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.

Changes at Target Field

Speaking about the Twins home opener, team President Dave St. Peter said there have been some changes to Target Field, but many of them aren’t visual.

“I think [fans will] notice an upgraded technology system, certainly Wi-Fi and other elements aimed at allowing fans to have greater access to the Internet and things,” St. Peter said. “A new generation of fans spend a lot of time on their phone, so I think that’s going to be an upgrade.”

The Twins on Tuesday also announced a new food and beverage menu that included a Butcher & the Boar grill and an Izzy’s Ice Cream stand.

St. Peter also was excited for the opening of the light rail’s Green Line, which will connect Target Field to St. Paul starting on June 14.

Sid's Jottings

Every season, Baseball America publishes how it ranks the various farm systems and how each team’s minor league players rate. A recent issue has the Pittsburgh Pirates first, followed by the Red Sox and then the Twins. It’s no surprise that Byron Buxton is rated as the No. 1 minor league prospect with third baseman Miguel Sano sixth, pitcher Alex Meyer 45th and pitcher Kohl Stewart 52nd. The rest of the Twins’ top 10 prospects, who aren’t in the top 100 overall, are in order pitchers Jose Berrios, Lewis Thorpe and Trevor May; shortstop Danny Santana; infielder Jorge Polanco; and suspended second baseman Eddie Rosario.

The Vikings were talking to Kevin Williams for quite some time about coming back, but he hasn’t been approached lately, an indication that he won’t be a Viking in 2014. Williams has been with the Vikings since 2003, making him not only their longest-tenured player but the longest-tenured player of any of the four major men’s pro sports teams in the Twin Cities.

Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner, the former Minnetonka High School and Wisconsin player, finished March with five goals and six assists. His 11 points led Toronto in scoring for the month. The Maple Leafs are fighting for an NHL wild-card spot in the Eastern Division.

Saturday will be a busy day on the University of Minnesota campus, as the football team will play host to its spring game and the baseball team faces Nebraska in the second game of a three-game series at the new Siebert Field.

There’s a number of second-generation coaches with the Vikings this season, with Adam Zimmer, the son of coach Mike Zimmer, as linebackers coach; Scott Turner, son of offensive coordinator Norv Turner, as quarterbacks coach; and Klint Kubiak, the son of former Texans coach Gary Kubiak, as an assistant wide receivers coach.

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