When Norwood Teague fired Tubby Smith in March 2013, everyone assumed Minnesota’s new athletics director would pursue a notable name with ties to his basketball coaching academy, Villa 7. Maybe Shaka Smart, Chris Mack, or Buzz Williams. Instead, Teague plucked Richard Pitino, the 30-year-old son of Rick Pitino who had 32 games of college basketball head-coaching experience.
Eight years later, Teague is long gone, and Pitino was fired by Teague’s successor, Mark Coyle on Monday, opening the Minnesota job for just the fourth time in the last 45 years. Who might Coyle target for his first high-profile hire since landing P.J. Fleck four years ago?
All eyes are on three Mountain West coaches with Minnesota ties: Colorado State’s Niko Medved, San Diego State’s Brian Dutcher, and Utah State’s Craig Smith.
Medved is a Minneapolis native and Minnesota alum who began his coaching career at Division-III Macalester College in Saint Paul. He also spent the 2006-07 season on the Gophers’ bench in Dan Monson’s final season before five years under Tim Miles at Colorado State, three years as Furman head coach, and one year as Drake head coach. He’s only 47 years old, attainable, and has a small buyout ($187,500).
Dutcher has been rumored as a potential Minnesota candidate for literally decades. His father, Jim Dutcher, coached the Gophers for 11 seasons in the 1970s and 80s, and while Brian hasn’t been in the state since graduating from the U of M nearly 40 years ago, he’s publicly hinted at interest and has a special Minnesota buyout clause in his San Diego State contract. If he leaves for any other job, Dutcher owes San Diego State approximately $5 million. If he leaves for Minnesota, the number is only $1 million.
Craig Smith is from northwestern Minnesota and spent most of his career in the region, including four years as South Dakota head coach (2014-18) before arriving at Utah State three years ago. He has five straight 20-win seasons and, if not for last year’s canceled NCAA Tournament, would have three straight tourney berths. Under terms of a new contract that begin on March 31, Smith’s buyout would be $750,000.
Eric Musselman also has Minnesota ties–he spent one year on the Timberwolves staff under his father Bill Musselman, another Minnesota native who also coached the Gophers. He’s far less attainable than Medved, Dutcher, and Smith, but worth considering, as is the more attainable Leon Rice, whom Coyle hired at Boise State 11 years ago.
What if Minnesota doesn’t hire someone with notable ties to the state, school, or Coyle?
Porter Moser leads potential mid-major candidates. He rejected St. John’s two years ago and has reportedly rejected other interview requests and job offers since leading Loyola Chicago to the Final Four in 2018. UNC Greensboro’s Wes Miller could be in the mix if Minnesota is willing to go outside the geographical box, as could St. Bonaventure’s Mark Schmidt, and VCU’s Mike Rhoades.
Cleveland State’s Dennis Gates has done a remarkable job with a once-downtrodden Vikings’ program and has recruited most areas of the midwest. Same for former South Dakota State coach (and current UNLV coach) T.J. Otzelberger, and Ohio’s Jeff Boals.
And one wild card the locals might love: Mark Madsen. A former Timberwolves’ forward, Madsen is rebuilding Utah Valley after Mark Pope’s departure and would bring much-needed life to a tired program stuck in mediocrity. And the guy still has a Minneapolis phone number.
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Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM and host of High Motor by BetMGM, an NFL and college football podcast available on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else. He has written for Sports Illustrated, HERO Sports, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter: @DoughtyBetMGM