Lou Holtz resigned as Minnesota’s football coach in late November 1985 to take the job at Notre Dame. Jim Dutcher resigned as Minnesota’s men’s basketball coach in late January 1986 when the administration decided to forfeit a game in the wake of rape allegations against three players who were later acquitted.
The four coaches that followed Holtz over the next quarter-century were John Gutekunst, Jim Wacker, Glen Mason and Tim Brewster. All were fired.
The three coaches that followed Dutcher were Clem Haskins, Dan Monson and Tubby Smith. All were fired.
This doesn’t include the interims: Jimmy Williams in 1986 and Jim Molinari in 2006-07 in basketball, and Jeff Horton in 2010 in football.
Haskins lasted 13 seasons and was successful by Minnesota standards, before being run off by accusations of academic mischief. Mason lasted 10 seasons and was above-average by Minnesota standards, before succumbing to an administration that wanted a salesman and recruiting ace in charge.
The others were fired for failing to win: Gutekunst, Wacker, Brewster (the alleged recruiting ace), Monson and now Smith.
What we have learned in the 27-plus years since Holtz and Dutcher left is that you didn’t come to Minnesota for one of these high-profile tasks and then either move to a better job or leave coaching at your volition.
You came to Minnesota, instead, to have your coaching career die on the vine.
The decisions to hire Gutekunst, Wacker and Brewster (especially him) didn’t make much sense from the start. That hasn’t been the case with the past three basketball coaches.
Haskins had a solid background when hired in 1986. Monson was the hot young coaching prospect after taking then-unheralded Gonzaga to the Elite Eight in 1999. And when Smith hired himself at Minnesota in 2007, fans here could not believe the good fortune.
“Tubby, Tubby, Tubby,’’ they chanted that afternoon at Williams Arena.
The fans had been similarly enthused at the public announcement of Brewster’s hiring three months earlier. Batting average for coaches hired in 2007: .000 (0-for-2).
What’s the alternative to this Hire ’em-to-Fire ’em style that has been adopted at Minnesota? Simple. You keep doing it until you get the right guy.
Wisconsin fired football coaches before it found Barry Alvarez, who begat the now-gone Bret Bielema to keep the program moving. Wisconsin fired basketball coaches before it found Dick Bennett, who begat Bo Ryan to send the program upward.
OK, we know all about the facilities that must be upgraded, but this will remain the truism: Minnesota will get to the first division of the Big Ten and stay there with some consistency when it hires the right coaches.
In football, the Gophers had that coach in Holtz, but that Music Man couldn’t wait to get out of River City, and they haven’t found Mr. Right since then.
In basketball, the sporting public had few complaints about Haskins’ sporadic success, until it was discovered Jan Gangelhoff’s essay on the menstrual cycle had been submitted by a few too many student athletes.
Monson should’ve worked. He didn’t. Tubby should’ve worked. He didn’t. So, you keep trying.
The difference is this:
It was an act of mercy when athletic director Joel Maturi forced Monson’s resignation seven games into the 2006-07 season. It was an act of boldness when athletic director Norwood Teague flat-out fired Smith three days after the Gophers’ first NCAA win since 1997* (*vacated).
The absence of a practice facility did not lead to Smith’s firing. He brought it on himself by maneuvering a team that was rated eighth in the country in January to the ninth seed in the Big Ten tournament in March.
A combination of events — including a sixth year of eligibility for Trevor Mbakwe — had led Tubby to an athletic starting five and another three, four reserves with a chance to be helpful.
Rodney Williams disappeared. Joe Coleman mostly disappeared. The bench basically disappeared.
It was an abomination, what happened to this basketball team.
Teague made the correct move Monday, and now he has a chance to hire the right guy. And if this next one isn’t that guy ... the Gophers must try, try again.
There’s no other answer.