Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle said recently that the university has accomplished a huge amount of its construction goals in building the new Athletes Village and continuing to work on other projects like a new track that will open this summer and work on their wrestling and golf facilities.
But Coyle did note the Gophers still have $60 million to raise to fund the projects and that it is an ongoing process.
When it comes to the overall health of the program, Coyle pointed to the teams’ continued academic success and overall competitiveness — the team finished 19th in the Learfield Directors’ Cup standings, measuring achievement over all sports — as good signs of progress.
And when it comes to the program’s primary revenue sources — men’s basketball, men’s hockey and football — Coyle believes the combination of coaches Richard Pitino, P.J. Fleck and Bob Motzko are going to turn things around the only way you can in college athletics, by recruiting better.
The interview has been edited and condensed:
Q How do you feel about the current state of your athletic department?
A I think if you look at this past year, we have had a lot of success across the board in a lot of our sports. Six conference championships is awesome, 11 conference championships in the past two years. I feel like we’re going in the right direction. Academically we’re above a 3.2 GPA, all 25 teams are above a 3.0 for the spring semester. Academically we are doing a lot of really good things. We are the highest rated public school, with respect to graduation success rate, at 92 percent. We are near the top in the country overall in all public schools with respect to student-athlete APR scores. We’re very proud of what we do academically.
Q Let’s talk about the new track and how big of a difference that will make.
A I think it’s going to make a huge difference, obviously a new facility that is scheduled to open this fall. I think it is going to have a huge impact on our men’s and women’s program, but our intention was to build a first-class facility that could compete with anybody in the Big Ten and across the country. We are excited about it.
Q How long until the football and men’s basketball programs find success?
A As you know, you have been here a long time, recruiting is the key. You have to be able to recruit the right student-athletes to come to Minnesota to compete. If you look at what Coach Fleck is doing on the football side, he has had very highly ranked recruiting classes. I think our recruiting class for 2019 is ranked in the top 25 in the country and top four in the Big Ten. If you look at our men’s basketball recruiting, we have a really good class that is coming in right now. We obviously get Eric Curry back, get Amir Coffey back, so we feel like both those sports are trending in the right direction. But there is no doubt we need those sports competitive and healthy to compete at a high level.
Q What impact has Fleck had?
A I talked about when we hired him that we wanted to create a sense of urgency, and I think P.J. has created that sense of urgency. He works incredibly hard at the recruiting side, he works incredibly hard at teaching our student-athletes on and off the field. I think he has had a very positive impact on our program. We’re going to be very young this year, we’re going to have a young team this year competing in a very hard conference, but we won’t make excuses and we’ll work hard and we’ll line up and compete hard. But he has done a phenomenal job with our program, and we’re just grateful for the energy and effort he has brought to us.
Q Do you still think the basketball program is in good shape despite two tough seasons recently?
A I have a lot of confidence in Coach Pitino. I have talked about that a lot. I think Richard is the right person here. I think we need to continue to support Richard and do everything we can to help his program. Last year with the injuries and some of the off the court challenges we had, again getting Curry and Coffey back and healthy, I think we’re going to be in a good spot. We return Jordan Murphy; Dupree [McBrayer] getting healthy will be key for us. I think we have a good team coming back, and we expect a nice turnaround with men’s basketball this season.
Q How do you feel about your new men’s hockey coach?
A Bob Motzko has come in here and been a tireless recruiter throughout his entire career, and we’re seeing that now. He has done a phenomenal job recruiting for us. He has done a great job of picking up where Don [Lucia] left the program. Don did a wonderful job for us for those 19 years, and Bob has taken that transition well and is working closely with Don and taking our Gopher hockey program on the next step. We’re happy with where we’re going.
Q There has been some talk of the Big Ten Network losing revenue.
A The Big Ten Network is a significant part of our budget, as it is everyone in the Big Ten. I don’t know the exact dollar figures, but that exposure for our team and for our department is a big help as we move forward.
Q How about your budget compared to Iowa and Wisconsin?
A Well overall, I know last year I believe we were eighth in the conference in overall operating budget, both Iowa and Wisconsin were ahead of us in terms of their operating budget. We were eighth. We talk all the time about how we have to be innovative in how we maximize our resources to make sure we provide an excellent experience for our student-athletes and coaches, to allow them to compete at a high level. We were eighth or ninth in the Big Ten last year with our operating budget.
Q Were you profitable last year?
A We did not run a deficit, that is correct. Each year with our university we have to present a balanced budget, and that’s our goal each year that we present a balanced budget; our budget this current fiscal year is $114 million.
Q You made that?
A We anticipate it, obviously there’s a few weeks left in the budget cycle this year, but that is our goal and our commitment back to the president that we always turn in a budget that is balanced for him.
Q Does the university’s decision to raise tuition impact you?
A That impacts us. As you know, we pay our scholarships so when tuition is increased that does have an impact on us and our student-athletes. As we work to finalize our [fiscal year] ’19 budget that’s something we take into consideration.