Thursday, December 20, 2007

Lucia and His "Peers"

One of the more surprising aspects of yesterday's announcement that Kyle Okposo would be leaving the University of Minnesota was the incredible amount of backlash there was here towards Minnesota coach Don Lucia.

Lucia is certainly in a unique position. In some ways, he has the easiest job in college hockey; he gets his pick of the best players in the most hockey-crazed region of the country, his program has a huge fanbase, and their games are on TV every week. But other ways, it can be the worst job in the country; incredible pressure and scrutiny, dealing with players/parents/agents with big aspirations and even bigger egos.

So how does Lucia really measure up as a coach? Coincidentally, I did a bit of a study over the summer on a WCHA coach towards the other end of the spectrum. I measured the average finish of every WCHA team over the course of Minnesota State head coach Troy Jutting's tenure at MSU. Jutting started coaching in the 2000-2001 season, which lines up nicely with Lucia, who was in his second year at Minnesota. We'll throw out Lucia's first year, where Minnesota finished 6th, likely a continuation of the struggles at the end of the Doug Woog era.

Here were the results. No other program comes close to Minnesota in terms of average finish, and Minnesota is the only program to finish in the top 4 every year.

But as I mentioned earlier, Minnesota has a lot of built-in advantages that no other team has. They probably should be finishing near the top of the conference every single year. So perhaps it's better to compare Lucia to his predecessor Doug Woog. For the sake of comparison, we'll throw out the last two year's of Woog's reign when the program started to suffer, and Lucia's first rebuilding year.

WCHA Finishes:

Woog: 2nd, 2nd, 1st, 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 1st, T-2nd, 2nd, 4th, 2nd, T-1st
Lucia: 3rd, 3rd, T-2nd, T-4th, T-3rd, 1st, 1st

Woog seems to have a slight advantage in terms of conference finishes, but also keep in mind that he was coaching in a different era when the WCHA was not as strong, or as deep.

Perhaps a better comparison would be to look at how Minnesota has done nationally. Here's a look at Minnesota's seed in the NCAA tournament under each coaches tenure. (Note: The '86 and '87 tournaments had 8 teams seeded 1-4 in each region, 88-02 had 12 teams, seeded 1-6 in each region, and 03-present was 16 teams seeded 1-4 in each region). Again, we'll ignore that three-year period at the end of Woog's tenure/start of Lucia's where Minnesota didn't qualify for the tournament.

Woog: 4th, 4th, 1st, 2nd, 4th, 4th, 2nd, 5th, 2nd, 3rd, 3rd, 4th

Lucia: 5th, 2nd, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st

You could make the argument that Woog's teams that were seeded second would have been one seeds under the current format, but Lucia would still have more number one seeds, in less time. It's impossible to argue with Lucia's success at the national level.

The Gophers haven't had as much success in the NCAA tournament in recent years, but a single-game elimination format isn't a great judge of a team, or coach's capabilities. Ironically, it was the two year's Lucia's teams weren't seeded first that they won an NCAA title.

Of course, as it stands right now, Minnesota is on the bubble of the NCAA tournament, and there is a very real possibility that they could miss the NCAA tournament this year. If that did happen, I think some questions may need to be asked, but one off year isn't enough to turn the heat up on Lucia that much, especially when the Gophers are trying to transform the make-up of their team with more four-year players. Based on past performance though, I have a hard time accepting some of the criticism directed towards Lucia.


Deejer said...

Nice analysis, Chris. I'm an SCSU fan, but I believe in no way are the Gophers struggles this season directly related to Lucia's recruiting. Maybe some of these prima-donna players really do need to be cleaned out anyway. Hell, it may actually benefit the Gophs with Okposo chemistry can be everything. Maybe now he has all the players that actually WANT to play for him and succeed.

Anonymous said...

Nice analysis. The Gophers have had a couple of tough seasons. Last year Hagemo's forced retirement and Hirsch's comeback falure. This year has seen Stoa out for the season after playing one game and now Okposo's defection. Plus O'Brien leaving late in the Summer. Fans blaming the coach need to get grip.

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget Lucia helped develop CC into a very good program prior to arriving at Minnesota. CC doesn't have as many of the built in advantages that a Minnesota, a North Dakota or a Michigan has and he still had quite a bit of success there. I think the man's track record at Minnesota and elsewhere proves he is among the very best on the college level.

blah blah blah said...

Hey Chris,

Not bad for an "Anti-Gopher troll" eh?


Gotta love it. You're only a good guy as long as you are nice to Minnesota apparently.

Anonymous said...

Pointing out the biases that the writer of this blog displays is fair game. Read Maize's posts on GPL and USCHO tell me he doesn't have an ax to grind.

Anonymous said...

Fairness is not a makeup call.

Anonymous said...

Let's see how Minnesota performs this year, next year, etc. I predict this and next season will tarnish his record even more than the Holy Cross loss. Lucia needs to learn recruiting is no longer sitting back in your office and rejecting kids. He actually has to work for his paycheck now. It would be interesting to see of the top rated Minnesota player the past year or two, how many chose Minnesota. I would expect Lucia to get at least 4 of the top 5 Minnesota kids. That used to be the case, but I don't think it is anymore.

Anonymous said...

Go to Heisenberg's site. Coach Lucia has a ton of top talent lined up for the next couple of years. This season is also far from being over. I think it is a little premature to be writing the obituary for this season at his point.

A wounded animal is a dangerous one. (even if it is a Gopher) I have no doubts that the Gophers will overcome this temporary setback and have a successful season. The guys on the Gophers are accustomed to success because they have all put in the effort in their past to achieve what they have. Anyone that saw them dominate North Dakota in Grand Forks a couple of weeks ago knows they are on the verge of really turning it around.

I'll take a committed Mike Carman over an indifferant Okposo any day. Taking the Gophers lightly at this stage of the season will be a mistake.

Anonymous said...

Why did Hammy remove his comments on his blog regarding this? Change of heart?

This is a complete joke. Snow is an ass. But Lucia should have kept his mouth shut as well. He kind of started this with the ultimatum last year that said a kid had to decide by June 1st if he was going/staying.

College hockey will likely suffer for a bit because of this crap.