May 12, 2010

Q&A: Penn State's Thiel Has No Sorrow in Parting

by Steven Russolillo | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Despite a rough stretch of seasons towards the end of his career, Penn State men's lacrosse coach Glenn Thiel says the decision to retire was entirely his.

In what has seemingly become an annual rite of renewal in the NCAA Division I men's lacrosse coaching ranks, the carousel will certainly heat up again in June, thanks to longtime Penn State coach Glenn Thiel's decision to retire after more than three decades in Happy Valley and on the heels of a disappointing 2-11 season.

Before the rumor mill gets grinding, LMO caught up with Thiel to talk about the decision and the future of Penn State lacrosse.

It’s been a few days since your retirement announcement, yet it’s still pretty fresh. How does it feel?

I think I’ve had a smile on my face ever since. It was time. I mean, you never really wanna do it. But it was the right time to let somebody else take over. I’m 66 years old, and that’s too old to be coaching lacrosse to a bunch of 18- to 20-year-olds. I’m looking forward to sitting back and watching and being a lacrosse spectator.

I think Joe Paterno would have something to say about that being too old to coach.

(Laughs.) Well, he’s an anomaly. I thought 33 years ago when I came here it would be kind of neat to be on the staff and see the transition when Joe left. But he’s still coaching, and now I’m retiring. Definitely kind of ironic.

So, why decide to retire now? Why not a few years ago or why not a few years from now?

I started thinking about it a year ago and kind of thought all year that it was time to let some young buck come in, take it over and move us on to the next level. I think we’ve built a pretty strong program, had some nice runs in the NCAAs in ’03 and ’05. But ya know, it’s a young man’s game and there’s a lot of hours. Sometimes I wondered during those 8 to 10 a.m. practices how I even stayed awake that long. It’ll be easier for someone else to do that. 

What’s your fondest coaching memory at Penn State?

The ’03 and ’05 NCAA tournament runs were exciting. We were actually struggling a little bit in the beginning of 2003. And then unfortunately, one of our trainer’s daughters had leukemia, so she wasn’t with us and that was kind of a rallying point. Those kids went on a run and put together a bunch of wins and got into the tournament. In ’05, one of our captains’ parents was killed in a plane wreck, and we kind of used that as a rallying point, put together another streak and got into the tournament. So those were two very unique years that really show you what chemistry is like, and how important chemistry is to winning. Those kids used those circumstances to rally together and play some great lacrosse for us.

Any plans for retirement? Are you going to stay in the Penn State area or are you going to move cross country?

You've got realize 33 years ago I was a State College boy coming back to State College. This is my home and this is where we’ll stay. This is a great town; there are always all different kinds of vibrant stuff going on and things to do. We’ll travel some, but we’re Pennsylvania people and we’ll always be Penn State lacrosse fans.

Will you stay close to the lacrosse program?

That’s obviously going to depend on who comes in. I’ll certainly help with the transition and be here if anyone needs anything or wants anything. And I’ll certainly be involved in the alumni stuff that they put together. That should be fun and should keep me close.

The last few years were pretty mediocre. Do you have any regrets?

Nope. None whatsoever. The game has changed so much: from when ya started as a one-man operation where ya taught all day and walked out on the practice field and wondered what ya were gonna do, to now where it’s all coordinating assistant coaches, and the recruiting and the travel. It’s a much bigger operation now, but there are no regrets. It’s all been fun and every year is kind of unique. While we didn’t play very well this year, we challenged everybody. We just weren’t able to pull off victories. But I thought last year we actually played very well. We went 9-5, were pretty competitive and had a great win over Georgetown at the end of the year. But we just weren’t able to duplicate that end-of-the-year stuff this year.

Was the decision to retire this year 100 percent your decision or were there voices in your ear suggesting it was time to retire?

I think I shocked them when I walked in last Wednesday and said I’m retiring. I think they thought ‘Oh my god, we weren’t expecting this.’ But it was totally my decision. And I had been thinking about it all year. Obviously, I would’ve liked to have gone out with an 11-2 record rather than a 2-11 during my last year. But that seemed inconsequential. We have a great group of kids that worked hard, and I think the roots are there and certainly the base is there for somebody to move it on to the next level next year, so it should be fun to watch.

This was a big year for Penn State lacrosse, transitioning to the CAA. What does this program need to improve in the future?

The kids got their first taste of how competitive the CAA really is. We were right there in just about every game, but weren’t able to pull them off. So, adjusting to that and being a little more focused will be important. But there are some good kids here, and we have some nice kids coming in next year, so I think the base will be there to be competitive.

Anything else you’d like to add, Coach?

It’s just been fun, 43 years overall coaching lacrosse. I love the game and it’ll still be part of my life. It’ll be nice to keep watching Penn State lacrosse.

If you could give advice to the next coach, what would it be?

I wouldn’t give any advice. They’ll pick the right guy and he’ll have his own ideas. If he asks me any questions, I’ll gladly answer, but I don’t have any advice for anybody.

You’ve been coaching for 33 years and you don’t have any advice for anybody?

Well, I’ll give that individually to somebody if they ask, but that’s the only way I would ever give advice to anybody.

That’s fair. Thanks for your time, Coach.

Thanks, Steve.

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