Ben Johnson has coached just 10 games at Minnesota. The Gophers have won nine. That's impressive, but his reputation and the direction of the men's basketball program have benefited as much from what he hasn't done.
He hasn't made excuses.
How many coaches refuse to make excuses? I mean, in the history of the profession. Two? OK, of those two, how many of them are college coaches running a slumbering program in their first year, with zero blue-chip recruits?
He hasn't complained about facilities or fan support.
So many revenue-sport coaches think they have earned a statewide mandate, that the student body and the state owe them attendance. Johnson seems to be aware that it's his job to attract fans, not their job to blindly support the current Gophers coach.
He hasn't rested.
Even if Johnson had struggled initially or eternally, he was the right kind of hire because of his work ethic and eagerness to network with high school and AAU coaches throughout the state, and elsewhere. His predecessor, Richard Pitino, landed Minnesotans who wanted to stay in Minnesota. Johnson may have the ability to recruit Minnesotans who are tempted to leave. Johnson is likely to outwork every Gophers men's basketball coach since the program's glory days.
He hasn't spent the bulk of his time on the sideline whining to officials.
I do not miss Richard Pitino's pouty face and childish foot stamps. Johnson has maintained a cool demeanor that undoubtedly has helped his tossed-salad, no-stars team play well situationally and in the clutch.
He hasn't looked overwhelmed. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Johnson's short tenure has been his assuredness. He is 40 and has never been a head coach before. If you didn't know that, there is no way you would have been able to identify him as a first-year head coach. He has excelled strategically and as a public figure.
Ten games into his tenure, Johnson is 9-1 overall, 1-1 in the Big Ten, 5-0 on the road and 2-1 against likely NCAA tournament teams, having beaten Michigan and Mississippi State and lost a competitive game to Michigan State.
Johnson's early success is a reminder of all that can be wonderful about basketball, that teamwork, hustle, situational play and clutch play can elevate a team beyond modest outside expectations.
Talent makes the game far easier, and elevates a program's ceiling, but games can be won with intelligence, composure and shot-making.
Virtually every Gopher in the rotation is overachieving relative to realistic expectations. That doesn't happen by accident. That is a product of inspired coaching.
In the modern era of Gophers hoops (beginning with Clem Haskins), every men's basketball coach has had or revealed a fatal flaw.
Haskins, an excellent coach, cheated.
Dan Monson was hired for the wrong reasons (Minnesota viewed him to be the driving force behind Gonzaga's success, and he beat the Gophers in the tourney) and didn't want to live in Minnesota.
Tubby Smith left Kentucky because he was tired of the pressure and fan behavior, not because he was in love with the idea of coaching at Minnesota.
Richard Pitino was hired because disgraced former athletic director Norwood Teague thought he could fire Smith after an NCAA tourney victory and hire someone better. Pitino was about his 12th choice. Teague proved he couldn't hire someone better than Smith.
Future success is not guaranteed to Johnson. He has a tough job and he'll have to recruit well to have a chance to contend in a difficult league.
We're so used to Gophers football and basketball coaches complaining, publicly or privately, about the difficulty of winning in Minnesota that Johnson has already been a revelation.
In the past month, Johnson has proved that he can coach at this level, and there is little doubt that he will recruit as well as anyone the Gophers could have realistically hired.
Thanks to Johnson, the Gophers could become the sweetest story in Minnesota sports. Or in the world of college basketball.