MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - The men’s track and field program at the University of Minnesota is more than a century old, but for the last two and half decades, one man has been pivotal to the success of distance runners in the maroon and gold.
In the last year, the university has decided it will cut its men’s indoor track and field team, and this month, Coach Steve Plasencia announced his decision to retire after 25 years.
"I think I was lucky to earn this job… I had a lot of things to learn," coach Plasencia said. "When somebody called me coach at the very beginning of my career I looked around, ‘where’s the coach?'"
Plasencia would go on to coach hundreds of collegiate athletes, and craft future Olympians, winning Big Ten championships in the process.
"2009, 2010 and 2011 we racked up five Big Ten team titles," Plasencia remembered. "That was a pretty exciting period of time."
Obsa Ali won a national championship for Minnesota in 2018, and he’s surprised to see his coach walk away just years later.
"I was shocked. He’s been there for so long, 25 years," Ali said.
But the last year has been tough after the university eliminated its men’s indoor track and field team, along with tennis and gymnastics.
"I started to get emotional, I started to choke up a little bit, so there was definitely a lot of emotions surrounding the end of that, it’s just been an emotional time and emotional year," Plasencia said.
"It makes zero sense and everybody who knows track knows that," Ali added. "A good athlete would not come to a university like this just to sit out indoors and race outdoors."
Ultimately, five out of 16 distance runners left the school because of the decision, including graduate Jordan Macintosh.
"That season really kind of took a toll on all of us; we were all fighting to keep it," Macintosh explained.
Now Coach Plasencia is leaving too… calling it the right time, as he approaches his 65th birthday, and after a year stained by COVID-19.
"It was pretty emotional, just like obviously he meant so much to this program for being here for 25 years," Macintosh said.
"To be a competitor in life you’ve got to be tough, but not everything always goes your way and you just got to deal with it and move on," Plasencia finished.
The university’s athletic department writes:
"Coach Plasencia's departure marks the conclusion to a storied chapter of the University of Minnesota cross country and track & field program's history. We thank Coach Plaz for his years of dedication to his athletes and the University and wish him all the best in his next chapter."