When Dallas Stars General Manager Jim Nill started his search for a new head coach, Lindy Ruff was the first person he interviewed. Following a second interview with Ruff on Thursday, Nill decided he had his guy.
“I could see the fire in his eyes and he’s ready to go,” said Nill. “That’s what really excited me when I talked to him and I know I’ve got a coach with great experience. I know he’s energized and that’s exciting for this Dallas organization.”
And Ruff, who signed a four-year deal with the Stars, possesses some key attributes Nill and the Stars were looking for in a new head coach.
"[Those attributes are] experience, credibility, stability, great knowledge of the game, a person that's been in different situations, the highs and lows, and a good family person on and off the ice," Nill said.
Nill and the Stars introduced Ruff as the 22nd head coach in franchise history at a press conference Friday afternoon at American Airlines Center. He takes over for Glen Gulutzan, who was let go last month after two years behind the Dallas bench. Ruff joins the Stars after spending 14-plus seasons as the head coach of the Buffalo Sabres.
“When you coach for that number of years and in the same place, the exciting part for me is in talking to a lot of other coaches, from former coaches here to coaches that have gone from organization to organization how it revitalized them, energized them,” said Ruff. “I’m excited about the personnel here that I’m working with. I’m excited about the ownership. I’m excited about working with Jim and all his experiences that he had in Detroit. It was just a real good fit.”
Ruff’s resume is an impressive one. He is the 12th-winningest coach in NHL history with a record of 571-432-162. He’s been to the playoffs eight times, the Eastern Conference Finals four times and the Stanley Cup Final once. He’s won the Jack Adams Award as the league’s top coach in 2006.
“I really enjoyed playing for him,” said former Star Stu Barnes, who played under Ruff in Buffalo from 1999 to 2003. “I played for him not only in Buffalo for four years, but in Florida for four years. He was an assistant there with the Panthers. I think he’s a very good coach, very smart guy, understands the game really well, has a really good understanding of system play and not only that but how to deal with NHL players. I think that’s such a big part of being a successful coach, is being able to manage your people and get the most of your players regardless of the situation.”
Barnes and Ruff both were part of the Buffalo team that faced the Stars in the 1999 Stanley Cup Final, which the Stars won on Brett Hull’s controversial goal in the third overtime of Game 6. Ruff was vocal in disputing the legality of that goal back in 1999, but deftly handled the issue on Friday and turned it into an opportunity to talk about his passion.
“How did I know that was going to be the first question?” Ruff said with a laugh. “Again, it’s a long time ago. I said to Jim when I first agreed to meet with him, I’ll meet with you but we can’t meet in the crease. I’ve had some great memories. I’ve gotten past that. I’m a coach. I want to coach and I think this is an unbelievable opportunity. It all worked out great for Dallas. It didn’t work out so good for us back then. I can tell you one thing, that same emotion and same passion will be here in Dallas if the same type of thing happens or anything similar because that’s the fire I have and that’s what you can look forward to. And I think that I was young at the time, emotional. I let it all hang out. I still have a lot of emotion when it comes to coaching and back then, I think you saw it too.”
As for what you can expect from a Lindy Ruff coached team, the Stars new coach said sometimes it can vary depending on the players, but some things are constant.
"I think some of it is based a little bit on personnel," he said. "Probably the one thing is trying to set the bar high enough and hold the players accountable to get them to a certain place where you can have success. The type of style that we've played has always been a real hard, up-tempo game. There's a lot of energy inside of it."
“I am looking forward to the upbeat style,” said Nill. “People are going to see fast-paced, all-out hockey. That’s the way the game is, and I am excited about that. He isn’t even on the job yet and he’s analyzing shift lengths and all these different things. That’s the passion you want in this game. That’s what it takes to win.”
Nill and the Stars are counting on Ruff to do just that – win. Ruff said he is ready to help the Stars get back on track.
“I’m really excited and really looking forward to helping this club with their resurgence,” Ruff said. “I think we’ve got a good, young team, a good, talented young team that I am really looking forward to working with and helping them get back in the playoffs and win a Stanley Cup.”