Lindy Ruff may be a guy out of a job.
But he also may be something a little less downbeat:
It’s true. Everywhere you look these days around the Buffalo region, there are striking changes – and fresh beginnings.
With spring a month away, the zeitgeist in Western New York these late-winter days seems to be this:
Things are happening, at long last. Momentum seems to be building.
And maybe Buffalo is coming, after a long hibernation, a little bit into its own.
Ruff is one of those signs. Though many people in the area said Friday how much they loved and respected the longtime Buffalo Sabres hockey coach, they agreed the move undeniably represents a fresh start, one that matches the freshness of the Sabres ownership, under Terry Pegula, still only two years old.
Beyond hockey, many Western New York groups and organizations are also turning a new page. Institutions are starting over, and unveiling clean slates.
The Buffalo Bills have a new coach lined up for this fall. Canisius basketball – winning once more – is seeing what can happen when you bring in new blood.
Andrew J. Rudnick’s lengthy tenure as head of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership – a post he has held for some 20 years – will end in June.
The Albright-Knox Art Gallery and the Buffalo History Museum have seen changes of leadership. UB is just two years into a new president. The Buffalo News saw the departure of a longtime publisher and editor, and gained new ones.
There are fresh faces in Congress, too, and in other places in government and civic life.
The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo has a new bishop.
And, oh yes: spring is just a month away – but across the landscape, construction cranes have beaten the crocus and daffodils at their own game.
New buildings are springing up in downtown Buffalo again, in the harbor area, the burgeoning downtown medical campus, and elsewhere.
All this adds up to a fresh new feeling among many in the Buffalo region.
“It’s a start,” said Hamburg resident Mike O’Brien, an account manager for a pharmaceutical company. “It’s definitely headed in the right direction.”
The change is one that many residents said they have waited a long time to experience.
“I’ve lived here all my life,” said Jessica Chojecki, 24, a restaurant employee from Lake View. “It’s good to see the differences. To see change finally happening – after all the talk about it – is great.”
Even people who aren’t from Buffalo, but visit the city, see and feel the difference.
“I get a sense that there is a new optimism,” said Stan Ball, a Sudbury, Ont., resident, who said he visits Buffalo a few times a month for shopping, concerts and professional sports events.
“I like what I see. I really like what’s happening with the waterfront downtown,” Ball said.
It all raises a serious question: Is Buffalo suddenly in a new era when things that would have been laughed at before – or pooh-poohed out of hand – seem newly achievable?
The new medical campus on the edge of downtown is taking shape before our collective eyes.
The reborn Erie Canal area showed itself off during Navy Week and other events related to the region’s War of 1812 commemorations last fall.
And, at a public forum held last week at Erie Community College’s City Campus about a proposed new domed stadium project for the city’s waterfront area, the comments of dozens of residents attending the session reflected such an upward shift in optimism.
“This is the time to be great,” said one resident, who described himself as a Buffalo Bills season-ticket holder of 28 years’ standing. “Now’s the time to take a stand and do this for Buffalo.”
“It’s our time,” the man urged. “Let’s go with it.”
Erie County Legislature Chairwoman Betty Jean Grant echoed the positive sentiment.
“If you build it, they will stay,” Grant said of the feasibility of the $1.4 billion idea for keeping the Bills in Buffalo. “We really need to think about the future.”
Some injected a note of caution, however.
Crystal and Matt Gifford of Blasdell, who like to travel, said that visiting other cities quickly pokes a hole in their optimism about the pace of change and development here.
“We were just out of town – we were in Ohio and Pittsburgh – and we were like, ‘Why do we live here?’” said Crystal Gifford, a nurse. “There were so many things to do. It was like, ‘This is a true city.’ ”
Matt Gifford added: “Until I see the buildings go up, I don’t believe it.”
Some of the new excitement might have to do with a shift toward youth: younger people, younger ideas and ways of thinking.
The new director at the Albright-Knox, to take one example, is 42. Janne Sirén has just come to Buffalo from Helsinki, Finland.
Ruff, by contrast, had been in his coaching job since 1997.
“I think you’re going to see a younger generation that really wants to do good things for Western New York,” said Chojecki, a Canisius College graduate who travels to Poland for a month each year to do charitable work.
“They’ve seen this [region] growing up – and they really want to make changes.”
In the news conferences and interviews surrounding Ruff’s departure, the undercurrent of thirst for change and new energy surfaced again and again.
“We have to move forward,” said Thomas Vanek, a Sabres player and alternate captain, in stories in The News last week. He spoke of a “new philosophy” that might help the team succeed.
T.J. Brennan, another player, spoke of the “positivity” of the move, in news reports.
Here’s one dilemma, however.
Buffalo has been talking about a second chance at greatness for what seems like forever.
If, now and at long last, things are actually happening, will we be able to recognize that shift for what it means?
Or are we shaped by our last 50 years as a community – a half-century of decline in population, and all-too-frequent dwindling of hopes?
A people used to long winters, gray Februarys, and cold climate, might we be just a little bit slow to realize the signs of incipient spring?
“As someone who’s never going to leave,” said O’Brien, the Hamburg resident, “I really want things to happen here.”
“I don’t want to buy into it so much – and then be disappointed.”