The Ottawa 67's will only have coaching legend Brian Kilrea behind the bench for one more season.

With his health strong and legacy intact, the 73-year-old has announced this will be his 33rd and final year as head coach of the Ontario Hockey League team. He plans to remain as general manager for at least the following season.

Chris Byrne, one of his two current assistants, will assume the coaching duties.

"It's something I enjoy, and I look forward to the camaraderie with the kids," Kilrea told CTV Ottawa after a news conference at the Civic Centre, where the 67's begin their exhibition season on Friday.

"But you know, it's the old story of time. I just felt that it was the right time to move and let Chris come in here. I know that the players respect him."

The cigar-chomping Ottawa native has coached more games (2,088) and recorded more wins (1,153) than anyone else at the major junior level. In his three-plus decades with the 67's, the team has won two Memorial Cups (1984 and 1999), three OHL titles, nine divisional crowns, and sent numerous players to the National Hockey League.

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Kilrea has been involved with the team since 1974, aside from a two-year stint as an assistant coach with the New York Islanders from 1984 to 1986. He returned to the junior ranks when his contract wasn't renewed.

For his achievements, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003. That same year the Canadian Hockey League renamed its coach of the year trophy the Brian Kilrea Award.

Kilrea said he's been thinking about the change for the past couple of seasons. Since making a trip to the Memorial Cup in 2005, the 67's have endured three mediocre years and he began to think a new face and new voice might be good for the team.

"I turn 74 in October," he told the news conference. "So I'm thinking, all right, next year, if I was still that old guy behind the bench and a kid gets drafted by Ottawa, some other kid will say, `How can that old guy still be coaching?'

"It's not fair to the kids."

Thomas Kiriakou, a 67's overage centre, said his teammates knew the change would happen sooner or later.

"Personally, I thought he might have one or two more years because he loves it so much," Kiriakou said. "He just loves being around the guys, loves being around the rink and the road trips. It's sad to see him go."

Kilrea tried retirement in 1994-95 because of failing health and turned the job over to former 67's star Peter Lee, but a dismal performance by the team prompted him to return the following season.

This time, however, Kilrea said it's for good. His last regular-season game in charge is at home against the Kingston Frontenacs on March 15.

"I always knew this day would come and I never looked forward to it," said 67's owner Jeff Hunt, who purchased the team in 1998 with an agreement that Kilrea would stay on for at least three years.

"I give him credit for seeing the bigger picture. It's the easing of a transition."

Also stepping aside with Kilrea will be his assistant of more than two decades, Bert O'Brien, who will likely stay on in a scouting capacity.

Byrne, a 34-year-old Ottawa native, is beginning his third season as a 67's assistant. He previously coached the Central Junior Hockey League's Nepean Raiders to consecutive league championships in 2003 and 2004.

"Not only do they respect him, but they also like him," Kilrea said of his successor. "I know that the Ottawa 67's will be in good hands."

With a report from The Canadian Press