Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague and his administrative staff have said all the right things. New Gophers basketball coach Richard Pitino has chimed right in.
Coaching hoops at the "U," they say, is a unique opportunity at a respected institution with the chance to build something great in an elite league.
But how realistic is that perspective and how long will it take?
ESPN's Myron Medcalf posted a reminder that some nationally and locally believe the Gophers gig is still far from that ideal when he included Minnesota on his list of college hoops' "bad jobs."
Medcalf points out that a practice facility promised to former coach Tubby Smith by the previous administration in 2007 -- and then re-promised by Teague -- is still in the concept stage. Williams Arena is old and outdated, he says. The most notable years in the last three decades, including the 1997 Final Four, were wiped away by an academic scandal. And despite the state containing three of the nation's top-30 recruits in 2014, Minnesota wasn't ever really contending for any of them.
"The elite kids in Minnesota don't dream of playing for the Gophers the way Michigan kids want to play for Tom Izzo and John Beilein, or how North Carolina prospects dream of joining the Blue Devils and Tar Heels," Medcalf writes.
Is the assertion true? Is Minnesota a "bad" job for coaching basketball, on par with Northwestern and Rutgers, prorgams also present on the list?
Pitino certainly doesn't think so. Since he took the position last spring, he's touted the uncommon circumstance of coaching the only Division I basketball team in a state with 5.5 million people, many of them Minnesota graduates or otherwise loyal to the Gophers. This spring, Tennessee reportedly put feelers out to the young coach, but Pitino stayed put.
Calling it one of the nation's worst might be a bit harsh. Many, like myself, find plenty of charm in Williams Arena. And Minnesota is blessed with a fan base that largely cares a lot about Minnesota basketball -- which is more than many of the programs on Medcalf's list can say.
Others mention coaching in the Big Ten, perennially one of the strongest conferences nationwide amongst a metropolitan high school basketball scene that is rapidly improving.
But taking advantage of the growing pool of recruits sitting in the university's backyard requires two things:
Right now, Minnesota is lacking both. While Teague has unveiled a very grand master facilities plan, complete with that elusive basketball practice facility, the funding isn't there yet. As he is quickly finding, having a passionate fanbase and having a passionate fan base reaching for its collective wallet are very different things. Until a shovel hits dirt, Gophers fans are right to be wary. Pitino, smartly, isn't waiting. He moved the team over to practice on the court at Bierman Field Athletic Building, which also houses the weight rooms and the coaching offices. He had a wall added to provide privacy. This summer, new amenities, including a cold pool, will help the makeshift practice facility become even more comfortable for players. Still, it's a temporary fix and clearly not as alluring as most of the realities elsewhere in the Big Ten.
As for success, Pitino hopes he's on the way. Winning the NIT championship in Year One was an impressive feat that shouldn't be understated. Fans should be cautious though. While playing in the Big Ten sounds alluring on the face of it, playing for a team that consistently makes the NCAA tournament is a much more attractive notion for recruits. And that's where playing in the Big Ten is problematic. While new coaches at SEC schools have the potential to dominate the weaker half of the conference quickly, such rapid escalation up the Big Ten ladder is rare. Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State can be expected to be elite, year after year. Usually there are one or two other teams to add to that mix, and overall, there really aren't many pushovers. I imagine that attempting to post a conference record above .500 as a new coach at Minnesota is like staring up at a very steep and rocky hill, manned with only with a butter knife and some bowling shoes.
Can Minnesota be a good job? Of course it can. Take a gander, for example, at how quickly Nebraska -- never with much of a reputation for basketball -- became an attractive place to play. Of course, the Huskers invested, big time, in some of the most lush, iPad-studded facilities in the sport. Now, after Tim Miles, the affable second-year coach, led his team to an improbable run to fourth place in the league and an NCAA tournament berth, you'd better believe recruits are listening. Nebraska found the formula.
The Gophers could do the same, but right now, it still seems far away.