Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle said Tuesday that the search committee interviewed about eight to 10 people before hiring Ben Johnson as the men's basketball coach.

They started with a series of Zoom calls with the initial group, then a few received an invite to the Coyle house.

The search committee included eight people in addition to Coyle and University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel.

Per Coyle, the committee consisted of: Julie Manning, deputy AD; Dusty Clements, deputy AD; Frances Homans, faculty athletics representative; Peyton N. Owens III, senior associate AD; Tricia Budke, human resources director; Jeremiah Carter, compliance director; Tim McCleary, associate AD; and Quincy Lewis, M Club director.

"We had a very qualified group of people that we talked to," Coyle said. "It was a very diverse group of people that we talked to, and again, we were ecstatic that Coach Johnson is here as our next basketball coach."

A first since 2007

The Gophers' selection of Johnson marks the first hire of a person of color as a head coach since Tubby Smith was hired in 2007 to lead the men's basketball program.

Minnesota hasn't had a head coach who is a person of color since Smith's firing in 2013. The Big Ten also did not have any men's basketball teams with a Black head coach after Smith's firing until Michigan selected Juwan Howard in 2019.

Johnson becomes the third men's basketball head coach who is Black in the Big Ten after Howard and recently hired Penn State coach Micah Shrewsberry.

"It's hopefully a sign of the times," Johnson said. "That's a credit to the leadership. Guys like myself haven't been afforded these opportunities in the past. That is the elephant in the room, we all know that, right? How the leadership has stepped up and provided this platform for myself, and now it's my job to do the best I can, and hopefully I can open doors for the next guy."

Praising the Barn

Johnson said he has encountered countless coaches and players on the road who ask about the same thing: Williams Arena.

The home of Gophers basketball is certainly historic, with the original building opening on that spot nearly 100 years ago. Johnson also has experienced or witnessed plenty of memorable games on the unique elevated floor, whether as an assistant coach, a player or a young fan from south Minneapolis.

"I grew up in an era where The Barn was the place to be," Johnson said. "It was the hottest ticket."

Coyle said they asked Johnson about the importance of Williams Arena during his interviews, and the committee loved his answer.

Johnson said there's still plenty of magic left in there that he plans to dig out.

"Sometimes you get in these new arenas that are so NBA that there's really not a vibe and there's not a feeling," Johnson said. "This is college basketball. This needs to be an intimate environment, a little bit of flavor, a little bit of culture. It's who we are, in my opinion. It's what we're about."