Ben Johnson on Hot Seat? Mark Coyle Angry Gophers Missed NCAA Tournament Again

ben johnson minnesota gophers mark coyle
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been five seasons (2018-19) since the Minnesota Gophers men’s basketball team went dancing at the NCAA Tournament, which even for a school that has a checkered basketball past, is a lot. And, just in case you are wondering, U of M athletic director Mark Coyle is just as sick of missing out on March Madness as you and I are.

Mark Coyle is desperate to get Minnesota Gophers back to NCAA Tournament

Don’t forget, Coyle came to Minnesota from Syracuse, where all they care about is the men’s basketball program. Before Syracuse, he spent a half-decade as associate AD at Kentucky, a blueblood basketball school.

Even today, Coyle is one of 12 members of the NCAA Tournament committee. Which… no big deal… picks the 68-team March Madness field every year. Did you know that? And if you’re still unsure about Mark’s desire to get back on the dance floor 11 months from now, just listen to his interview from Friday on KFAN Radio with Justin Gaard (who is also the sideline reporter for Gopher football and play-by-play radio voice for Gopher WBB).

Coyle didn’t even have to be prompted. He got into next year’s men’s basketball expectations all by himself. He talks about how he’s been incessantly texting his wife while at the NCAA Tournament, about how mad it makes him that the Gophers aren’t a part of the field; how imperative it is that they get back… etc. Listen for yourself (around the 43-minute mark — also transcribed below)

“Yeah [this tournament] has had good games to see and it’s amazing… I get mad, to be honest with you, because I [want the Gophers] to be there, as an AD. If you could see the text messages to my wife… You know, that there’s no reason why we can’t do it at Minnesota. Somehow we’ve gotta pop through and get in there. I love that competition, and the pressure, and I’m absolutely confident our kids would love that, and that’s our goal, to get there and experience that pressure.”

Mark Coyle – Minnesota Athletic Director (KFAN Radio)

Mark Coyle is a basketball AD. He loves Gophers head football coach, PJ Fleck, and knows it’s football that pays the bills. That’s why his focus at Minnesota is on the gridiron. But that doesn’t mean our AD doesn’t lose sleep over how to get the Gophers back into the March Madness conversation.

Related: U of M Athletic Director Mark Coyle Receives Raise + Contract Extension

And Coyle makes it clear that he is sick of waiting. The desperation in his voice tells us how tired he is of constantly being dunked on by the 11 other members of the NCAA Tournament committee group chat… which you just know is “lit”, as the kids say (the kids still say that, right?).

Gaard: Dawson Garcia is coming back, I think [Ben Johnson] feels pretty good about the rest of the group. So now that we kind of have some portal resolution, are your feelings still [expecting to be a top-25 team next season] on the men’s side?

Coyle: I am. You know, we made great great progress this year. I think everybody would talk about how much more competitive we were and you and I talked maybe 3 weeks ago, a month ago, and I said, ‘hey, if we get everybody back, I think we’re a top 25 team preseason’, and I still feel that way.

KFAN Radio

Historic NCAA Tournament drought has Coyle fed up

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Credit: Photo courtesy of the University of Minnesota

This 5-year NCAA Tournament drought is the longest Minnesota men’s basketball has endured since they were banned from postseason play for five years between the 1999 and 2003 seasons, after an academic scandal rocked the nation and destroyed a program on the rise under Clem Haskins.

Related: Ben Johnson Optimistic that Worst of Gophers’ Transfer Portal Season is Behind Them

If you only count years where the Gophers were actually allowed into the dance, it’s the program’s longest Tourney drought since 1989, which was their first year back since 7 seasons prior (1982). In other words, it’s probably safe to assume that Ben Johnson’s seat is going to feel quite steamy entering the 2024-25 season.

Coyle makes it clear that he still believes in Ben, but it doesn’t take a certified psychiatrist to see that the U of M AD is running out of patience.

“I’ve talked to coaches, I mean, the great thing about this [NCAA Tournament] committee is I’m meeting coaches from all over the country and they all talk about what Ben’s doing. I think we had one of the younger teams in the country, and we did lose Pharrell, we did lose Braeden, who went into the portal or whatever.

That’s on us to figure out how we we fill those two spots, and get other people in there to help us continue to grow. College athletics has changed. You know, NIL, I think it’s awesome for student athletes, but there’s no doubt it’s created a disruption for everybody.”

“It’s just the way it is. And so now, Ben and his staff have done a great job. You know, keeping Dawson is phenomenal. Great, great player for us. If we can keep our other kids, go on the portal and find some good kids, we got a great freshman class coming in. So I feel like we can do some special things next year at Minnesota.”

Mark Coyle – Minnesota Athletic Director (KFAN Radio)

Coyle isn’t messing around. Right after that last quote above, he went on to talk about how he’s already talked to Ben Johnson about making sure he schedules more difficult competition in the non-conference next season, an admission that the Gophers scheduled easy non-Big Ten opponents in 2023-24.

We already knew that though. Minnesota’s easy non-conference slate was why they were never able to climb into serious March Madness conversations, even when they were playing their best basketball and had an above .500 record during the first 2/3 of the Big Ten season.

Your time is up, Ben. Get out your dancing shoes next March or find another job. Mark Coyle has put you on notice.

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