Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle had previous career stops at Syracuse and Kentucky, when those basketball programs danced all the way to the Final Four.

So when it came time to decide whether coach Richard Pitino should return for a ninth season at Minnesota, Coyle decided he'd seen enough of mediocrity.

Pitino, who was fired Monday night, failed to make deep NCAA tournament runs and win consistently in the Big Ten.

"I did not come to Minnesota to be .500," said Coyle, noting how aware he is that the Gophers' last official Big Ten title came in 1982. "There is no reason that we can't compete at a high level."

New Mexico hired Pitino on Tuesday morning, less than 12 hours after the Gophers fired him.

Pitino replaces Paul Wier, who finished last in the Mountain West Conference with a 2-15 record this season. The Lobos haven't had a winning overall record since 2017-18.

"It's a cool adventure and I'm excited," Pitino told KFAN 100.3-FM on Tuesday. "I think I've landed at a spot that you can really win big at."

That wasn't the case with the Gophers during his eight seasons.

Pitino, who went 14-15 this season, finished 10th or worse in the Big Ten five times and reached two NCAA tournaments at Minnesota. Coyle pointed out Pitino's Big Ten overall record (54-96) and winless road record in conference (0-10) this season, which happened twice during his tenure.

Coyle said he was excited for Pitino to find another opportunity so quickly, which could save the Gophers from having to pay his full $1.75 million buyout.

When Coyle gave Pitino a two-year extension in 2019, new language was inserted into the contract stating that potential buyout payments would cease on the date Pitino accepted comparable employment, including another Division I coaching job.

The Gophers did not pinpoint exactly how much they will save from Pitino's buyout with his new job, but the extra money could help them pay a new coach.

Coyle said he expects to have the support of U President Joan Gabel and the Regents. They might need to collaborate if a candidate and staff command higher salaries than what Pitino and his assistants made.

Pitino got a slight raise to $2.46 million annually two years ago, but he still ranked 10th among Big Ten men's basketball coaches in salary. For comparison, Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck would've been 24th nationally and seventh in the Big Ten at $4.6 million in 2020 if not for pandemic pay cuts.

"You want to be at market level," Coyle told WCCO radio. "Our men's basketball salaries and staff has been toward the bottom of the Big Ten with respect to pay for our head coach and assistant coaches. … We want to make sure we have a competitive salary pool out there to attract the right person to lead this program."

Last season, Coyle met with Pitino after a disappointing 15-16 finish and told him the expectation would be to reach the NCAA tournament this year. The Gophers were nationally ranked this January, but they finished with eight losses in their final nine games.

Coyle said he met with Pitino last Friday about his future, but the final decision to fire him was made Monday night.

"I wish I was able to build more momentum and then capitalize on that momentum," Pitino told KFAN. "That's what you need at a place like Minnesota."

Minnesota is the Big Ten's only school without a person of color in the job of president, AD or head coach, so Coyle assured he would focus on a "very diverse pool of candidates."

The Gophers boss will not use a search firm but will rely on his deputy ADs and a search committee, consisting of people from the athletic department and Gophers community.

"The backbone of every program is recruiting," Coyle said. "I want to be able to find someone who can come in and recruit quality kids who can compete on our campus academically, athletically and socially."

With college basketball players across the country entering the transfer portal at a steadily increasing rate, Coyle said it's important for him to communicate with the current team.

There is no timetable, but Coyle told the Gophers players Monday on a video conference he would find their new coach "as quickly and efficiently as possible."

"I told them, I understand the anxiety they feel and our fan base feels," he said.