Richard Pitino was fired over the weekend. Mark Coyle and the University of Minnesota can use whatever synonym makes their conscience and/or pocketbooks feel lighter, but they fooled no one. Certainly not Richard himself, who admitted to being a fired head basketball coach yesterday, in an interview with Dan Barreiro on KFAN radio.
I’m not mad at Coyle for what he had to do. Two months ago, the Gophers were coming off of EIGHT straight games vs top-25 teams, beating TWO in the top-10. They went 4-4 in what was the most difficult start to a conference schedule, nationwide. I wrote a blog after their last big win of the season vs (7) Michigan, an 18-point stomping at The Barn, on just how bright the outlook was coming out of that stretch.
Pitino’s squad had fought their way to the top of the scheduling hill and they were now looking down on a much easier path to a top seed in the Big Ten Tournament. Then, injuries and reality hit like a mack truck. The Gophers went 2-10 to finish the regular season, after that victory over the Wolverines. Just two of those twelve opponents were ranked in the top-25.
The final record? 14-15 after one Big Ten Tournament win over Northwestern and a loss vs (6) Ohio State, that ended the season. Yes, the 2020-21 Minnesota Gophers battled a lot of key injuries. But, that’s been a problem for Richard late in seasons for his entire tenure. At what point do you turn the finger on yourself and stop blaming the basketball gods?
Mark Coyle Presser
After Richard Pitino’s firing was finally made official on Tuesday, Mark Coyle met with media over Zoom. With Mark, you normally get more ‘buttoned up’ than you do ‘eye opening’. This time, some of his words were careful and buttoned up. Others, however, were quite eye opening.
But there was one exchange that grabbed my attention above all others. Chip Scoggins (Star Tribune) asked Coyle how the pandemic and the University’s financial squeeze will affect the search for the next men’s head basketball coach. At that point, the Minnesota Athletic Director went on the campaign trail and he didn’t sound like someone unwilling to spend money.
“We feel that we have a great opportunity here at the University of Minnesota. Chip, you see it personally at Athlete’s Village and what this facility has turned out to be. It’s given us a huge, huge boost for our department. In terms of who we go out and hire, we want to be very competitive in our market. As I said earlier, we feel like we can compete in the best conference in America, the Big Ten conference. So again, we’ll be very competitive with our salary to find the next best right fit for our program.”Mark Coyle
What’s it going to take?
Legendary Minnesota sportscaster, Joe Schmit (KSTP, CH. 5), had the next question. He asked Mark Coyle what it’s going to take for the Gophers to get back to winning Big Ten championships, which they haven’t done since 1982. At that point, Coyle doubled down on his expectations for the men’s basketball program and whoever he hires as the next head coach.
“I did not come to Minnesota to be .500. I am very aware that it’s been since 1982 and there is no reason why we can’t compete at a high level. I’ve been very blessed. I had a chance to be at the University of Kentucky for 7 years, be around that basketball program. I had a chance to be around Syracuse and Coach Beheim and that program for the one year I was at Syracuse. Again, I’ve been very fortunate to see it at a high, high level. And we have the pieces in place here at Minnesota. We’ve got great facilities. We’ve got Williams Arena, a historic facility.
And based on the calls that I started to receive last night, as I was watching our Men’s hockey team beat Michigan in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament, the calls that I received this morning. There’s great interest in this opportunity because everything is in place. We have a great academic institution. Again, we feel very optimistic about the opportunities we have in front of us and we feel like we’ll get a great coach for this program.”Mark Coyle
Put The U’s money where your mouth is, Mark.
Those are some pretty big-dollar words for an AD who couldn’t announce the firing of Pitino until he found another school to take Richard as a head coach and pay his minimal $1.75 million buyout. Now, the word around town is that Minnesota won’t go deep sea fishing for a power-5 coach who might be interested. Guys like Eric Musselman (Arkansas) or Mike Boynton (OK State) would cost $3 million or more per year to reel in. That’s rumored to be too steep of a price tag for what the U of M wants to spend. Musselman and Boynton currently make $2.5 million and $1.85 million respectively. Both will need significant raises to part with their current situation.
Pitino was making $2.4 million and most believe Minnesota is looking to save money, rather than spend more, with this next hire. They could easily do that by hiring one of many Mountain West candidates looking to move up in rank, most of which have heavy Minnesota ties and would be half the cost of the power-5 candidates listed above.
But, IF MARK COYLE WANTS TO MAKE A HIRE FOCUSED ON WINNING, he will hire (and pay) one of the two power-5 guys listed above. Musselman wins everywhere he goes, even Arkansas, and Mike Boynton landed Cade Cunningham at Oklahoma State. Obviously, both Muss and Boynton have higher qualifications than what I can write in a couple of sentences but just this paragraph alone makes either one a more qualified head coaching candidate than anyone winning games in the Mountain West.
Put up or shut up, Mark.
I love what Coyle had to say yesterday. But now it’s time to put up (the cash) or shut up. If you want to win basketball games in the best conference in the country, then you need to hire a coach who you know is ready for the bright lights of the Big Ten. No more fucking around. No more excuses. Open your wallet, flip middle fingers to the woke STrib reporters and U of M gymnasts nobody cares about and go pay for the men’s head basketball coach that this great Minnesota basketball fan base deserves.
We’re not talking $10 or even $5 million dollars extra per season. A couple million bucks means absolutely nothing to this department in the long run. Not when we’re talking about their second-biggest revenue generating sport.
Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan