ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Mike Gibbons is in good health and is leaving on his own terms.
Gibbons, who turns 65 in April, announced Thursday afternoon on Twitter that he has decided to retire from coaching. Gibbons has been an assistant coach for the St. Cloud State men's hockey team since 2007 and has coached at many levels since 1981.
"I certainly have been thinking about it, but I didn't talk to many people about it — my wife and some of my buddies," Gibbons said. "I just really felt that the time was right. I wanted to feel good.
"I think I'm blessed to be one of the very few people to go out the way I did. A lot of people get pushed out or are slowly slipping away. I feel good. I love to coach and I love St. Cloud State. I'd like to be 21 again, but the reality is, I'm about to turn 65 and I'm ready."
Gibbons told Huskies head coach Brett Larson of his decision on March 13. Larson recently completed his second season with the team and did not sound overly surprised. Larson and Gibbons were both interviewed for the head coaching position after Bob Motzko left to become the head coach at the University of Minnesota and Motzko took assistant coach Garrett Raboin with him.
Once Larson got the job, one of his first calls was to Gibbons.
"When I took the job and I begged him to stay, he told me it was getting toward the end for him (as a coach) and he only promised me one year and he gave me two and I think the whole program appreciated that," Larson said. "I begged him to stay because I didn't want to lose what St. Cloud had been. He was the bridge from the past until now and I wasn't inheriting a program that needed to be rebuilt.
"I was inheriting one of the top programs in the country and I wanted to make sure I didn't lose St. Cloud's identity and Mike was that bridge for me. He helped make sure we maintained what St. Cloud was."
Telling the players
The team met together for the last time on Monday. At the end of the meeting, Gibbons told the players about his plans to retire.
"It was at the end of a meeting and Gibby didn't know that he was going to tell everybody at that time, but he felt comfortable and we had a good talk with him," Huskies senior captain Jack Ahcan said. "It was kind of a shock to everybody. He's getting older, but he really put his blood, sweat and tears into this program and I really don't think anybody expected it to come this year.
"He always came to the rink with probably the most energy out of everybody. He'd be telling stories, giving some of the guys crap about anything really. There was no difference (this season). He knows better than anyone else when it's time to hang 'em up and I think he's going to be able to enjoy his retire life and hang out at the lake with his wife and kids."
Most of the players in the St. Cloud State locker room have known Gibbons for a number of years. Senior forwards Nick and Jack Poehling, for example, have known him since they were being recruited as sophomores at Lakeville North High School in 2012-13.
"It was pretty emotional," Larson said of the team's reaction. "Obviously, the guys were partly shocked because we had never discussed it before. But Gibby just brings so much life and energy to the locker room every day that the guys started talking about some of the funny stories.
"Then they were talking about how they miss Gibby sometimes when he's on the road recruiting. A lot of the guys stood up and said a few words and most of it was based around how much they love the guy."
Those sentiments are something that you hear regularly whenever Gibbons is brought up in conversation in hockey circles.
"Gibby is a road warrior and he's also a Hall of Famer," said Motzko, who was St. Cloud State's head coach from 2005-18. "If they put coaches in the Hall of Fame, he'd be first ballot. You follow his career and, it doesn't matter where he's been, success has followed the program and at high levels.
"He's a Hall of Fame recruiter, one of the best in the game. He's got a heart of gold, tremendous passion and he was a great hire for me."
Getting to SCSU
Motzko, who is 58, has known Gibbons since he was 18. Motzko and Denny Gibbons, Mike's brother, played junior hockey together for the Dubuque Fighting Saints during the 1980-81 season. That was the last season of pro hockey for Mike, who played two seasons in the EHL after being a two-time All-American defenseman at Bemidji State.
After he retired from playing, Gibbons was a coach at Bemidji State for two seasons before leaving to become an assistant coach at Northern Michigan (1983-88). Motzko and Gibbons reunited for one season (1993-94) when both were assistant coaches for Frank Serratore at Denver.
