MOSCOW May 26 Vyacheslav Bykov was sacked as Russia's head coach on Thursday following their disappointing showing at this month's world ice hockey championship.
The Russian ice hockey federation (RIHF) made a unanimous decision to part company with Bykov and assistant coach Igor Zakharkin after the national team finished out of the medals at a world championship for the first time since 2006.
"Their contracts had a clause that they could be fired if the team fails to secure a place on the podium," RIHF chief Vladislav Tretiak told reporters. "The executive board was unanimous in giving both coaches a failing grade."
Tretiak declined to comment on Bykov's possible replacement, who would get a chance to lead the team through the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but local media named Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, coach of AK Bars Kazan of the Kontinental Hockey League, as the front-runner for the job.
Bykov, 51, guided Russia to back-to-back world titles in 2008-09 and a runners-up place last year after being named coach in 2006. He has kept his job despite a poor showing at last year's Vancouver Olympics, where the Russians suffered a humiliating 7-3 defeat by Canada in the quarter-finals.
The Russians had been one of the favourites for gold in Slovakia after drafting big-name players from the NHL such as Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk.
However they failed to shine on Slovakian ice as Russia set a dubious record of losing more games than winning for the first time since they began competing in world championships in 1954.
Former Russia captain Vyacheslav Fetisov, Bykov's long-time team mate both at CSKA Moscow and the Soviet national team, said it was time to give somebody else a chance to lead Russia.
"At the RIHF's meeting I was hoping to hear an assessment of our performance in Slovakia," said Fetisov, who coached Russia to a bronze medal at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.
"But no adequate explanation was given and there was also no plan for the future. We all felt as if the two coaches were just doing us a favour by keeping their job," he added.
"I think we should have made that switch much sooner, right after the Vancouver fiasco, but now is the time. We can't wait any longer with the Sochi Games less than three years away." (Reporting by Gennady Fyodorov; Editing by Clare Fallon; To query or comment on this story email email@example.com)