Jay Leach said he had been thinking about retiring for a year before deciding to do so earlier this week.
The University of Maine men’s hockey associate head coach has been with the program for four years, but his contract ends on June 30. He earns $91,800 per year.
“My coaching time is up,” said Leach, who admits he will miss coaching — especially working with the kids.
“It’s a tough decision to step away from anything you’ve done all your life. It’s hard. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it,” he said.
This is Leach’s second four-year stint with the Black Bears. He came on board when the late Shawn Walsh took over the program in 1984 and helped turn a cellar-dweller into a perennial national championship contender.
Leach began his coaching career the year before at then-Division II Merrimack College in Massachusetts.
He joined Red Gendron’s staff at UMaine when Gendron was named to replace Tim Whitehead four years ago. But the Black Bears have struggled, going 49-82-17.
Now, Leach is ready to step away.
“It isn’t easy to do this job,” Leach, who turns 66 next month, explained. “My son [Chris] lives in Alaska and my daughter [Heather] lives in Montana, and I haven’t seen them in a year.
“I haven’t been able to see friends, ex-teammates and coaches, and I’ve missed some funerals,” he said. “I don’t feel good about it, especially when it comes to family. I’m going to be 66, and I’ve got to do some of this stuff before anything happens [to me]. You get to a point where you realize you have to do some other things, too.”
Leach, a divorced father of three, compiled an impressive coaching resume that included assistant coaching stints with five National Hockey League teams and head coaching jobs with two American Hockey League teams. He also was an assistant coach for five Team USA squads in the World Championships and spent time before coming to UMaine as a mentor and coach with the Thunder AAA Hockey Club in Alabama.
Leach has also been a special assignments scout with the NHL’s New York Islanders and would consider being a pro scout again.
“But I’m not sure if that will come around,” Leach said.
Two of his brothers, Steve and Mark, are NHL scouts with Calgary and Dallas, respectively.
He said one of the benefits of coaching in pro hockey as opposed to college is, “you at least get your summers off.”
Leach believes UMaine will get things turned around beginning next season.
“I thought we would get it done quicker and we would win more games, but it didn’t happen,” Leach said. “It’s taking longer this time around. But we’ve got a real good class coming in, and we’ve got some real good kids committed [for the future].”
Six of the top nine scorers off this season’s 11-21-4 team were freshmen and sophomores.
“It takes time for kids to get their feet wet. But once they get going, look out,” Leach said.