Mark Coyle will celebrate his five-year anniversary as Gophers athletic director in May. He has hired 11 new coaches in that time — accounting for nearly half of his department's teams — and now is in the market again.
Coyle fired men's basketball coach Richard Pitino in a move that brought no surprise. This outcome has been inevitable for several weeks after the Gophers collapsed down the stretch to finish 13th in the Big Ten in his eighth season.
No need to rehash every reason why change was necessary. Let's just wish Pitino and his family well at New Mexico and turn attention to this critical moment for the program and the pressure on Coyle to hire the right replacement.
Athletic directors hope for successful outcomes with every coaching change, but their hires become magnified in revenue-generating sports because of the visibility and financial potential of those programs.
Very few people notice when an AD screws up a golf coach hiring. Everybody knows an AD's report card in hiring football and basketball coaches.
When Coyle fired football coach Tracy Claeys in 2017, he cited a need to "shake the tree," which was corporate lingo for "squeeze more money out of this operation." Looking ahead, a winning basketball program would provide a significant boost to a department hit hard by the pandemic.
Coyle keeps names of coaches he'd be interested in interviewing on spreadsheets. He landed his top choice with his three highest-profile hires — P.J. Fleck (football), Lindsay Whalen (women's basketball) and Bob Motzko (men's hockey) — without using a search firm to assist the process.
This search is different because the pandemic caused massive revenue loss for Coyle's department and contributed to the school eliminating three sports. New Mexico hiring Pitino is fortunate for Coyle since it will lower Pitino's $1.75 million buyout. More money to spend on the new coach, which shouldn't be a debate.
Critics of Coyle's decision to drop sports will howl, but one shouldn't have anything to do with the other. The department's financial well-being hinges greatly on the success of football and men's basketball. Trying to find a cheap hire likely will put Coyle right back in this same spot five years from now. Commit to being aggressive with compensation and trust Coyle to hire the right coach.
Assuming former Michigan coach John Beilein has no interest in the job, Eric Musselman should receive Coyle's first call. The son of the former Gophers coach would be the kind of hire that "shakes the tree" because it would be bold and expensive and not easy to pull off.
Musselman has a good thing going at Arkansas. The Razorbacks are a Top 10 team and No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. Would he leave to come to a place he once called home? Make it hard for him to say no. Then try again.
Musselman would cost at least $3 million annually in salary. His $5 million buyout drops to $1.5 million on May 1. I'd be willing to wait, if I had assurance that Musselman would take the job.
Arkansas will fight to keep him. The Gophers might not be able to win a bidding war right now, but Musselman's coaching résumé and ties to the school and Minnesota make him an attractive target.
Two coaches who should receive serious consideration are Cleveland State's Dennis Gates and Loyola-Chicago's Porter Moser.
Gates has executed a remarkable turnaround in leading Cleveland State to the NCAA tournament in his second season. Hiring Gates, a Black man who previously served as a longtime assistant to Leonard Hamilton at Florida State, would be a positive advancement for an athletic department that remains under scrutiny for its lack of diversity.
Moser took Loyola-Chicago to the Final Four three years ago. Enough said there.
There are other strong candidates, including head coaches at midmajor programs who have ties to Minnesota (not that provincialism needs to be among the criteria). Brian Dutcher at San Diego State. Craig Smith at Utah State. Niko Medved at Colorado State.
This is a big moment for Coyle, his 12th coaching hire in less than five years. He needs to hire a coach who can recruit and maximize the program's potential. Minnesota has become a hotbed for high school talent. Coaching Gophers basketball is a challenging job but not an impossible job. The right guy can win here.
A decision this important requires ambition and strong financial commitment from university leaders. Coyle has been successful in hiring his top choice for other jobs. The clock has started again. Go hire the best candidate possible. Don't settle for the most affordable one.