The Skipjacks, 2-13-2 in their past 17 games, fired coach Rob Laird yesterday and replaced him with assistant Barry Trotz.
"Losing in Baltimore is not acceptable to me," Skipjacks owner Tom Ebright said. "We've made these changes, and some others could be on the way."
Ebright said he and Washington Capitals general manager David Poile jointly made the decision on Laird, who left with the team 23-30-7 and in last place in the American Hockey League's Southern Division.
Laird's firing wasn't the only change yesterday. The next move was to trade right wing Brent Hughes (25 goals, 29 assists in 55 games) to the Boston Bruins for left wing John Byce (29 goals, 21 assists in 55 games) and defenseman Dennis Smith (two goals, 32 assists in 59 games), who played previously with the Skipjacks. Both Boston players had been with the AHL's Maine Mariners.
"I want to send a message to the people of Baltimore that we will make a concerted effort in our last 20 games to regain our early-season form and make the playoffs," Ebright said. "I could see our team deteriorating and our fan interest deteriorating, and I could not let this pass."
The Skipjacks have drawn 101,500 to 29 games at the Baltimore Arena, an average of 3,500. They have 11 home games remaining.
"I never saw anyone work harder than Rob Laird, but his hard work did not pay off and the bottom line is winning, in this or in any professional sport," Ebright said. "We have to see if someone else can get the job done. I feel very badly for Rob, but someone had to take the blame, and he was the man who ran the team."
Laird said: "This is a business, but I'm very disappointed. I wish I could have been judged on the complete season. We should be better than we are, and I take full responsibility for this.
"I don't know what I'm going to do. This took me by surprise."
Laird, who had been an assistant coach with the Washington Capitals, was named Skipjacks head coach before the 1990-91 season, replacing Doug MacLean. He was head coach of the International Hockey League's Fort Wayne Komets for four seasons, compiling a 194-116-18 record, and was named Coach of the Year twice. Last season, the Skipjacks were 39-34-7 and were eliminated from the Calder Cup playoffs in the first round.
Poile said: "The determining factor in our decision was the recent won-lost record of the Skipjacks. It is my feeling that, to give the Skipjacks any chance of turning their season around in the remaining 20 games, a change was necessary at this time."
Trotz joined the Capitals as a scout in 1987 and was named Skipjacks assistant coach last year. Before joining the Capitals, Trotz coached the University of Manitoba.
"I have mixed emotions," said Trotz. "I learned a lot from Robbie over the last two years, and I think he is a tremendous coach. It was unfortunate that the team didn't come together as he had hoped.
"I feel very proud that the Capitals organization thinks so highly of me. It was a tough decision, but I figured that the door of opportunity opened, and, if I turned it down, it would slam in my face, and then where would I be? Now, I have to focus in on getting our team to the playoffs. Hopefully, we'll get the team going again."
Skipjacks right wing Reggie Savage said: "I think the change was inevitable, but I was still surprised. We were losing, but we were playing well enough to win. I figured Laird would be around at least till the end of the season. Robbie was a very disciplined type of coach, and Trotz is a mellow kind of guy, one that quiets the storm."
Simon Wheeldon, Skipjacks center, said: "It's unfortunate that, when a sports team is going bad, the coach has to take the blame. You can't fire 20 players, so the coach is the one who goes. As a team, we are sad to see Robbie go. Barry knows the players, and I hope he can step in and get the job done."