In the past 17 months the University of Minnesota has promoted an interim athletic director in Beth Goetz, named a new permanent athletic director in Mark Coyle and hired two football coaches in Tracy Claeys and P.J. Fleck.
This is a similar trend for an athletics program that has had a very hard time developing any kind of consistency in their men’s athletics administrative and head coaching positions dating to the 1990s. And it continues to be one of the things that separates the Gophers football program from their primary Big Ten rivals in Iowa and Wisconsin.
From 1974 to 2002, the Gophers had separate athletic departments in men’s and women’s sports. On the men’s side, the longest tenured Gophers coach since 1990 is Don Lucia in men’s hockey, who was hired in 1999 and still coaches today. The longest-tenured AD was Joel Maturi, who was the first AD of the combined athletic department, holding that role from 2002 to 2012. In football, Glen Mason had a 10-year run coaching from 1997 to 2006.
But the overall picture of the men’s athletics department and specifically Gophers football simply hasn’t been able to maintain steady employment at key positions. Men’s athletics has had nine athletic directors since 1990, and if you remove Maturi’s long 11-year run, the average length of each hire in that stretch is just two years, with eight ADs splitting 16 Gophers seasons. That includes two interim ADs in Dan Meinert and Goetz.
In Gophers football, the team has now had eight head coaches since 1990, including Jeff Horton’s interim run in 2010 after Tim Brewster was fired. The longest-tenured coaches outside of Mason were Jim Wacker, who had five seasons from 1992 to ’96, and Jerry Kill, who had four-plus seasons from 2011 to ’15 before resigning for health reasons.
The hope for University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler is that he has finally found two people who can create legitimate long-term leadership in both of those roles with Coyle and Fleck.
At the news conference announcing his hire, Coyle said of Fleck: “P.J. is a proven winner and a strong leader. He’s built a unique, positive culture that gets the best out of his students on the field and in the classroom. His infectious energy and passion make him a terrific coach and dynamic recruiter. I am excited he will be leading the Gophers for years to come.”
The Gophers don’t need to look far to see what having long-term hires can do for a program.
Since 1990, Iowa and of Wisconsin have been on the opposite end of the Gophers in terms of their universities’ need to hire and fire football coaches and athletic directors.
Iowa has had two football coaches since 1979 in Hayden Fry and Kirk Ferentz. Ferentz, the coach since 1999, has had a number of seasons where his tenure was questioned, but he has remained on the job throughout. That has led to some up-and-down seasons, but there’s no question that it has also led to much more success at Iowa than the Gophers have seen.
The Badgers have had four football coaches since 1990, when Barry Alvarez took over. Alvarez also became AD in 2004, replacing the retired Pat Richter, the man who hired him. After Alvarez relinquished his role as football coach, he has been followed by Bret Bielema, Gary Anderson and now Paul Chryst. Neither Bielema nor Anderson were fired — Bielema left for Arkansas and Anderson for Oregon State.
Like the Gophers, Iowa used to have separate men’s and women’s athletic departments. Men’s AD Bump Elliott retired in 1991 after serving for 21 years. Bob Bowlsby then had the job from 1991 to 2006, remaining the AD after the men’s and women’s departments merged in 2000, and Gary Barta took over when Bowlsby left for Stanford.
So to review: Wisconsin has had a total of six ADs and football coaches since 2000, if you count Alvarez once for each role. Iowa has had five ADs and football coaches in that same time. Meanwhile, the Gophers have combined for 17 hires at those two positions.
And since 1990, the Gophers have gone 145-180 (.446 winning percentage) and reached 14 bowl games with their best finish in the Big Ten being tied for fourth overall in 2003, and second place in the Big Ten West in 2014.
Iowa has gone 196-134-2 (.593) and reached 19 bowl games, including the Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl twice, and finished tied for first in the Big Ten three times. The Hawkeyes also won the Big Ten West in 2015.
Still it’s Wisconsin that has had the best program over this time. The Badgers are 226-112-4 (.667), reaching 22 bowls, including six Rose Bowls. Before the Big Ten split into divisions, they won four Big Ten titles, tying for it three times and winning it outright once. In the six years of the Big Ten championship game, Wisconsin has played for the title four times, winning it twice.
Yes, there are a lot of reasons why the Gophers haven’t reached the highest level in Big Ten football lately, but one of them is surely the fact that they have lacked consistency on the sidelines and in the people in charge of the athletic department.
Now with Coyle and Fleck in place, hopefully the Gophers have found people who will be with the program for a long time, and give the university a chance to compete with the biggest programs in the Big Ten.
• Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards has been named coach of the West team in this year’s East-West Shrine Game, to be held Saturday in St. Petersburg, Fla. The Leslie Frazier-led Vikings coaching staff coached Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith at the Senior Bowl in 2012 before they selected him with a first-round pick.
• Tod Leiweke, the former president of the Wild and current NFL chief executive officer, entered the National Football Foundation Leadership Hall of Fame last week. The NFF is chaired by Archie Manning, who introduced Leiweke into their Hall of Fame.
• Kevin Garnett, who apparently must not have liked how things ended with the Timberwolves, has been hired as a consultant for the Los Angeles Clippers, whose coach, Doc Rivers, led Garnett to his only NBA title with the Celtics.
• Eric Musselman, the son of former Gophers and Timberwolves coach Bill Musselman, has led Nevada to a 14-3 record this season. On Jan. 7, the Wolf Pack pulled off one of the biggest comebacks in college basketball history, coming back from 11 down with 1:03 remaining to force overtime and grab a 105-104 victory at New Mexico.
• Aaron Whitefield, a 20-year-old Austrlian whom the Twins signed after watching him play softball, is playing in the Australian Baseball League with Brisbane and is fourth in the league in batting at .345 on the season with four homers, 12 RBI, 25 runs scored and 24 stolen bases in 29 games. Whitefield led the Gulf Coast League in stolen bases last season with 31.
• With the Wild visiting Dallas on Saturday, it’s worth noting that Riley Tufte, the Blaine High School product who was the Stars’ first-round pick (25th overall) in last year’s NHL draft, scored his first college goal in 17 games for Minnesota Duluth in a 2-1 home loss to St. Cloud State on Friday night. The goal came two games after Tufte had his first UMD point on an assist vs. Colorado College
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org