They told him it couldn't be done, that he'd have better luck selling ice to Eskimos than he would selling hockey in Augusta.
Paul Gamsby proved the naysayers wrong, but after three-plus years as general manager of the Augusta Lynx, he says now is the right time to take his show on the road.
Citing a desire to move on to his next challenge, Mr. Gamsby resigned Wednesday, ending his three-year run with the East Coast Hockey League franchise.
Mr. Gamsby said he has been offered a similar position with two minor-pro hockey teams - one in the ECHL and one in an unspecified higher league - and plans to pursue one of those opportunities.
He informed Lynx owners George Gillespie and Mark Vieira - who are in town this week to discuss the franchise's operations budget for the 2001-02 season - of his decision Wednesday afternoon. Mr. Gamsby shared the news with the club's front-office staff during an emotional Thursday morning meeting.
"It was the single hardest thing I've done in my business life, talking to those people and telling them I was resigning," Mr. Gamsby said. "For various reasons, I felt it was the right time to move on."
News of Mr. Gamsby's departure caught the Lynx staff completely off guard.
"We're still kind of dumbfounded about it," said Mr. Gillespie, who is part of ownership group that includes his father, Peter, Mr. Vieira and Florida businessman Dolph Von Arx.
"We're not happy about it, but we can't stop him from moving on. Paul doesn't have a contract; we don't really like to give contracts out, and he was always OK with that. We never thought It would come to this. It was shocking."
Mr. Vieira, who was a longtime business associate of Mr. Gamsby's before hiring him in December of 1997, also said the move was surprising, but not completely unexpected.
"I knew he was going to be successful and that he eventually would move on to a better opportunity," Mr. Vieira said.
Mr. Gamsby joined the Lynx after the team moved from Raleigh, N.C., and helped build the club into one of the most successful franchises in the league in terms of corporate sponsorships and season-ticket sales.
The 52-year-old Toronto native has been hailed by ECHL president and CEO Rick Adams for building the Lynx into one of the league's model franchises.
The Lynx have finished in the top three in the ECHL in sponsorships the past three seasons, while reaching the 3,000 plateau in season-ticket sales for the first time this past season.
Despite having the second-smallest arena in the league, the Lynx finished three straight years in the top 10 in the league in attendance, averaging more than 4,600 fans a game.
But the pressure stemming from a longstanding dispute with Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority over advertising rights at the civic center, along with Lynx ownership's plans to cut costs next season, seemingly had taken their toll on Mr. Gamsby.
"There's an economy crunch throughout minor-pro hockey right now, so perhaps I had to leave right now in order for someone on this staff to keep their job," Mr. Gamsby said, alluding to the possible elimination of one front-office position for next season.
Mr. Gamsby said he would decide his next move in the next couple of days.
As for the Lynx's next move, Mr. Gillespie and Mr. Vieira said they hoped to hire Mr. Gamsby's successor by Monday. Assistant general manager Mike Pierson and director of broadcasting Jerry Canaan, a former attorney, are the leading candidates.
"I want to do it from within, and I hope I can do it from within," Mr. Vieira said. "I've talked to both Mike and Jerry already and, with both individuals, they both are extremely capable of running the business."
Lynx brass also hope to find out in the coming days whether Jim Burton will return to coach the team in 2001-02 in spite of Mr. Gamsby's departure.
"I have not yet talked to Jim, but I'm going to speak with him as soon as possible," Mr. Vieira said. "I'm not really sure what's going to happen. A good part of Jim's decision to come back next year was based on Paul staying on as GM. They worked very close together and had a very good relationship."
About a week after the Lynx were eliminated from the playoffs in early April, Mr. Gamsby tendered a contract offered to Mr. Burton for next season, but informed him of the possibility that he would resign.
As a result, Mr. Burton delayed making a decision to return to Augusta until Mr. Gamsby's status was known.
"Jim's known about this for two weeks, and he asked me to hold the contract until I let him know my decision," Mr. Gamsby said. "I have the utmost respect for Jim, both personally and on a professional level, and I felt I owed it to him to tell him that this might happen because it directly affects him and his family moving here. We should know today or tomorrow what he wants to do."
December 1997: Hired as general manager of the Augusta franchise, replacing former Raleigh IceCaps GM Frank Milne
January 1998: Unveils the Augusta Lynx's name and logo
April 1998: Hires Dan Wiebe, who coached the IceCaps the previous season, as the Lynx's first head coach
May 2000: Announces that the team and Mr. Wiebe agreed to part ways
June 2000: Hires former UMass-Amherst assistant coach Scott MacPherson as new head coach
October 2000: Lynx reach the 3,000-plateau in season-ticket sales as they open their third season.
December 2000: Fires Mr. MacPherson after a three-month run as coach and steps in as interim head coach
January 2001: Hires former WPHL coach Jim Burton as the Lynx's third head coach
May 2001: Resigns as Lynx GM after three-plus years
Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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