After Serratore got fired, Gibbons spent two seasons as an assistant coach in the American Hockey League for the Baltimore Bandits (1995-97). He then became the first boys hockey coach at Eastview High School in Apple Valley, Minn., led them to their first state tournament in 2001 and held the position until 2007.
That was the year that assistant coach Fred Harbinson left St. Cloud State to become the head coach of the Penticton Vees junior hockey team in the British Columbia Hockey League.
"When I got into the business, Gibby was already at his peak as a recruiter," Motzko said. "His fingerprints were all over that (1991) national championship at Northern (Michigan).
"Gibby was one of those guys who was highly sought after and every time he left a program, it won big ... with his fingerprints on it. He got to that age where his kids were very young and they wanted to settle down and he went to Eastview High School. I've always been very close to Gibby and when I had an opening (at SCSU), I said, 'Do you want back in?' ... Gibby did a tremendous job at Eastview, but he belonged at our level. He's a recruiter. It's in his DNA. It's in his blood."
In the fall of 2007, Raboin was a sophomore defenseman at St. Cloud State. He has a distinct memory of when Gibbons was introduced to the Huskies.
"He hit the ground running," Raboin said. "Bob introduced him as an assistant coach at St. Cloud State to the team and then he was gone recruiting for what seemed like forever. That was Gibby. He spent so much time building those teams.
"Anyone that knows Gibby, particularly from his younger years, they know him as a hard working recruiter, will go anywhere, drive anywhere, there was no place too far for him to drive. He just loved to find hockey players."
Motzko told a story of Gibbons' dedication to making sure he had the right read on a possible recruit. Gibbons was on a recruiting trip near Ottawa, which is more than an 18-hour drive away from St. Cloud.
"Everybody is supposed to be at the office on a Monday and where's Gibby? Gibby was gone. Where'd he go?" Motzko said. "He had spent the weekend out following a recruit out in central Ontario. On a Saturday night, the kid has a hat trick. Gibby is trying to make the decision.
"He got all the way back (to St. Cloud) and had to make sure. So he drove back out there to see him again and I'm not sure if he even got a hotel room. It drove him crazy that he might make the wrong decision. That's Gibby."
After graduating from St. Cloud State, Raboin went on to play two seasons in Europe before he retired. Assistant coach Steve Johnson left St. Cloud State in 2012 and Raboin applied to replace Johnson. Raboin had never coached and never been on a recruiting trip and while he was deciding, went on the road with Gibbons.
"There was time and there's a process when you're getting hired at a state university and it was over the summer that I drove around USHL camps with Gibby to see if it was really what I wanted to do," he said. "I tried to get a feel for what it was like.
"We spent hours and hours in the car and we talked nonstop. Gibby can do that. He's got stories upon stories. Looking back on it, it was some of the most valuable time in a young professional's career. For him to take the time — he didn't need to do that. He spent so much time with me and answered so many of my dumb questions. I got to learn a ton from him.
"Players get to watch upperclassmen. I got to watch one of the best in the business from the best seat in the house and try to emulate with my style and how I approach not only recruiting, but our players, from him."
In Raboin's first season as an assistant coach, the Huskies won the WCHA regular season title and reached their first Frozen Four. With Gibbons on the staff, St. Cloud State went on to win three NCHC regular season titles and reach the conference championship game four times.
In Gibbons' 13 seasons, St. Cloud State has made the NCAA tournament eight times. So what are his favorite memories of his time with the Huskies?
"All those championships that we had and also the tough losses that I'll never forget," said Gibbons, who was on hand for the Huskies' three straight first round losses as a regional No. 1 seed. "Last year was just special, just special all the way up to that last game. Working with Lars. Those guys (Larson and assistant coach Nick Oliver) will go on and have great careers.
"It's hard to beat last year and not just because of the success we had," Gibbons said of the 30-win team that set an NCHC record with 62 points. "We had a great group of kids. I remember coach Larson saying that we were going to go through some tough times. At the end of the year, we didn't have any tough times other than we didn't win the damn (national) championship.
