Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle has been at his new position for a little over two weeks now, so it seemed like a good time to see how he feels about the program so far.

 

Q How has it been coming back?

A You know, it has been great to be back. Having been here from 2001 to 2005, it was such a special place for us. And to have a chance to come back here, to reconnect with so many people that we knew before, and then the new people here — as you know, there’s great people that work in this department that take great pride in this place. We feel really fortunate to be back here in Minnesota.

 

Q Have you accomplished things in the last few weeks?

A The big thing is I have been doing a lot of listening. I want to listen to the staff and I want to listen to our coaches. I’ve been meeting with our senior staff, our coaches, to get a feel for the department. I’ve been spending time with Beth Goetz [who has been hired as the chief operating officer at Connecticut] to kind of learn from her. I want to make sure we do everything we can to support our coaches and our students so they can compete at a high level.

 

Q Is your staff performing well?

A All good people. You know most of the staff better than I do, and as I said, there’s people that were here 11 years ago that are still here. There’s new people here, Chris Werle [associate AD for strategic communications] and others that I really enjoy getting to work with and spend time with. There’s good people who are awful proud of this place and we want to give people reason to be even more proud of this place.

 

Q Are you glad now you left Syracuse?

A Syracuse was very special. The chancellor back there was unbelievable to me and very understanding. I’m going to be grateful for the time. All of our coaches back there from coach [Jim] Boeheim and all of the other coaches were so welcoming to me and my family and it was hard to say goodbye to Syracuse. But this place we consider home and it’s really special to be back at a place that feels like home to us.

Q How about the fundraising at this point? Still at $80 million?

A We’ve had an increase in money. I don’t know the exact number, I need to sit down with our fundraisers to hear that, but I can tell you the donors have been very gracious to me.

 

Q Someone told me you’re up to $94 million, is that true?

A I don’t know the exact number we’re at, you know those numbers, those gifts are always coming in.

 

Q But there is more though?

A Yeah, they have done well in their fundraising but obviously we have a ways to go in our fundraising.

 

Q I know you can’t talk much about [wrestling coach] J Robinson, but are there two investigations now?

A The office of general counsel has been conducting their investigation. As we announced a few weeks ago when we put J on paid leave, that investigation is going on. I don’t have any further update. We’re still waiting for the conclusion of that investigation and then we’ll have a chance to be updated and go from there.

 

Q How do you feel about the football situation here?

A I’ve really enjoyed my time with coach [Tracy] Claeys. We had a chance, when I did the Gopher road trip, being on the road with him for four days, I really appreciate his humility and I think he has that Midwestern value where you roll up your sleeves and you work hard. I think he recognizes you have to work hard. I think coach [Jerry] Kill put in a great foundation here and I think coach Claeys and his staff will build on that foundation. I have been really pleased with coach Claeys and what they’ve done academically and athletically.

 

Q The academic part is especially amazing with this university, to rate so high.

A Yeah, it’s special. It’s a credit to our academic staff, the people in our academic support area who work with our student-athletes. It’s a credit to our coaches who focus on that. It literally is a culture that you have to establish from the coaching staff to your academic support team and again we’re really proud of what our student-athletes have done academically.

 

Q What about the status of the basketball program at this point?

A I’ve had a chance to spend some time with coach [Richard] Pitino and I enjoy working with him. My message to coach Pitino, and my message to all the coaches, is, ‘What can I do to help your program?’ I really feel it’s the athletic director’s job, the staffs job, to find out what we can do for our coaches and our student-athletes to let them compete at the highest level. As coach Pitino and I have further conversations and I learn more about his program and some of the things I can do to help him, I look forward to working with him.

 

Q Have you replaced Beth Goetz yet?

A We have not done that. Beth, as you know, is a special person. I’m so appreciative of her. She has been so gracious to me.

Jottings

• Lou Nanne, on the late hockey great Gordie Howe: “Gordie was the most complete player. When you talk about the best players ever, he was the most complete player and he never lost his desire to play well and play hard. In fact, when he was 68 years old we were playing in the old timers game at Madison Square Garden in New York. He was going off the ice right in front of me at the start of the third period and he was right in front of me and he turned and yelled at Larry Zeidel, who was a stickman when he played, and he said, ‘Zeidel, you get that stick up one more time and that thing is going right through your throat.’ He never lost it. I said, ‘Gordie, relax!’ And he said, ‘No, no, you see where he’s carrying his stick?’ He was just an amazing man.”

• Jon Tollefson, who set the state record in the high hurdles in 2015 and is rated the best state high school hurdler in history after his career at St. Croix Lutheran, is transferring back to Minnesota after one year at Harvard. He is a real great addition to the Gophers.

Sean Donnelly, a Gophers senior, finished fourth in the NCAA hammer throw and qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials. He will be attending those in the first week of July.

• Gophers lefthanded pitcher Lucas Gilbreath was invited to pitch this summer for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks of the prestigious Cape Cod League.

 

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com