Flyers Replace Coach With Bully

Flyers new head coach Bill Barber, back, gestures as he shouts a command onto the ice.
The "Broad Street Bullies" are back - in one way at least.

Craig Ramsay was fired Sunday as coach of the Philadelphia Flyers and replaced by assistant Bill Barber, who was given a mandate to make the team tougher.

"We've become an easy team to play against," general manager Bob Clarke said. "And we don't find that acceptable."

So, he turned to a former teammate and linemate with the tough Flyers teams of the 1970s. Barber wants the Flyers, the least penalized team in the NHL, to be more physical, more emotional.

"We've got to identify ourselves a little better," Barber said. "There's nothing wrong with being aggressive. There's no issue of fighting. We can be more physical by having guys dive in front of pucks, taking hits and going hard in the corners."

Ramsay stepped in for ailing Roger Neilson during last season and led the Flyers to within a victory of the Stanley Cup finals. He could not be reached for comment.

After Sunday's 5-2 victory over the New York Islanders, Philadelphia was in fourth place in the NHL's Atlantic Division with a 13-12-4 record despite a rash of injuries.

"We seem to have become a team that has accepted just being OK," Clarke said. "Billy is a fiery guy who will put the emotion and direction back into the team."

Barber played his entire 12-year career with the Flyers, and was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990. He was in his first season as Ramsay's assistant coach after four years as head coach of the Philadelphia Phantoms, the Flyers' AHL affiliate.

"We'll play Flyers hockey. We'll be aggressive," Barber said.

The players are ready for a different approach.

"He brings a lot of emotion to the table," forward Mark Recchi said. "He likes physical play and that's something we're going to have to address."

Forward Rick Tocchet called Barber a "typical Flyer."

"He's a hard-nosed guy," Tocchet said.

Ramsay led the Flyers to a 16-8-1 record last season after Neilson stepped aside last February for cancer treatment. Philadelphia made it through two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs and lost to the New Jersey Devils in seven games in the Eastern Conference finals.

But Clarke had concerns entering training camp. He said he spoke to Ramsay several times about the team's intensity level, but couldn't wait any longer before making a change.

"The responsibility of a coaching staff and of the players is to be in great condition, to play the game with disciplie and play the game with emotion," Clarke said. "Those things are controllable. If you don't have any of those three, you've got a problem.

"There have been too many players that have been inconsistent in their performance and I didn't see it changing. I felt we were sliding and I was scared we were going to be out of the hunt by Christmas."

Barber becomes the 14th head coach in club history. He ranks first on the Flyers' career list with 420 goals, third with 463 assists and second with 883 points.

Clarke has made five coaching changes since returning to Philadelphia as general manager six years ago. Barber was passed over a couple of times by the Flyers, interviewed with the Columbus Blue Jackets last summer, and some wondered whether Clarke would ever give him an opportunity.

"There's always been the temptation to put Billy in earlier, but I felt the experience he was getting with the Phantoms and the job he was doing down there was going to be valuable," Clarke said. "There was never a promise of when he was going to be a head coach, but we knew he was going to be a head coach in the NHL."

Barber was a member of Philadelphia's only Stanley Cup championship teams, in 1974 and 1975, and has served numerous coaching and scouting roles since his playing career ended.

He was head coach of the Hershey Bears, the Flyers' former AHL affiliate, in 1984-85 and 1995-96 and was an assistant coach with the Flyers from 1985-88 and January 1994 to 1995. He was the team's director of pro scouting from 1988 to 1996.

"This is a dream come true," said Barber, who led the Phantoms to the AHL's Calder Cup championship in 1997-98. "You don't ever lose your dream. You don't give that up. I tell that to the players. If you don't have dreams, you don't have anything to live for."

Ramsay was 39-27-5, including the playoffs, with the Flyers. He spent 15 years in various assistant coaching positions after his 14-year playing career with Buffalo ended in 1985.

Ramsay was a forward on the Buffalo team that lost to the Flyers in the Stanley Cup finals in 1975. Now the Flyers have turned to a forward who was on the winning side that year.

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