Lou Nanne has been around the Gophers hockey program since 1959, and was an All-America there in 1963. On top of that he is one of the most respected names in hockey, having been the North Stars general manager for more than a decade and working with the U.S. Olympic team for parts of three decades.
Nanne said the Gophers head coaching job remains one of the most desirable in the country and coaches are already starting to inquire about the position after Don Lucia resigned Tuesday after 19 seasons.
“There is no question a lot of guys will want the job,” Nanne said. “I’ve even heard from one guy, not to me personally, but he let it be known that he’s been in the NHL, he’s out of it and doing other things, but he’d love to have the job coaching Minnesota. A lot of people are interested.
“There are good candidates out there. I think there’s going to be a lot coming out of the woodwork that we don’t even know about or talk about because this is such a good opportunity.”
Meanwhile, Lucia will retire with the most victories in team history and Nanne said it’s a good time to recall the positives.
“You have to celebrate all of the achievements he had. He was there 19 years and he had a lot of good results,” Nanne said. “He not only won a couple of national championships but he was in the Frozen Four [five] times, made the playoffs a number of times, he won 11 conference championships.
“I guess last but not least, he really turned out a terrific group of hockey players and citizens. His kids graduated, got a good education and he made them into fine young men. He did what good coaches do. They win and they get kids to become men and know how to behave and take the next step forward in their life.”
Time for a change
When asked if Lucia was forced to resign, Nanne said he didn’t think so.
“I guess Don went out the way he wanted, like he did — he said it was time to go and he thought about this for a long time and thought it was time for a change,” Nanne said. “He was willing to make a move because he felt he coached long enough and he just didn’t have the fire he had before so he was happy to do something different.”
Did Nanne think if the Gophers had made the NCAA tournament Lucia would be here next season?
“I think all that would have done would have been the culmination of his 19 years ending on a better note and still be ready to do something different with his life,” the former North Stars coach said. “I think that would have just been icing on the cake for him.
“Sometimes you get tired of coaching, I mean, you get tired of managing. I got tired of it. I quit. People don’t understand the pressure that is in that job, especially hockey at Minnesota. It’s high visibility and strong competition. … Don is going to be 60 years old and there is still a lot of things that I’m sure he wants to see and do that he hasn’t had the opportunity to do because he has been coaching for so long.”
Big Ten not the issue
Nanne didn’t think that the move for the Gophers to the Big Ten from the WCHA had anything to do with Lucia’s exit, even if many think it has diminished attendance.
“I don’t think that hurt him at all. You have to win no matter where you’re at,” he said. “You can talk about the Big Ten, but Don always went after a tough schedule, to make sure his players were ready to play.”
Nanne also said that while Lucia was getting great recruits, he thought that more could be done to bring in the best players from around the country.
Still, he did say that his grandson Tyler Nanne, who was recruited by Lucia, had a great experience here.
“He liked him a lot. He thought he was a committed coach,” Nanne said. “He thought he was a coach who was very fair to him. He thought he was a coach who worked hard. My grandson loved it over there, and if you love it over there it means the whole operation must be going pretty good because he enjoyed being there.”
Taylor wants playoffs
The Timberwolves’ 123-109 win over the Clippers on Tuesday gave them 41 wins on the season, meaning they will finish .500 or better for the first time since 2004-05.
But Wolves owner Glen Taylor said this team has more to offer than their first winning season in 13 years.
“I think we can make the playoffs, and I’m confident we will make the playoffs, but I still want to get us as high [of a seed] as we can be,” Taylor said. “We have 10 games left and I think we have to play to win every game. If we do that, we’ll be right exactly where we need to be going into the playoffs. We’ll be positive about winning, and I think we’ll be in a position that we have a chance to take on an opponent that we can beat.”
The Wolves just completed the most difficult stretch of their season, facing eight teams in a row that all were above .500 and chasing playoff spots.
While they finished 3-5, their wins over Golden State, Washington and the Clippers without Jimmy Butler showed great signs of maturity for their young stars Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Nemanja Bjelica and saw huge contributions from their other veteran free agents, Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson and Jamal Crawford.
Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune, said he doesn’t want to speculate about Butler’s return.
“I don’t really know because I think it’s a doctor’s decision,” Taylor said. “I know he wants to be back before the playoffs, but we have to wait and see what the doctors say.”
When asked about the job that head coach Tom Thibodeau has done, Taylor said there is more work to do.
“I want him to finish off these last 10 games and then we’ll evaluate him after we get through the playoffs, and win the championship,” he said. “If we win the championship I’m going to say, ‘He’s a doggone good coach.’ ”
Taylor added that the fans are starting to respond to this team in a way the franchise hasn’t seen in a long time.
“People get excited when we play a good game,” he said. “So it has been really good for selling tickets. But I still say we have to deliver these last 10 games.”
There may be 10 games left, but there are already signs of success as television ratings are up 64 percent, among other good numbers.
“I have a report from the staff here on all of the things and everything is positive,” Taylor said. “It’s about the best report I’ve had in the 20 years I have been here. TV, attendance, sponsors — everything is up.”