Eric Kaler got it right. The University of Minnesota President delivered on his promise to hire a solid, qualified athletic director.
How do I know that Mark Coyle is the right guy to lead Gophers athletic department as this time?
I listened to people that I respect and trust who contacted me within minutes of news that Coyle was announced as the lone finalist for the job.
“It’s an absolute grand slam,” said Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson, an Minnesota alum. “I’ve known Mark for 15, 20 years. I think from an experience perspective, national contacts in the industry, he’s absolutely the total package.”
I suggested early in the search process that Kaler contact Thompson to gauge his interest in the job. Thompson loves the university and Gophers athletics. He wants the department to succeed.
Here was Thompson’s reaction to Coyle’s hiring:
“I literally got goose bumps when I saw his name,” he said. “I think it’s a fantastic hire for the university. I’m giddy. And you can quote me on that.”
Shane Sandersfeld worked in the Gophers sports information department under Coyle in the mid-2000s. Sandersfeld became emotional talking about his former boss.
“When I was an employee under Coyle, I never felt like I was an employee, I felt like I was a resource,” he said. “He was great at giving me the tools that I need to succeed without over-managing.
“He can unite people. He can build relationships while still understanding what the priorities are. This is a knockout hire. I’m seriously stunned.”
Former Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi inherited Coyle when he was hired but promoted him to oversee the external branch of the department.
“It is one heck of a hire,” Maturi said.
Kaler deserves credit here. The embattled president has been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately. I’ve been as critical as anyone of this search process.
Ultimately, Kaler nailed it. This was his call, his choice, and he seems to have made a smart, savvy hire.
Kaler’s 16-member internal search committee never made sense to me. It felt unnecessary. Many of us mocked the use of a national search firm, but Turnkey delivered, too.
Coyle’s name wasn’t leaked in any media reports before Wednesday’s announcement. Turnkey promised confidentiality and sent warnings to potential candidates about news leaks. Coyle’s emergence was a surprise.
Kaler needed a hire like this to calm the waters, to give fans and boosters reason to feel good again and believe in the direction and future of Gophers athletics.
This hire should create optimism.
Coyle steps into a job with many big-ticket items on his plate. The basketball program is in disarray. Football needs to win. Fundraising needs a jump-start. Don Lucia’s future must be addressed.
We’ll soon learn more about Mark Coyle’s leadership. The people who know him best believe Gophers athletics took a major step forward Wednesday.
“He’s the perfect fit at the right time,” Maturi said.