September 25, 2009 / 2:45 AM / 8 years ago

Gretzky steps down as head coach of Coyotes

<p>Phoenix Coyotes head coach Wayne Gretzky gestures during their NHL pre-season game against the Edmonton Oilers in Glendale, Arizona, September 25, 2007.Rick Scuteri</p>

GLENDALE, Arizona (Reuters) - Wayne Gretzky has stepped down as head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, a victim of the muddled ownership picture surrounding the financially ailing franchise.

The NHL Hall of Famer said on his website (www.gretzky.com) that the team's cloudy future had left him out in the cold.

"This was a difficult decision that I've thought long and hard about," said Gretzky, widely considered the best player ever to play in the NHL and known as "The Great One."

"We all hoped there would be a resolution earlier this month to the Coyotes' ownership situation, but the decision is taking longer than expected.

"Since both remaining bidders have made it clear that I don't fit into their future plans, I approached general manager Don Maloney and suggested he begin looking for someone to replace me as coach," added the 48-year-old.

"I've loved the four years I spent coaching the Coyotes. Not a day went by when I took it for granted, and I will miss the competition of the NHL dearly," said Gretzky, a part-owner of the club who also stepped down as the team's director of hockey operations.

"It was an honor to hold the position, and I will always consider myself especially fortunate to have had this opportunity."

The team, who announced Dave Tippett as head coach, reacted with sadness at Gretzky's departure.

"Whenever you are around somebody for four years, on top of them being an icon of our sport, it's always going to be a sad day when that's no longer the case," team captain Shane Doan told Reuters.

"That's something that as a group you deal with it, you realize it's part of our sport and you move on."

Team executives also expressed their sadness at Gretzky's decision.

"Wayne was the greatest player to ever play the game...it's a really sad day, but I've got to respect Wayne for the decision he made," Coyotes' president and chief operating officer Doug Moss told Reuters.

"He's doing what's in his best interest and I respect that, I just want to wish him well. He meant so much to the organization and me, and he will be missed."

NO PLAYOFFS

Gretzky, who retired as a player in 1999 after 20 seasons that included four Stanley Cup wins with the Edmonton Oilers, was named Phoenix coach in 2005 but in four seasons the club went 143-161-24 and never made the playoffs.

"As always, Wayne placed the welfare of the team ahead of his own in making this extremely difficult decision," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement.

"While the Coyotes have not had the degree of on-ice success that always has been Wayne's objective, there can be no question he has played a vital role in the youth movement that has positioned the Coyotes for success in the future."

The franchise has been in turmoil since filing for bankruptcy protection in May.

Canadian billionaire James Balsillie has offered to buy the club and wants to move it to Hamilton, Ontario, a relocation the league vehemently opposes. The NHL is bidding for the club and would keep it in Phoenix for at least a year.

The judge in the Arizona bankruptcy court is expected to decide soon which bid is the winner.

General manager Don Maloney thanked Gretzky for his work, particularly in a time when the team's fortunes were uncertain.

"For the two years he's taken a lot of bumps and bruises being the coach the last couple of years have been tough," said Maloney.

"Wayne is a big part of this organization, and I can't thank him enough."

Additional reporting by Steve Ginsburg in Washington; editing by Ken Ferris and Greg Stutchbury

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