Tellabs (TLAB) shares fell 2% early Wednesday as co-founder and CEO Mike Birck stepped aside for a yet-to-be-found replacement.

Birck, who helped start the company in 1975, plans to give up the CEO spot in April and continue as chairman. The sputtering Naperville, Ill., telecom-equipment maker has seen demand for its old-line phone gear all but dry up as tech spending retreated. Tellabs is now in the middle of its

eighth round of job cuts in three years and expects to have a workforce of 3,500 by year-end, putting it some 60% below turn-of-the-century peak levels.

With some evidence that the worst of the industry spending cuts may be over, the most hopeful of optimists say Tellabs has a fair chance of regaining some of its footing against rivals

Lucent

(LU)

and

Nortel

(NT)

.

"A new day has dawned for the industry and for Tellabs, and the time has come for Mike

Birck to finally turn the reins over to a new CEO," says Lehman Brothers analyst Steve Levy, who has a neutral rating on the stock.

Birck's departure from the chief executive job will be his second such move and comes as no great surprise to Tellabs watchers. Birck had turned the duties over to Dick Notebaert in 2000 and returned to the post when Notebaert left for the top job at Denver phone giant

Qwest

(Q)

in 2002.

Notably, Notebaert -- who has strong ties to Chicago -- has had his name

bandied about as a possible aspirant to the

Motorola

CEO spot being vacated by Chris Galvin. But given his tenure at Tellabs during the bubble-burst era, few see him returning to that shop any time soon.