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U Needs AD Mark Coyle Long Term

 

An online authority ranks Mark Coyle the No. 11 athletic director among 130 FBS schools. This is the latest endorsement of the University of Minnesota AD who was hired in 2016.

It was rumored last fall University of Southern California officials were in town to test Coyle’s interest in their AD opening. There was speculation USC might even be intrigued about not only hiring Coyle, but doing a package deal that delivered Minnesota head football coach P.J. Fleck.

Minnesota president Joan Gabel and the Board of Regents approved a new contract in February for Coyle that extends through June 2026. The deal now pays Coyle $975,000 and brings him nearer the best paid athletic directors in the nation who make more than $1 million annually.

Watchstadium.com’s Jeff Goodman and Brett McMurphy ranked the top 20 athletic directors nationally after grading 130 of them on their football and men’s basketball head coaching hires. The Tuesday article said “grades were based on the success of coaches hired, difficulty of opponents in their respective conferences, bowl appearances, NCAA tournament trips, conference titles and national championships won.”

As athletics director at three schools, Coyle’s ranking is based on his hires of head football coaches Bryan Harsin, Dino Babers and P.J. Fleck. As AD at Boise State he hired Harsin, who in six years has a 64-17 record. Coyle’s hiring of Babers at Syracuse resulted in a program rebuilding, with the four-season highlight so far 10 wins in 2018.

Fleck was one of the nation’s hottest coaching names when Coyle hired him away from Western Michigan in January of 2017. Fleck had a breakout season in 2019 with the Gophers winning 11 games for the first time since 1904. The Gophers won two games against top-10 teams and ranked No. 10 in the final Associated Press poll.

Basketball didn’t figure into Coyle’s No. 11 evaluation by Goodman and McMurphy because he inherited coach Richard Pitino, who in eight Big Ten seasons has one winning year in conference games. Still, Coyle received an A- grade, and among Big Ten Conference peers ranks only behind Ohio State’s Gene Smith and Wisconsin’s Barry Alvarez. They rank No. 2 and 3 respectively in the country, behind No. 1 Joe Castiglione of Oklahoma.

If Fleck can continue his success and basketball becomes a winning program, Coyle might one day earn the reputation of Minnesota’s best athletics director ever. There will be inquiries from other schools about Coyle’s interest in moving on but the Upper Midwest native seems comfortable in the Twin Cities and with his job. During Coyle’s time at Minnesota the 25-sport program has compared very favorably with other FBS schools in academics, community involvement and winning.

P.J. Fleck

Retaining Coyle could well be a key in hanging on to Fleck who at 39 remains one of the hot names in college coaching. When schools start bidding for Fleck, and they will if he continues to win, the coach may or may not show interest. If he does, bet your Goldy cap Fleck’s relationship with Coyle will count for a lot on whether he stays or goes.

Hiring the right coach is an inexact process, with a long list of athletic directors failing at the assignment including in the Big Ten. Coyle’s knack for impressive hires makes him a valued commodity at Minnesota where football and men’s basketball must pay much of the budget for the 25-sport program. There is no guarantee, of course, Coyle will always make the right hire but his presence at Minnesota should give Gopher fans more confidence about the future than at most other places across the country.

Worth Noting

With COVID-19 remaining a threat, a small number of Division III colleges nationally have cancelled fall sports. What about the 13-member Division III Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference that includes several Twin Cities schools? “At this point I am focused on having a full season,” MIAC commissioner Dan McKane told Sports Headliners yesterday.

MIAC presidents meet July 15 and may have an announcement about football and other fall sports. At that meeting McKane will have feedback from the Minnesota Department of Health. He has been in weekly contact with state health officials for awhile and last Thursday submitted a plan specific to the fall sports season.

The state’s reaction will dictate what happens next with the MIAC, and McKane said the plan could provide a template for all college sports in Minnesota. While the state could approve the proposal as is, or even reject it entirely, the more likely scenario might be recommended changes given that youth sports have already been okayed.

Things change fast with the pandemic but currently all MIAC institutions are planning to have students on their campuses this fall. If some reverse course, but not all, McKane said the MIAC would still allow competition among the schools with students on campuses. If all 13 schools moved to online learning only, the MIAC would not start or continue the fall sports schedule.

As part of the recognition for the 100th season of Gopher men’s hockey this fall, the athletic department is promoting fan voting for the greatest players. John Mayasich, who last played for the Gophers in 1955, is still revered by program historians and is perhaps the greatest player ever at Minnesota.

Mayasich still holds school records including most career points with 298, even though he played in fewer games than many others in the record book. John Mariucci, the so-called “Godfather” of hockey in the state, once said this about Mayasich: “The words to describe the boy haven’t been invented. When I say the best, that’s totally inadequate.”

Happy birthday to retired Gophers trainer Jim Marshall who turns 90 tomorrow (July 3). Marshall worked 42 years for the Gophers and has been retired for 17.

The late Harmon Killebrew, the Twins homerun king, would have been 84 June 29. A great player and person, Harmon died in 2011.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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