John Anderson, 60, is in his 35th season as the head coach of the Gophers baseball team and has been at the U for more than four decades as a student or coach. Last week, Anderson chatted with the Star Tribune’s Michael Rand on a number of subjects:
Q You recently took a tour of U.S. Bank Stadium, which will host some Gophers baseball games starting in 2017. What was your impression of that stadium and how it will work for baseball?
A First and foremost, it’s an impressive facility. I was amazed at the height of the building, which is double the height of the Metrodome. One thing that stood out is the amount of natural light. It’s not going to feel like the Dome, where you could have been anywhere in the world. … We have been able to put together about a 15-game schedule there in 2017, which has been helpful. If we could get three weekends a year in that February-March time and break up our six weeks of travel, I’d be the happiest guy in town.
Q But this year, you open on Feb. 19 and don’t have a home game until March 30. How do you navigate that kind of challenge?
A Yeah, we have 20 in a row on the road. The travel is the big challenge. It’s leaving on Thursday and getting back on campus [late Sunday] and having really three days to turn your team around. There’s school, changing time zones, sleep patterns.
Q What is the season outlook coming off a year in which your program uncharacteristically finished below .500 both overall and in the Big Ten?
A We were all very disappointed in our season last year, but I like where our team is at. … I felt like we had to spend more time this fall getting kids to understand they have to earn their opportunities. I did an interesting exercise this fall where I didn’t give any players a cap with an “M” on them. I gave them caps that had “Me/We” on them. I didn’t know how it would be received. I think the kids were surprised. But they embraced it, and I see evidence of that every day. I think there’s enough talent to have a good team.
Q It sounds like the wheels are in motion in the search for a permanent athletic director. Your name is periodically mentioned on lists of candidates. Do you consider yourself a candidate for that job?
A We’re in the process of finalizing a long-term contract for me as a baseball coach, first and foremost. I’ve said this repeatedly as this has come up in my career: If the university thought that I could provide the level of leadership and help this university and athletic program go forward in [the role of AD], I’ll have that discussion. I’m not going to campaign for the job. I don’t need the job or have to have the job. I have a job, and I love my job. I do care about the University of Minnesota and our athletic program. … I think there’s a world of potential here, and I don’t think we’ve come close to reaching a consistent level of performance that we’re capable of. I just hope we can get a [permanent] athletic director in this department sooner rather than later. I think we need it. … People want to know what the status is going to be and what the leadership is going to be. I think it’s starting to wear on people here a little bit the longer it goes on.