Q&A: Teague on Flip Saunders, Billy Donovan, Richard Pitino

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  • April 11, 2013 - 3:20 PM

In today's Star Tribune: new Gophers assistant Kimani Young -- from prison to tragedy to Minnesota.

I met with Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague earlier this morning to go over some of the things that have happened in the last couple of weeks with the coaching search and with the hiring process of Richard Pitino, while also looking ahead a little. Here are some of the highlights:

People have reported that you spoke with Florida coach Billy Donovan and he recommended Pitino to you. Had you looked at Pitino before speaking with Donovan? “Richard was always on my list. I was going to talk to Billy no matter what. I talked to Billy about several different issues and our needs. He is unbelievable about analyzing things. But Richard was always on our list and our list was pretty tight. I will say this, after sitting down with Richard, I knew within 15 minutes that he was our guy. It was much like when I talked to Shaka [Smart] when I was at VCU.”

Did you talk to him before you talked to Billy? “I’ve got to be real honest. I can’t remember the time frame. I really can’t. And I don’t want to say something that’s going to get you confused or me confused in the process. I don’t remember. I can’t recollect it. And I don’t want to get too in deep because I’ll get crossed up.”

What about Flip Saunders? It has been reported that you offered him the job but set down some requirements as far as choosing his staff that he didn’t like. Is that how it went? “I read the other day about [Saunders wanting to hire his son Ryan, and I refused] – and that was not the case. What I’ll do, what I’ll always do with the coaching staff is give the coach the leeway to hire staff – that’s his job. But I always will monitor and help and weigh in, but rarely would I ever put my foot down and tell somebody that they can’t hire someone. Richard and I have been back and forth constantly about who he’s hiring and why and it’s been awesome.”

Let’s go back to the beginning of this. How did you go into the coaching search? Did you have a list, and if so, how long was it? “The list is probably not as long as you think, but you want to go and talk with several people and get the process going. In the end, it went according to plan in a lot of ways. And where we landed is the best part about it.”

Did you have a No. 1 candidate? “No. I had some people that certainly I was intrigued by and I had a lot of information on some new directions that I wanted to go, but I wouldn’t say that we had a clear No. 1.

Did you offer Fred Hoiberg from Iowa State? “I don’t want to go into detail of who we talked to, it’s not going to be fair to them and to the process.”

Were you close to hiring anyone in the first couple of days of the search? “There were a lot of things reported that we would offer people that we hadn’t offered and we were close when we weren’t close. It was more of a planned out, methodical process that played itself out to where we wanted to land. Otherwise, there was so much reported of things that had happened that weren’t true. But that’s the case of us being silent like we were. I had no visions that we were going to offer someone and complete a search in the first couple of days.”

The Rutgers job opened on the day that you ended up announcing Pitino as the new coach. Was that on your brain at all, with him being from the northeast, and did that speed up the process in any way? “That never played into it. It honestly never played a part in my thought process. I didn’t know it came open that day.”

Did you make any promises to Pitino regarding a practice facility? “We talked about it and we told him that we were going through a facility plan and what our aspirations were and he was perfectly content about what I told him. There was no guarantee of a timeline but he felt very good about it and it was a great conversation.”

Were you tempted to make a safer hire? Someone that had been a head coach for longer? “I wasn’t at all. His background, where he’s been and as Billy and his dad said – the unrelenting pressure that his dad put on him when he was an assistant with him, I think helped and then being with Billy for two years I think helped a ton. And then he just proved it in one year at FIU, what he was able to do there with a limited situation – very limited.”

What expectations do you have for him in his first season? “He asked me that question, and what I’ve told him is I want someone who is managing the program at the highest level, someone who is showing progress in recruiting and leading the players in the right way. I’m not going to put and wins and losses metric on him.”

With Alvin Ellis and Alex Foster de-committing, the Gophers have four scholarships available for next season and no recruits currently. Does that concern you at all? “No, I think it’s an opportunity if anything. I feel so confident with Richard and his vision and his ability to recruit and the wise decisions he will make as it relates to that. One thing he said in the press conference is we want kids that will fit here. And he’ll be smart about that. I think it’s an opportunity more than anything.”

This is your first major hire at a big program. Are you ready to have your legacy sort of judged by this? “I don’t look at it that way. I try to put blinders on and focus on what we’re doing. It’s not about me – it’s about the University of Minnesota and our athletic program. And I’m going to do my best every day to work my fingers to the bone to make it work and be excellent.”

At the same time you know you will always be tied to this, the way Joel Maturi was tied to Tim Brewster. “That’s the nature of what we do. If I focused on that, it would drive me crazy, literally. I will make better decisions if I focus on what we have in front of us than if I focus on myself whatever that means.”

Now that this is over, are you prepared to look at the women’s basketball program equally hard? I evaluate our programs constantly. This is not going to cause me to look at any other program differently. Every other program has different situations and we are constantly evaluating them and trying to help improve them every day.”

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