Mark Coyle’s decision to leave Syracuse after slightly more than 10 months as athletic director so stunned that school’s staff that University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler felt compelled on Wednesday to call his Syracuse counterpart, Chancellor Kent Syverud.
The talk, Kaler said, “was a good conversation, considering the positions we were both in.”
Awkward might best describe those respective positions. Minnesota’s search for a new AD was so secretive that Coyle was never mentioned by media outlets among rumored candidates for the job. Syracuse staff members were as surprised as the average Minnesota fan when news broke Wednesday morning that Coyle, who had worked at Minnesota from 2001-2005, was moving back to the Midwest.
“Nobody had an inkling,” former Syracuse football All-America Floyd Little told the Syracuse Post-Standard. Little should have known if anybody did, because he worked for Coyle as special assistant to the athletic director.
“It’s shocking,” Syracuse men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim told New York media.
Dino Babers, the football coach Coyle hired five months ago, was attending the annual Atlantic Coast Conference meetings when the news broke. According to ESPN’s Brett McMurphy, Babers was unaware of Coyle’s job switch as he left the meetings, and when informed he responded: “Are you serious? No comment.”
Coyle praised the support he had received at Syracuse several times during his introductory news conference, calling Chancellor Syverud “a very special person,” and saying how grateful he was “for the opportunity [Syverud] gave me at Syracuse.”
Several Syracuse media expressed the opinion that Coyle had quickly grown frustrated by the difficult situation he had inherited, which included five years’ probation for the men’s basketball and football teams and uncertainty over the future of the Carrier Dome, the Orange’s home for football, basketball and lacrosse. Will it be renovated or will a new facility be built? Anyone following the Gophers football team’s Metrodome years knows the pain of such uncertainty.
But at his news conference, Coyle said there was “no truth” to any talk that his decision was based on anything other than his yearning to return to Minnesota.
“Chancellor Syverud, his management team, they have been so supportive and it is such a special place,” Coyle said. “I can’t stress that enough. I regret the timing. There was one place I was going to leave Syracuse for and it’s Minnesota.”
The good news for Minnesotans is that folks in Syracuse legitimately seemed to like Coyle, and were saddened as well as stunned by his decision to leave. Coyle, who had guided Boise State through an NCAA probationary period that greeted him upon his arrival there in 2011, by all accounts made positive first impressions during his brief stay in Syracuse.
“I really liked Mark Coyle,” Boeheim told media. “I thought he was really good. Thought he had a good grip on everything in a relatively short period of time. It’s shocking. I like him a lot and I thought he was doing great.”
Little said that he received a text from Coyle on Wednesday about taking the Minnesota job and that those in the Syracuse athletic department were “all walking around like, ‘What just happened?’ … And I don’t know why. Hopefully we’ll have a chance to talk about it.”
Coyle said he only hopes people in Syracuse realize the reason for his leaving had nothing to do with Syracuse.
“I’m hopeful they understand what Minnesota meant to me, and what this opportunity means to me and my family,” he said.