John Leaney to hang up the sweats after end of season

By Jamie Macpherson

In his 23 years at Macalester, John Leaney has become something of a legend in his uniform of sweatshirts and sweat pants. Under his coaching, the women’s soccer team won the Division III national championships in 1998, and came in second the following year. However, it seems his reign has come to an end.In a recent Daily Bulletin, Leaney announced he would be retiring as head coach at the end of the 2009 season, citing the need to devote more time to his four year old son, Jack, as the reason for his stepping down.

“I really noticed this fall how disruptive [Jack’s] schedule can be when there’s games,” Leaney said. “I can’t give him my second best any longer.”

Leaney first came to Macalester in 1986, originally to be head coach of the men’s soccer program. Two years later, he took on coaching the women’s program as well, and in 2006 made the switch, devoting himself entirely to women’s soccer, with the arrival of Ian Barker, current head coach of the men’s team. In his time at Macalester, Leaney as led both teams to 17 combined MIAC championships, 22 national playoff berths, and has coached 19 All-Americans and 46 All-Regional players. HE will be inducted into the Macalester Hall of Fame in a special ceremony on Oct. 24.

When his wife died of cancer in 2006, Leaney was left to raise his then two-year-old son on his own. With the help of his sisters, he tired to balance running practice with picking up his son from pre-school, returning to Mac to coach a game before putting Jack to bed. But as Jack transitions from preschool, (which ends at five p.m.) to kindergarten, (which ends at three pm.), Leaney said he fears Jack will start to feel more like a parcel being dropped off at various locations.

“As a single parent I’m in a much different situation that most,” he said. “Usually there’s active grandparents or family friends that can step in . There’s more of a weight on me.”

Leaney said he looks forward to spending more time with his son, and helping cultivate Jack’s interests in sports and music.

Leaney’s retirement, however, will not mean an end to his involvement with athletics at Macalester. Leaney will remain on staff part time, adopting more of what he calls a “quasi-administrative athletics liaison” position.

“I would really like to be able to help the other coaches here,” Leaney said. “Especially [filling in] for the part time coaches.” Leaney’s vision is to be in a position to enhance communication between athletics, admissions, and any prospective students. This would include acting as a representative during samplers, as well as expanding the recruitment programs in local high schools. Leaney’s many years of experience could also be beneficial in helping make the academic requirements for incoming students clearer for coaches in what Leaney calls “a very selective school.” This would be most beneficial to programs like tennis and golf, where the coaches hold full time jobs off campus.

Leaney described the reaction to the news of his retirement as mostly “positive.”

“I don’t think there was a great deal of surprise,” he said. Most of the emails, he said were along the lines of, “I’m sorry to hear it, congratulations on a great career, we support your decision.”

“There’s no one here because of John Leaney,” he said. “No one’s gonna walk out when I leave. I’d never recruited from that point of view. It’s always been you choose the school.”

“[Leaney’s] retirement comes with a great deal of sadness,” athletic director Kim Chandler said. “John is a terrific person and an amazing coach. In terms of his service to Macalester he’s had a very successful career at Mac, arguably one of the finest coaches in the history of Macalester.”

A replacement for head coach for the women’s team has yet to be named. Macalester will launch a national search once the season as ended, Chandler said.

For the most part, Leaney is satisfied with his decision to step down. “However sad I feel about the decision, I know it is the right one,” he said in the statement he released on Tuesday. “I look forward to T-ball, soccer, golf and basketball with somebody with a much shorter attention span. I hope it brings the same level of enjoyment I have had over the last 25 years coaching.