‘He felt he had enough’: former Gophers reflect on Don Lucia’s resignation

Lucia stepped down Tuesday after 19 seasons with the Gophers.

Gophers players and head coach Don Lucia follow the game at 3M Arena at Mariucci on Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015.

Alex Tuthill-Preus, Daily File Photo

Gophers players and head coach Don Lucia follow the game at 3M Arena at Mariucci on Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015.

by Jack Warrick

The winningest coach in Gophers men’s hockey history stepped down on Tuesday after 19 seasons at the helm. Those who played for head coach Don Lucia spoke of their admiration for the coach, while some fans of the team expressed frustrations with Lucia’s performance.

“I’ve always tried to do it the right way,” Lucia said at Tuesday’s press conference. “For the most part, we did a lot of good things and that’s what I remember. I’m sure a lot more people are going to like me now that I’m not coaching, but I’ve always tried to hold my head high and I’ve always tried to do it the right way.”

Lucia named Doug Woog as someone who helped him with the transition. Woog was the head coach of Minnesota for the 14 years before Lucia’s hiring. Woog stepped down after the 1998-99 season.

“I think he felt he had enough,” Woog said of Lucia leaving. “It’s never ending. I mean, it’s the same pressure the next week, then the next week, then the next week.”

Minnesota won two national championships in Lucia’s tenure as the head coach. He also coached over 80  Minnesota players drafted by the NHL.

Two of those players, Jordan Leopold and John Pohl, were coached by both Woog and Lucia. Leopold and Pohl spoke on KFAN radio Wednesday morning about Lucia stepping down.

“I’m happy for him that he was here that long, had all the success he had and affected so many lives,” Pohl told KFAN’s Paul Allen. “I feel bad for him that he kind of had to go out the way it ended by not making the NCAA Tournament.”

Pohl said Lucia is a players’ coach.

“We just put five guys over the boards that would play hard and play together and he was cool with that,” Pohl told KFAN. “I really appreciate that, just kind of letting the players play.”

Lucia’s tenure ended with less sparkle than it started out with — failing to make five of the last 10 NCAA tournaments, including in his last season with the Gophers. The 3M Arena at Mariucci experienced dropping attendance in the last years of his tenure.

“I think Don is somewhat relieved, in a way,” Leopold told KFAN. “Talking to him the last couple years, I could sense the tone in his voice where he knew [it] was coming to an end.”

Reilly Tegan, a senior at the University of Minnesota, said he’s only been a fan of Minnesota men’s hockey with Lucia as the coach, since he was so young when Lucia was hired.

“It seems like they just kind of leveled off,” Tegan said. “Aside from getting a top-end talent like Casey Mittelstadt every now and then, they don’t seem like a perennial powerhouse, so I guess it was time for change.”

University junior and season-ticket holder Malcolm Lindsay said it might have been time for Lucia to leave the program.

“Whether it’s good or bad for the program, it’s hard to tell right now, but I don’t see it as that bad,” Lindsay said. “I appreciate what he’s done over the last 19 years and now I’m just kind of excited going forward to see what happens.”