Minnesota Athletic Director Joel Maturi, the same person that recently extended the contract of University of Minnesota football coach Tim Brewster, recently told Inside College Hockey that Gophers hockey head coach Don Lucia "will be coaching Gopher hockey next year unless he chooses not to."
Maturi also added that “I think we’ve got to just take a deep breath and stay the course. Nobody’s happy that we’re not winning more. I’m concerned and we’re all concerned. But I’m not concerned about the competencies and talents of Don Lucia.”
There are a million things to consider when looking to make a coaching change, and I think most fans will be of the belief that a change should be made if the Gophers miss out on their second consecutive NCAA Tournament birth, which certainly appears like the most likely outcome to this season.
The part of Maturi's quote that intrigued me a bit as the "unless he chooses not to" part. In all walks of sport, we've seen coaches "resign" when it's generally accepted that they were fired. Look no further than former U of M assistant Mike Guentzel's departure. He technically "resigned," but most close to the situation believe Lucia forced Guentzel out for a variety of reasons.
If Lucia wanted to "resign'," he would have plenty of reasons to sight to save some face. He will have two years left on his contract following the current season. When that contract is up, his youngest son -- Mario -- will have graduated high school. Mario is currently played for Wayzata though could move on to the USHL like his older brother, Tony, did at some point, since Mario is likely going to play D-I hockey at a very high level somewhere. What if Mario moves on after the current season to play in the USHL though? That would seemingly remove a "tie" that Lucia has to the Twin Cities.
Mario's older brother, Tony, is a senior at the U and will thus be moving on as well.
Don also had a well-documented illness last year that is reportedly more under control now but still could be affecting him, and could possibly be a good thing for him to cite as a reason for the team's under-achieving the last three seasons and make for a nice out.
Also, many believe that if Don returns, he could be forced to change up his assistant coaches. He's shown over time he's pretty much tied at the hip with long-time friend and current assistant John Hill, so would Lucia be willing to ax Hill and/or Grant Potulny to save his own job? Time could tell, but there have been past instances in college and the pros where a coach hasn't been willing to fire assistants to save his own tail.
It appears as though this season will end either on the road in the first round of the WCHA playoffs or at best at the WCHA Final Five. Gopher fans will again watch four other NCAA teams play in the West Regional that the U of M is hosting for the second straight year, with their team not among the participants. Should that occur, the speculation will really heat up in terms of if Maturi is true to his word.