The Buffalo Sabres have fired longtime coach Lindy Ruff in the midst of a losing season.
Rochester Americans coach Ron Rolston will take over as interim coach for the rest of the season. Sabres GM Darcy Regier says Rolston will have the opportunity to earn the permanent job.
Regier addressed the media in the 5 p.m. hour at First Niagara Center. Regier, calling it a "tough day," said the decision was made today and was made by him. He called Tuesday night's loss to Winnipeg "a tipping point."
The move was first announced via the team's Twitter feed Wednesday: "Darcy Regier announced this afternoon that Lindy Ruff has been relieved of his duties as head coach of the Buffalo Sabres. More to follow."
Ruff, 53, had coached the team for 16 years. He was the longest tenured coach in the NHL and the second-longest tenured coach in North American pro sports next to Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs.
The Sabres fell to 6-10-1 with the loss to Winnipeg Tuesday. Fan frustration has been mounting this shortened season. Many expressed their displeasure with the underachieving team through booing at the arena Tuesday, as well as on the Internet and on local media outlets.
Regier Wednesday said Ruff understood the decision upon learning the news. The GM called his longtime partner an "outstanding coach" and insisted Ruff didn't "lose the team." Ruff did have an opportunity to address the team before players boarded a bus to Toronto, after running a practice earlier in the day.
The team is in last place in the Northeast Division and in 13th place out of 15 Eastern Conference teams. The Sabres have missed the postseason in three of the last five seasons.
Ruff, who played for the Sabres for ten seasons from 1979-1989, began coaching the team in 1997, taking over from Ted Nolan. He led the team to four appearances in the Eastern Conferences Finals, including a run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1999, where the team lost to the Dallas Stars.
Ruff had a career regular-season record of 571-432-178-84. He won the Jack Adams Trophy as the NHL's coach of the year in 2006 and came in second place for the award in 2007, the year his team won the Presidents' Trophy for finishing with the best record in the league.
The Sabres announced a multi-year contract extension for Ruff in April 2011. Through the team's rough start, Regier had repeatedly insisted through the media that Ruff would not be fired. At his introductory press conference after purchasing the team, owner Terry Pegula told reporters Ruff "ain't going nowhere."
Pegula released a statement late Wednesday, thanking Ruff for his service to the team.
"The hockey world knows how I and the entire Buffalo Sabres organization feel about Lindy Ruff not only as a coach but also as a person. His long tenure with the Sabres has ended. His qualities have made this decision very difficult," Pegula said. "I personally want Lindy to know that he can consider me a friend always."
The Sabres' next game is Thursday night in Toronto. They then host the New York Islanders Saturday.