John Morris had to make one of the toughest decisions of his curling career this past week.
After seven years of service as a third on Kevin Martin’s rink, Morris set up a conference call with his teammates this week to let them know of his decision to move on.
“I just think they were surprised that this happened right now. The good thing is I believe there’s been no animosity,” Morris said Friday at a media availability at the Glencoe Club. “There’s been no tension. We all realize this is in the best interest of everyone and it’s something that had to be done.
“All great things and all great teams come to an end. Unfortunately, it seemed like this team had just run its course.”
Morris, Martin, second Marc Kennedy and lead Ben Hebert won back-to-back Tim Hortons Brier titles in 2008 and 2009 and captured a world title as well in 2008. They also won Olympic gold at the 2010 Games in Vancouver.
“We’re four types of guys that are really competitive and have high expectations of ourselves and our team,” Morris said. “The first five seasons we were winning everything on the planet, gold medals at the Olympics and world championships and tour championships.”
That wasn’t the case this season though as the team struggled with mediocre performances at the Brier in Edmonton and at last week’s Players’ Championship in Toronto.
“The past couple seasons, especially this last season, I felt that we weren’t performing up to our capabilities,” Morris said. “I just felt it is in the best interest of our team if we brought someone new in there.
“I’ve always played with passion and drive and I felt, especially this last season, I was lacking some of that and as result my performance had declined a bit and I was no longer thriving.”
Martin weighed in on Morris’s departure during his own media availability later in the day.
“I was surprised a little bit I guess,” Martin said from Edmonton. “But you know for our team, it has been seven years. For five of the years it’s pretty safe to say we were the best team in curling. But the last year and a half, we haven’t been.
“You get used to a certain level of play and when we haven’t been there, change is inevitable.”
Morris wanted to make the change sooner rather than later to allow Martin to find a replacement well in advance of the Canadian Curling Trials, which will take place from Dec. 1-8.
“I’m sure they’re moving forward,” said Morris, who helped Martin win the 2011 Canada Cup to qualify for the trials. “They’re probably thinking about who they’re going to get to play third next year. I’m sure whoever they get will be a real good change for them.”
Martin said he plans to begin the process of looking for a replacement in the coming days.
“Obviously right away there’s half a dozen players in Canada that are really, really good and can play at that level and I would be comfortable with,” he said. “But I haven’t had a chance to phone anybody yet. But that’ll happen next week, I’ll be able to get a hold of everybody.”
Walking away from one of only eight spots at the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings was definitely a tough decision for Morris.
“I felt it wasn’t fair to the team to go through the motions next year and maybe finish fourth or fifth at the trials and not have a chance at the Olympics,” said Morris, who praised Martin, Kennedy and Hebert for being great teammates. “I’ve been lucky enough to play with one of the best skips in the game with Kevin and I’ve learnt a lot from him.
“I feel like I’ve been a better teammate over the last seven years than I have before. I learned a lot about my team and just felt privileged to play with some of the best teammates and curlers in Canada.”
Morris noted that he’s going to take some time before making a decision on his future.
“If I curl, it won’t be going through the motions,” he said. “It’ll be to get to the Olympics again. It won’t be to play in the Glencoe Thursday night beer league.
“If I decide to continue to pursue curling, I’m in the prime of my career. If I feel like I can thrive in a situation and can get that fire back and that drive, there is no doubt in my mind that I can still be on the best team in Canada and the world.”
He didn’t count out the possibility of being part of a team that could vie to represent Canada at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia.
“That would be one of the biggest challenges of my life, but I’ve always enjoyed a challenge,” he said. “Personally, right now, there’s nothing set up. There’s nothing in stone what time I’d be on or if I’d even be playing next year.”
When asked if he’d consider skipping a team in the future, Morris replied: “It depends what opportunity presents itself and how comfortable I feel with it.”
Since making the decision, Morris said his phone has been ringing off the hook.
“I think I averaged six calls an hour for the past 48 hours,” he said. “There’s been a lot of calls from media and fans and family and friends and sponsors. It’s been overwhelming the support I’ve received and I’m really thankful for that.
“As far as other teams are concerned, I think there might have been a few calls in there that I have not addressed yet and I don’t plan on addressing until this has blown over and I’m able to take a step back and think about what’s going on here.”
He’s going to do whatever it takes to stay in shape over the off-season in case the right opportunity presents itself.
“It’s always been really important to me to remain physically fit and to be at the top of my game,” Morris said. “I’ll be in the gym at least five days a week and ready to rock.”
Martin said he’s looking forward to the upcoming season and thinks everyone will have a little spring in their step after the change.
“Our team had won so much over the seven years,” he said. “It is hard to see one member changing, it really is. But it is a sport and with athletes, sometimes change is just inevitable.
“You’ve got to do it and now you’ve got to get a player who can play at that high level, is comfortable with the situation and away you go.”