickel spoke at length about the Sharks' 2012 struggles.
He believed the franchise started its recruitment drive too late, which meant many high-quality players had already been snapped up.
The Sharks also gambled on the return of former Tall Black Brendon Polyblank, who starred for the team in the previous season. It was hoped he would make a late-season cameo for the Sharks once his playing commitments in Switzerland were over but his team ended up having a deep playoff run, and he was unavailable.
With Southland being challenged geographically and in population, Dickel said the Sharks had to think outside the square, and get in early, when it came to off-season signings.
"It was just unacceptable [this year]. We left it too late and we didn't have the players," he said.
"For this franchise to get ahead, we have to be innovative. We have to be ahead of everyone else. We can't be doing what everyone else is doing.
"The league got better player-wise and we probably didn't."
Alsweiler defended the board's recruiting for the 2012 season and said most players held off signing contracts early on, so they could get the best possible deal available.
Several of the Sharks' off-season signings failed to live up to their potential but Dickel was reluctant to bag them publicly and said he shouldered the responsibility for the team's poor season.
He was also happy to front up to criticism about being too friendly with his players and his reluctance to upset senior members of the side.
"I have a different way of going about things. It works for some people and doesn't work for others," he said.
"I care about my athletes and sometimes I get too close to them.
"Everything I did do was for my players to best perform on court. I'm not afraid of confrontation."
Dickel became a hit at Sharks' home games, with his raw emotion on the sidelines and passion for winning.
He also frequently wore orange shoes and ties to match his team's playing colours, which further endeared him to fans.
He has put considerable time and energy into the Sharks franchise during the past three years and says it will be hard to watch the team next season, if he stays in Southland.
"It's a huge part of my life that's gone," Dickel said.
"To be honest, it's going to be hard for me to go to any games. I don't see myself doing that. When you put you heart and soul into everything, you find it hard."
Dickel was upbeat about the future of the Sharks franchise and said there were some exciting emerging talents, who had it all in front of them, if they were prepared to work hard.
He said it was vital Southland had a flagship team in the NBL to keep promising players in the region and give young basketballers a goal to strive for.
"We've worked really hard to get this franchise off the ground and to get it to be sustainable.
"If I'm here, or wherever in the world, [Southland] still needs to have the Sharks. We need to have something for our kids to be in. If we don't, we're wasting our time."
- © Fairfax NZ News