A year after the Gophers baseball team finished 21-30 and failed to qualify for the Big Ten tournament held at Target Field, head coach John Anderson has his program back on track. The Gophers entered Sunday’s game at Purdue with a 32-15 record and a new sense of commitment. Anderson, who gained his 1,200th career victory earlier this season, chatted with the Star Tribune’s Michael Rand about the season and the Gophers’ hire of new athletic director Mark Coyle.
Q: What do you remember of Mark Coyle from the time he was here previously as an associate AD?
A: I knew Mark pretty well when he was here. I worked with him. He was a great colleague, and the responsibilities he had he handled very well. He added value to our department, and I think he worked hard and was well-liked.
Q: You had expressed concern about the search process as it was playing out. Are you happy with where the process wound up?
A: Yes, I think so. I think we’re fortunate to have someone with a wealth of experience at different places. He’s obviously familiar with the university from his time here and has a sense of where this university fits in with the community and the state. It’s the only Division I institution in the state, and people care deeply about it. He’s not going to be starting from scratch, that’s for sure. He has a sense for what this place is about and what it’s going to take to get things back on track. That will help shorten the time it takes for him to start making a difference.
Q: What’s been the key to going from a somewhat disappointing season last year to a turnaround this year?
A: I think first and foremost every year is different. It starts with talent. You have to have a certain amount of talent to win games. At almost every position, we’re better. … And we have a group of young men who decided they wanted to create a special culture. They’ve set a standard here for everyone on a day-to-day basis, off the field and in the classroom. They’ve held each other accountable and haven’t wavered. There is nobody on the team that has an elite status or special privilege. They treat each other equally and love playing together. They love spending time with each other. On bus trips, instead of everyone getting on their cellphones and doing their own things, they’ve created some trivia games to play as a group. When you spend as much time together as we do, it’s important that everyone enjoys being with each other.
Q: Is that the mentality of a team that could — not to say it will — make a deep tournament run?
A: No question. The most talented teams don’t always win. It takes more than that, even though you need talent. You also have to have a group that trusts one another and plays for one another and can pick up one another when they make a mistake. You have to have leaders. I’ve been around teams that were more talented and they didn’t win as much. And it’s because the dynamics of the team and the pieces didn’t fit well together. This group has fit together really well from Day 1.