After the scandal-scarred tenure of former University of Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague and the period of uncertainty during the tenure of interim AD Beth Goetz, the transition to Mark Coyle in June sparked optimism.
On Wednesday, Minnesotans saw that their hopes for the new AD were well-placed. Coyle was principled, transparent and deliberate in his decision to terminate J Robinson, the Gophers wrestling coach, for how he handled allegations of a prescription drug ring that may have involved more than 12 wrestlers.
Coyle clearly spelled out his reasons in a letter to Robinson. Among them were that the coach “failed to disclose information regarding drug related activity of your team, including drug sales by current team members.” And that Robinson “instructed student athletes to turn drugs into you, drugs were turned over to you, you took possession of the drugs, and you disposed of them. This directly impacted the ability of the University and law enforcement officials to investigate and address the matter.”
Coyle also cited Robinson’s “promises of amnesty and confidentiality to student athletes that you were not authorized to make” and wrote that Robinson “disobeyed reasonable directives from me and the University to share information regarding the drug related activities of Wrestling team members.”
Coyle’s new-job honeymoon lasted just hours. On his first day as athletic director, he banned Robinson from the program. But Coyle took his time, took into account Robinson’s perspective and awaited a report from the university investigator before firing the coach. Coyle made the right call, but not the quick call, which should solidify the confidence U officials and everyday Minnesotans have in the new AD.
Robinson coached U wrestlers for 30 years, won three national championships and had a lasting impact on scores of young men. And before serving the university, he served his country in uniform.
But the breach of trust in how he handled such serious allegations meant that he could not continue to represent the university and the state as wrestling coach. Meanwhile, Coyle worked through a difficult situation with the kind of professionalism Minnesotans deserve from the leader of a high-profile department at a great public university.