A visit with University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler revealed that the university is seeking out a local external search firm, which he hopes to have selected and hired in the next few weeks, to find a permanent athletic director.

However, I am sure interim athletic director Beth Goetz will get the permanent job, as sure as I was that Adrian Peterson would return to the Vikings after his suspension.

While the president would not commit himself to Goetz, my conversation with him convinced me Goetz will get the nod unless a candidate surfaces who is employed by a big-time school and is having problems with the administration there, like how Tubby Smith was displeased with the athletic director at Kentucky when he took the Gophers men’s basketball coaching job in 2007.

Yes, Craig Thompson, a 1978 graduate of the University of Minnesota and now commissioner of the Mountain West Conference, is being pushed as a candidate by many, but the job offer would have to be fantastic for him to leave his current job, which he recently told me he loves.

“Well, we’ve got a process for nominations for the search committee and we have our FPs [financial proposals] out for a search firm, and we expect to get to work as soon as possible,” Kaler said. “I’d hope to have a committee put together in the next couple of weeks and get right on it.”

How does he view Goetz’s performance so far as the interim AD?

“I do think Beth Goetz is doing a good job,” he said.

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Thoughts on athletics

Kaler talked about a number of athletics issues, and said one positive recent development was an encouraging external investigation of sexual harassment and equal rights complaints in the U’s compliance with Title IX.

“I am comforted by the fact that the external investigation did not find a bad culture in athletics, and that these events were isolated to a few people,” he said. “I think that the next athletic director can have great integrity of the department.”

The Gophers have had a rough winter season in men’s sports, with the basketball team winless in Big Ten play and the hockey team falling out of the national rankings. Still, Kaler said he believes basketball coach Richard Pitino will have a much stronger squad next season.

“I think there’s a lot of patience in the community for our men’s basketball team,” he said. “I think next year’s team looks to be strong, and people seem to be patient and willing to wait to see how that turns out. It takes a period of time for a program to get on its feet, and certainly next year is an important year for our men’s basketball team.”

And what about the men’s hockey team?

“Hockey is ongoing,” Kaler said. “They’re playing well in the Big Ten. I think it’s always interesting in hockey to see how far the team can go into the postseason, and I hope they make the postseason.”

Overall, he said he likes where the athletic department is headed, especially academically, and lauded the recent play of the women’s hockey and basketball teams.

“I’m proud of our athletic department,” Kaler said. “I think our student-athletes do a terrific job. Our GPA is 3.2. They’re wonderful individuals. I think they compete effectively. We’ve had great success in women’s hockey and Rachel Banham hitting the winning shot in the Iowa game was great. We’re having success in competition as well as academics.”

Kaler also said the Gophers are zeroing in on the location of their new track and field facility, but he didn’t want to specify where they’re looking because they don’t want to telegraph any potential real estate purchases.

Still, I’ve heard the final site will be somewhere adjacent to TCF Bank Stadium, including the potential site where a grain elevator used to be.

“We are in the process of scoping the track and identifying the final location,” Kaler said. “We have a couple of options and we’re in the process of picking the best one.”

Fundraising update

The Gophers are about to ramp up construction on their athletics village project, but Kaler said fundraising is still about halfway to their goal of $166 million.

“We are at about $80 million,” Kaler said. “We have several proposals out to donors. But I think it’s understandable that major donors are waiting to see who the next athletic director is before they make the next investment. But we are breaking ground, and we do have enough money to get the project started and I’m confident we’ll get it done.”

He also said the plans to improve the Gibson-­Nagurski Football Complex and build the men’s and women’s basketball practice facilities will be the first wave of projects. The projected completion date is the winter of 2018.

Jottings

• The Wild won’t get rich on the Stadium Series outdoor game against the Blackhawks, with their share of the million-dollar gate being 1/10-plus of their normal gate at Xcel Energy Center. The rest of the revenue will be divided among the NHL’s 30 teams. The word is the league also considered holding the game at Target Field, but got a better deal for TCF Bank Stadium.

• The TV broadcasters who did the Iowa-Gophers basketball game Sunday said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery told them Gophers freshman forward Jordan Murphy was not only the best freshman in the Big Ten, but in the country. Sounds like a little exaggeration to me, because while Murphy has played well, he hasn’t been exceptional. He is averaging 10.9 points and 7.7 rebounds in 25 minutes per game.

• J.T. Bruett, the former Gophers baseball player who was an athletic compliance officer for 14 years, was named director of the McNamara Academic Center in July 2015. Replacing Bruett in the compliance office near the end of last year was former Gophers football player Jeremiah Carter.

• Berkley Edwards, the Chelsea, Mich., native who was hailed as a great two-sport athlete when recruited by the Gophers, has enrolled at Central Michigan, where he will compete in football and track. Edwards rushed only five times last season and finished third in the Big Ten in the 60 meters with a time of 6.78 seconds.

• Nebraska is the favorite to win the Big Ten indoor track title Feb. 26-27 in Geneva, Ohio. But Gophers track coach Steve Plasencia believes his team can finish among the top four. Among the Gophers with the best chance to win their events are junior Luca Wieland, the defending NCAA heptathlon champion, and redshirt junior Mitch Hechsel, the defending Big Ten 600 meters champ.

 

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com