Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle has been in his new job for a little more than a month — enough time to meet with almost all of his head coaches and begin the process of evaluating the department’s future.
Coyle, who certainly takes a measured approach to problem-solving and will not rush into any decisions, chatted Friday with the Star Tribune. I had a chance to ask him several questions, many of which will run as a Q&A at a later date. But here is a sampling of Coyle’s thoughts on some of the bigger questions ahead:
Q People have brought up the idea that there are big decisions looming for you, especially with the major revenue sports. The football program is looking to take a step forward with a head coach (Tracy Claeys) who had the interim label taken off. Men’s basketball and Richard Pitino are coming off a very disappointing year. The list goes on and on. How do you approach the idea that there is this big set of things you need to tackle early on?
A Not to keep it too simple, but I think all decisions are important because all decisions involve people. I think something I enjoy about being an athletic director is I get to deal with so many different groups of people. … Are there decisions to be made? Yes, I get that. I always go back to having transitioned at Boise State, we were in multiple conferences when conference realignment was going on and we faced a lot of decisions there. Last year at Syracuse there were decisions. Minnesota is no different. But when I talk about wanting to listen, I think the more information I can gather, the better we can make decisions that impact people in the right way.
Q Where do we stand right now with (men’s hockey coach) Don Lucia and his contract status?
A Don and I had a chance to sit down and visit, and we’ll continue to talk. I don’t mean to repeat myself, but a part of my job is to sit down with all the coaches — I think I’ve missed one or two we haven’t connected with yet because of recruiting schedules. I truly feel it’s my job and the athletic department staff’s job to do everything we can to support our coaches. What can we do to help them compete at a high level. Obviously Don is in a very marquee sport that people pay a lot of attention to. They’ve won five straight conference championships. But with the transition to the Big Ten what can I do to help him and his program? We continue to have conversations and I continue to learn.
Q What are some of those things for hockey in particular?
A I think a critical piece is they talk about the TV times. I think you guys understand this better than me because when I left Minnesota (Coyle was here from 2001-2005) it was Friday and Saturday nights. It’s been moved quite a bit, and it sounds like we’re getting to a little more consistency this year, which helps fans. Anytime there’s change, it creates anxiety. Trust me, I’ve gone through change the past two summers. You had the transition from the WCHA — there was familiarity and great rivalries — to the Big Ten. … Don has talked about the addition of Notre Dame, which I think will be important.
Q Is Don Lucia the hockey coach long-term? Do you have that vision?
A He’s our hockey coach, yeah. He’s our hockey coach, and it’s my job to support him and we’ll continue to do that.
Q Is it fair to say you want to see how the football and men’s basketball seasons play out before you think too much about those things?
A Again, it’s spending time with those coaches. I literally met Coach Claeys at a Dairy Queen for the first time. I’ve enjoyed getting to know him and I’ve been very impressed what they’ve done academically. Last year, 6-7, Tracy will be the first one to tell you that’s now where we want to be. I can tell you I’m very competitive and I want to win. I believe we can win the right way — and what I mean by that is academically, socially and athletically. I’ve enjoyed spending time with Coach Pitino and getting to visit with him. Similar to my conversations with Don, it’s about what I can do to help them. What do we have to do to get this thing to where we all want to go? I promise you, whether we’re talking about Don or Richard or Tracy … or any coach, nobody wants to win more than them, and nobody wants to do it the right way more than them.
Q The J Robinson situation. Where are we with that?
A I appreciate the question and understand the question. Obviously our institution continues to do its investigation. I think it’s critically important to be fair to J, to be fair to the students involved, that we gather as much information as we can. Once we have as much information as we can get, we can make the best long-term decisions for everybody involve. So I apologize I can’t give much of an update from what was given back on my first day.