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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tikhonov, Last of an Era, Fired as CSKA Coach

Viktor Tikhonov, the last of the unquestioned Soviet sports tsars and coach of three Olympic gold medal hockey teams, has been relieved of his duties as head coach of CSKA after almost 20 years at the helm of Russia's flagship team.


The order to remove Tikhonov, a full colonel, from his post with the Central Army Sports Club was signed by Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, Vladimir Mamchur, CSKA sports spokesman, said Friday. Alexander Volchkov, a former CSKA player and most recently in charge of the reserve team, was named Thursday as the new coach.


Tikhonov, who is in Vienna as an adviser with the Russian team at the World Championships, told Sport-Express newspaper on Thursday that he had been informed of the decision in advance, and that, at 65, the army could use his age as a reason to retire him.


"My rank is not the most important thing for me," said Tikhonov. "The main question is what will happen to the hockey club.


"As far as my firing, I would leave that open until I come back," he added, indicating that he may fight the decision.


General manager Viktor Gushin was also removed. No replacement has been named. Gushin on Friday called it a "difficult question," and referred questions to Colonel Alexander Baranovsky, head of CSKA sports, who was unavailable for comment.


Mamchur, from Baranovsky's office, said the orders had come from the top and mentioned that Grachev is a big sports fan. Besides, he said: "A colonel can't fire a colonel."


Under Tikhonov, CSKA hockey has struggled recently, losing in the first round of the playoffs for two straight years. The team flirted with not making the playoffs at all this season, only qualifying as the second-division leader after failing to finish in the top half of the league for the first time in club history.


Tikhonov, who came from Dinamo Riga in the fall of 1977 to lead CSKA to 12 consecutive national championships, prospered under the former Soviet system, which allowed the Army club to skim the best available talent from other teams via the military draft.


Like his predecessor at CSKA, Anatoly Tarasov, Tikhonov also coached the national team, which he led to Olympic golds in 1984, 1988 and 1992 and eight world titles, most recently in 1990. However, he will also be remembered for leading the 1980 Olympic team which suffered a shock loss to the United States in the championship-deciding game.


After the 1994 Lillehammer Games, which ended with a 4-0 loss to Finland in the bronze medal game, Tikhonov was removed as national coach.


Nikolai Epstein, another of the great Soviet coaches in the 1960s and 1970s, said Tikhonov's coaching longevity was in part due to his status with both the national team and CSKA.


"I'm amazed at how long he was able to sustain the mental and physical strains that come with the job, but it's much easier to do if your team is winning," said Epstein, who spent 23 seasons at the helm of Khimik Voskresensk.


But Tikhonov's power dwindled in recent years with the break-up of the Soviet sports system and the sudden emergence of player movement to the West. With a variety of options available, the players began to revolt against the constraints of the old regime.


Center Igor Larionov, now with the National Hockey League's Detroit Red Wings, reacted to reports that Tikhonov might return as national coach by saying the players would not accept their former boss back. The players sent an open letter to that effect to President Boris Yeltsin via various Russian newspapers.


Problems between Tikhonov and his players became widely known in the fall of 1988 when Larionov wrote an open letter to Ogonyok magazine, accusing Tikhonov of running a dictatorship.


Larionov was especially critical of an incident at the 1988 Olympics, where Tikhonov struck Alexander Mogilny, then an 18-year-old prospect.


Mogilny defected to the Buffalo Sabres in May 1989 and has become a major star in the NHL. Later that summer Larionov, Vyacheslav Fetisov and other CSKA veterans fought their boss for the right to play in the NHL as well.


But not all the former players are as bitter toward their old coach.


"No matter how you might feel about Tikhonov, you have to give him credit for his perseverance and singlemindedness -- he always wanted to win and he never betrayed his attacking style," said Sergei Starikov, a former New Jersey Devil and two-time Olympian who played for Tikhonov for over a decade.