BUFFALO – Nearly two months had passed since the rebuilding Sabres fired assistant coaches Kevyn Adams and James Patrick. The replacement process, coach Ron Rolston acknowledged, “dragged on.” Two men he offered a job to turned it down.
“We wanted to make sure that we did the right thing,” Rolston said Tuesday inside the First Niagara Center while discussing Joe Sacco’s hiring as an assistant coach. “We wanted to make sure we were patient so we got the right person, and I think we did.”
He added: “In terms of the direction that we’re going in (with youth), we thought he’d be a perfect fit.”
The 44-year-old Sacco, fired by the Colorado Avalanche in April after four seasons as coach, had been interviewing with some other teams. When those opportunities ended, “He was obviously a no-brainer at that point to bring in and see if this would be a place that he’d want to come to and be involved,” Rolston said.
Having coached with Team USA, Rolston has worked with a lot of the same people as Sacco, an American with international playing and coaching experience. Rolston said Sacco left Buffalo comfortable and excited about the organization.
“He had worked for Colorado that had a lot of young players and was in a similar situation in terms of building and developing and teaching,” Rolston said. “He was excited about that here, to be able to come in and really put his stamp on things.”
Sacco went 130-134-30 with the Avs before getting fired after a 16-25-7 finish in 2012-13. He was a Jack Adams Award finalist for top coach in 2009-10 following a 43-30-9 finish and his lone playoff appearance in his first season.
“Tremendous experience, work ethic, teacher,” Rolston said.
But Sacco never duplicated his rookie season. Despite some talented youngsters – most notably Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog – the Avs bottomed out last season.
As an NHL player, Sacco appeared in 738 games over 13 seasons with Toronto, Anaheim, the New York Islanders, Washington and Philadelphia. Adams and Patrick played a combined 1,820 contests.
“Whether he played or not wasn’t as important as the experience he has in coaching,” Rolston said. “He was a player who was a heart-and-soul player, somebody that you could depend on every night. You knew what you were getting.”
Sacco compiled 93 goals and 213 points as a winger before retiring in 2003. The Massachusetts native was an AHL assistant coach for two seasons with Avs affiliates before taking over their new farm club, the Lake Erie Monsters, for two seasons, his first head coaching job. The Avs promoted him to replace Tony Granato in 2009.
He most recently led Team USA to bronze medal at the world championship this spring.
The Sabres will hire one more assistant coach, Rolston said.
Rolston insisted he jelled with Adams and Patrick after taking over for Lindy Ruff on Feb. 20.
“They were both outstanding when I got here and all the way through,” Rolston said.
Then why fire them?
“It was just part of change, nothing else,” he said. “(They’re) both outstanding people, both outstanding coaches, lot of character. They were outstanding in the transition coming for me coming from Rochester to here.”
Rolston kept assistant coach Teppo Numminen, goalie coach Jim Corsi and strength and conditioning coach Doug McKenney.