Mark Coyle had just walked into the Bierman Building on Thursday for the first time in 11 years. He’d barely had time to introduce himself to Gophers coaches as their new athletics director, yet his presence already could be felt around campus.
“My observation is that over the last 48 hours, this discussion has changed,” Board of Regents chair Dean Johnson said.
The board had been discussing whether it needed more oversight over athletics, which had spiraled to new depths under former AD Norwood Teague.
“Norwood Teague worked for me, and I work for you,” university President Eric Kaler told the Regents’ governance committee. “You should expect me to run a university that doesn’t have these kinds of audit findings. … At the end of the day, it’s my fault.”
But this was a new day.
“I’ve taken steps to rectify that [situation],” Kaler said. “We’ve hired a new person, and I expect him to clean up the processes and operations within the department.”
Kaler plucked Coyle away from his post as Syracuse AD with a five-year contract worth $850,000 per year. Minnesota also agreed to pay Syracuse $500,000 to cover Coyle’s buyout.
The Regents must approve that contract, but it breezed through a committee Thursday and is expected to get rubber-stamped at Friday’s full board meeting.
“The search committee did a great job, and the fan base is excited,” Johnson said. “I was at a function last night; the donors are just a-buzzin’. I think there’s a lot of money on the sidelines that’s going to start to come into the university. … Things are looking brighter at Minnesota.”
Coyle, 47, is a Waterloo, Iowa, native who worked for the Gophers from 2001 to 2005, primarily in marketing. He has since built a résumé as a deputy AD at Kentucky, and as an AD at both Boise State and Syracuse.
“It brings back a lot of positive memories for me,” Coyle said of his first moments at Bierman. “I feel like Minnesota is where I really realized that I wanted to be a director of athletics.”
He said he couldn’t wait to begin having conversations with Gophers coaches, including men’s basketball boss Richard Pitino.
“They all have incredibly difficult jobs,” Coyle said. “They’re very public jobs, and I don’t meddle. I think my job is to find out what I can do to support them, with the resources they need to make sure our kids are doing it the right way academically and athletically.”
The department often veered the wrong way under Teague, but the direction has been viewed as more focused in the nine months with Beth Goetz serving as interim athletic director.
Last month, Regent Darrin Rosha proposed forming a six-member athletics oversight committee.
Kaler said Thursday that he doesn’t believe it’s healthy for the board to have an oversight over individual university units. As the university president, he’s accountable for the major hiring decisions.
“So I don’t know how a board inserts itself into that process unless you find, as a board, that my inability to monitor my athletic director means you need a new president,” Kaler said.
A few moments later, Kaler proposed forming a “work group” that would study athletics and eventually report back to the board. Rosha agreed, thanking the school president. An air of tension seemed to release.
“I have to catch my breath because we’ve kind of had a Kumbaya moment,” Regent Thomas Anderson said.
Last month, Regent Michael Hsu proposed a resolution that would have required board approval for any university contract worth more than $250,000 per year. Hsu acknowledged his concerns stemmed from Pitino’s extension, which was finalized just days after Teague’s resignation and included a $7.1 million buyout.
On Thursday, the governance committee reshaped the discussion to contracts worth as much as Kaler makes in base salary per year, or $610,000. Kaler not only supported the measure, but he also agreed to reword the resolution and present it at the committee’s next meeting on June 9.
By then, Coyle will be entrenched. And Kaler believes all coaching contract decisions moving forward will be in good hands.