"Winning our first WCHA title was a dream and getting to the Frozen Four. But I really think the past few years where we really settled in and had a great template for what kind of kids to recruit here. We've just had a string of great players who are great kids. That's going to continue at St. Cloud and that's the exciting thing."
While Larson and Gibbons have worked together the last two seasons, their friendship goes back a number of years. Larson, 47, said that he attended Bemidji State's hockey camp when he was a 14-year-old bantam and he met Gibbons for the first time.
"He gave me a hard time because I was wearing a Minnesota Duluth jersey and he said that he was going to recruit me to Northern Michigan," Larson said. "Our relationship grew from there. Throughout my career, when I went to make decisions about different jobs, I would talk to him. He's just a guy I looked up to since I was a young kid."
So it should not be surprising that when Gibbons told Larson about his decision to retire, there were some tears.
"It was actually easy because I was ready for it," Gibbons said. "Lars got more emotional, which meant a lot to me. He had tears before I did, which I wouldn't have guessed. He's such a professional person.
"He was emotional about it, which made me emotional, so I can blame him for that," he said with a laugh.
Gibbons and his wife, Nancy, live in a home on Briggs Lake, which is about a 20-minute drive from St. Cloud State. They have three children, Sean, Kelly and Shannon. Gibbons said that he has no plans for retirement other than to spend time with his family.
Mike Gibbons career
Here is a look at the career of St. Cloud State assistant coach Mike Gibbons, who announced his retirement on Thursday:
1975-78 — Bemidji State, two-time All-American defenseman
1979-80 — Richmond Rifles and Hampton Aces, EHL
1980-81 — Hampton Aces, EHL
1981-82 — Assistant coach, Bemidji State
1982-83 — Head coach, Bemidji State
1983-88 — Assistant coach, Northern Michigan
1988-90 — Assistant coach, Colorado College
1990-94 — Assistant coach, Denver
1994-95 — Head coach, Langley Thunder, BCHL
1995-97 — Assistant coach, Baltimore Bandits, AHL
1997-2007 — Head coach, Eastview High School (Minn.)
2007-20 — Assistant coach, St. Cloud State
1/5: After having spent the last 40 years living the dream of coaching hockey, I have made the decision to retire. I am blessed to have spent a lifetime coaching hockey and want to thank all of the players, parents, coaches, friends and fans. pic.twitter.com/ipI0me3RnB— Mike Gibbons (@gibhockey) March 19, 2020
2/5: I am looking forward to spending some quality time with my wife Nancy, three children Sean, Kelly, and Shannon along with family and friends. What a privilege to have the best coach in all of sport, Bemidji State’s Bob Peters as my mentor.— Mike Gibbons (@gibhockey) March 19, 2020
3/5: An honor to work with hockey legends Bob Peters, Jeff Arf, Rick Comley, Walt Kyle, Jim Scanlan, Morey Gare, Jeff Tascoff, Brad Buetow, Doug Palazzari, Troy Ward, Frank Serratore, Roy Henderson, Mo Mantha, Matt Percival, Bart Larson, Bob Motzko, Eric Rud, Garrett Raboin,...— Mike Gibbons (@gibhockey) March 19, 2020
4/5: ... Steve Johnson, Dave Rogalski, Brett Larson, Nick Oliver, Matt Bertram and others. Thank you Bob Motzko for taking a risk by hiring me from high school hockey. In the 14 years I’ve been at St. Cloud State, my family and I have fallen in love with our school, our city, and— Mike Gibbons (@gibhockey) March 19, 2020
5/5: especially our players and staff: Jeremia Minkel, Brian DeMaine, Therese Todd, Matt Chapman, Heather Weams, Holly Schreiner, Nick Tomczyk, Travis Zins, Tom Nelson and Bill Hudson. Brett Larson and Nick Oliver are superstars: great coaches, better people.— Mike Gibbons (@gibhockey) March 19, 2020