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Coyotes fire Hay after first season as coach

May 7, 1997

PHOENIX (AP) _ When the Phoenix Coyotes posed for their inaugural team picture two days after being eliminated from the playoffs, the consensus was next year’s team would look at least slightly different.

Coach Don Hay and assistant Paul MacLean were the first to go.

Coyotes general manager Bobby Smith fired both on Tuesday and said assistant coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov has been offered another job in the organization.

The moves came one week after Phoenix was eliminated from the first-round of the playoffs by Anaheim, which won Game 6 here in overtime and Game 7 by a shutout.

``I just felt that if this team is going to be as good as we can be in the future, we need a different coaching staff,″ Smith said. ``The teams that are ahead of us in the Western Conference are not going to go away. They’re only going to get better. We need to do the same.″

Hay said he was shocked by the decision. ``I had no idea this was coming,″ he told The Arizona Republic. ``I knew I was going to a meeting .... I didn’t know I was going there to get fired.

``I still don’t know why this happened,″ Hay added. ``I asked Bobby, but he didn’t give much of an answer.″

Smith said the search for a new head coach would begin immediately and hinted a candidate could come ``from teams that are still playing.″

He did not disclose any names, although Anaheim coach Ron Wilson’s contract ends after this season.

``Then again, we could hire a coach with no NHL experience,″ Smith said. ``Don only had a year’s experience as an assistant at Calgary. Seventy-three points this season and losing in the seventh game of a playoff series is not a disaster .... It was just a lack of confidence on my part that we can get to where we want to go with this staff.″

Hay, 42, signed a three-year contract July 1 with by the former Winnipeg Jets, who fired Terry Simpson after a 43-46-7 record in 1 1/2 seasons. Phoenix gave up a third-round pick in this summer’s draft to Calgary to free Hay from his Flames contract. He had coached Kamloops to Western Hockey League and Memorial Cup championships in 1993-94 and 1994-95, and guided Canada o the gold medal in the 1995 World Junior Championships.

At 38-37-7, the Coyotes had their best regular-season record since 1992-93.

But despite a roster that included Jeremy Roenick, Mike Gartner and Keith Tkachuk, who had a league-leading 52 goals, Phoenix was just 15-19-7 at America West Arena and failed to win three straight home games all season.

The team was erratic and some players grumbled about constant line shakeups, causing speculation about the job security of the poker-faced Hay as far back as December.

``You can’t change 20 guys. You have to work with them,″ Tkachuk said.

The playoff loss to Anaheim was the franchise’s sixth straight first-round elimination and the 10th in 12 tries.

Smith said his decision to fire the coaching staff still would have been made if Phoenix advanced to the second round.

``There’s a sense of urgency here. If we were not in a position to be successful next season, it would be a dereliction of duty on my part,″ he said at a news conference that was not attended by Hay or any Coyotes player.

Smith said he met with the coaching staff Tuesday morning and informed them of his decision after getting the support of team owners Richard Burke and Steven Gluckstern.

``I think Don will go on to become a very good NHL coach,″ Smith said. ``But I don’t think he’s the right guy for our team.″

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