ST. PAUL-The St. Cloud State men's hockey team was upset by Air Force in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Sioux Falls, S.D., last Friday, March 23. On Saturday, Gophers athletics director Mark Coyle called Huskies AD Heather Weems as she was traveling back home to Minnesota.
Coyle was extending a professional courtesy to a colleague, letting her know he was interested in interviewing St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko to replace Don Lucia at Minnesota, a source said. Motzko said he got a phone call from the Gophers on Saturday morning and interviewed for the job Sunday night.
By Monday, Motzko had separated himself from a pack of four candidates: Lucia assistants Mike Guentzel and Scott Bell and Northern Michigan coach Grant Poltuny, a former U player and assistant, a source confirmed.
Motzko impressed Coyle and others on the search committee by outlining a detailed plan, including highlights on recruiting objectives, for what he would do as leader of the Gophers program, a source said. The contract agreement was reached Monday and announced Tuesday, exactly a week after Lucia stepped down after 19 seasons running the program.
"I'm just a regular guy. ... It was overwhelming how fast it is," Motzko said during his introductory news conference Thursday. After the interview, he said, "The first thing, I called my wife (Shelley) and said, 'I felt really comfortable.' "
Motzko enters into a five-year contract with the U that will pay him $525,000 for the upcoming season, and $565,000 in 2019-20 with five percent annual increases above that for the remaining three years, according to a university memo outlining the terms. The contract still needs Board of Regents approval.
Motzko is a St. Cloud State graduate and builder of that program over the past 13 seasons, but he grew up a Gophers fan in Austin, Minn. He shared with Coyle how as a child in the 1970s he would cut out newspaper stories about the Gophers.
"If you saw how he talked about St. Cloud and the pain it was to leave the program and the kids he had there - that struck a chord with me," Coyle said. "I knew he would build those same relationships here."
In Motzko's opening remarks Thursday, he first said he's "forever grateful" for his time at St. Cloud State. He then said that Minnesota is his third and final stop, reliving how he was cut twice by then-coach Brad Buetow beginning in 1981 before transferring to St. Cloud State.
Motzko returned in 2001 to be an assistant under Lucia and was part of the staff that won national titles in 2002 and 2003. "A pretty magical time," he recalled.
Coyle said he consulted with Gophers alumni in the process.
"What they talked about was if it's an 'M' guy, awesome," Coyle said. "If it's someone that understands Minnesota hockey, awesome. You heard Bob talk about how he was cut twice, bless his heart; he was trying to be an 'M' guy, right? Then coaching here for four years and really the one name that kept popping up in the people I talked to was Bob Motzko."
Motzko outlined how he wants his Gophers teams to play as they try to reach that national championship pinnacle again.
"We are going to be skilled and we are going to add a whole lot of toughness to the way we play this sport," Motzko said. "I told the team (Wednesday), the first thing we have to do is we have to be humble ... and we are going to roll up our sleeves and go to work."
Motzko, 58, said when he was a young coach he would revise his resume every spring. As he got older, that routine stopped, but he maintained a belief that he had one more move in him. He thought, "There's only one job, but it's never going to come to me."
Still smarting over how his top-seeded Huskies lost to No. 16 Air Force, Motzko had to move fast to apply for what he believes will be his last job, although it will crimp his daughter's style. She moved away from home in St. Cloud last year to attend the U.
"Sorry, honey, we're coming," Motzko said, drawing laughter from the crowd.