Hartman: Gophers find right coaches for the job in Pitino, Kill

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 6, 2014 - 1:02 AM
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Gophers coach Richard Pitino called out to his team during the first half of Thursday’s NIT championship game against SMU at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Pitino’s first season ended with 25 victories, and the Gophers hope he will build from there.

Photo: FRANK FRANKLIN II • Associated Press,

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While the Gophers athletic department hasn’t had any success in winning football or basketball titles for a long time, it certainly has had good luck in hiring Jerry Kill as football coach and Richard Pitino as men’s basketball coach, as proven by their performances this past season.

And the future for both programs appears very good, with Pitino’s team winning the NIT this past week and Kill’s team defeating Nebraska for the first time in 20 years and the Gophers posting eight victories last season, after six in 2012 and three in 2011.

A number of successful football coaches turned down the chance to succeed Tim Brewster with the Gophers program, and even though Kill was a ways down Joel Maturi’s original list of possible candidates, he has turned out to be as good as or better than any of the coaches who were approached for the job.

The Gophers program took a step backward in the years after it replaced Glen Mason, who was so well-respected and did a good job coaching. It now appears to be getting back to where it was.

As for the basketball program, the Gophers had similar difficulty finding a replacement for Tubby Smith, with several successful “name” coaches approached to fill the vacancy saying that if Smith couldn’t win consistently here, there wasn’t any reason they could either.

Florida coach Billy Donovan said last year that athletic director Norwood Teague then reached out to him, looking for a good young candidate, and Donovan’s response was to recommend Pitino. The result is the Gophers hit the jackpot, with the 31-year-old coach leading the Gophers to an NIT championship in his first year.

Furthermore, the contracts offered to candidates other than Kill and Pitino were for a lot more money than the $1.2 million they were paid their first year on the job.

Kill was given a raise recently, and Pitino undoubtedly will likely get one in the near future. Both have done better jobs than some of the coaches who decided to stay where they were rather than come to the Twin Cities.

And when it comes to winning, also credit Gophers men’s hockey coach Don Lucia, who brought Mike Guentzel back to the program as associate head coach in 2011 after three years away. Guentzel’s return has helped put the program back on top, with a Frozen Four appearance in 2012 and another this year.

So right now the three major sports at Gopherville are in the best shape they have been in a long time.

Saunders won’t coach?

In an interview with WCCO-AM’s Chad Hartman on Friday, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said he definitely wants to keep the president of basketball operations and the coach as separate positions.

Taylor added that when it comes to the future of Wolves coach Rick Adelman, who has an option for whether he coaches next season, the subject hasn’t been discussed as of yet.

So with Flip Saunders being mentioned as a potential coach if Adelman were not to come back, even though Saunders has said his coaching days are over, Taylor was asked if his position has changed.

“I would say on that my preference has not changed. I think you need a good leader to look at the long run and you also need a good coach,” Taylor said. “I don’t think I’ve changed on that idea, at all. We haven’t broached it this year, but last year when I hired Flip I was pretty clear to him that I wanted him to select the coach and assist the coach by putting a team together. I feel pretty strongly about that.”

Does that mean that if Saunders himself or a search committee were to recommend Saunders for the coaching position that Taylor would reject that idea?

“I would tell them to look for another alternative,” he said.

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