Carolina Hurricanes\' new coach, Paul Maurice, right, leads his team as associate coach Ron Francis looks on during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, Dec. 4, 2008. Hall of Fame player Ron Francis is giving up his position as associate coach of the Carolina Hurricanes to focus on his front-office job with the club. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Gerry Broome
RALEIGH, N.C. - Hall of Fame player Ron Francis is giving up his spot on the Carolina Hurricanes' coaching staff to focus on his front-office job with the club.
General manager Jim Rutherford said Tuesday that the mutual decision to shift Francis back into the front office was not in response to the team missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons.
"It was something that is not new—it was something that had been planned for over the last couple of years," Rutherford said. "It's really what he wants to do."
Francis was promoted to assistant general manager in 2007 and a year later took on coaching responsibilities when Paul Maurice was hired as head coach. Rutherford said Francis will relinquish his duties on the ice during practices and behind the bench during games. Rutherford declined to discuss his options for filling that coaching vacancy.
Speaking publicly for the first time since the end of the regular season, Rutherford voiced support for Maurice, saying he "has done a very good job coaching the Hurricanes two out of the last three years." Maurice took the Hurricanes to a surprise spot in the Eastern Conference final in 2009, and after taking a clear step backwards in 2009-10, they finished this season one win away from a playoff spot.
"We played a very exciting brand of hockey. We obviously have some areas that we want to upgrade," Rutherford said. "When you look at the whole 82 games, despite the fact that we all agree it's disappointing and we wanted to make the playoffs, this was a good season in the first year of a transition year.
"We started the year as a 15-handicap and we got our handicap down to 10," he added. "As golfers know, it's a lot easier to go from 15 to 10 than it is to go from 10 to five. ... If we can do that this year, we'll position ourselves to move forward and be a contending team."