Mark Coyle wants Gophers basketball to ‘take the next step’

University of Minnesota Athletic Director Mark Coyle is confined to his home just like the rest of us, with the state under a “Stay at Home” order until at least April 10.

But his last face-to-face meeting on campus was on March 13, and it was with Gophers basketball coach Richard Pitino after the Big Ten Tournament had been canceled due to the Coronavirus pandemic. On Tuesday, Coyle spoke about that meeting for the first time publicly with KFAN’s Justin Gaard on the Golden Gopher Podcast. His message to Pitino: “It’s time to take the next step.”

The Gophers (15-16) had a disappointing season coming off their second NCAA Tournament appearance under Pitino, and first win after beating Louisville. After finishing 8-12 in the Big Ten, questions were mounting about Pitino’s job security. It was in that meeting that Coyle told Pitino he would be back next season.

“What I mean by that next step is what can I as an athletic director do, what can Rhonda as a sports administrator do, what can our department do to help him with recruiting, with winning games, with continuing to build his program. Academically, Richard has taken his program to the highest grade point average we’ve ever had, and that’s awesome,” Coyle told Gaard. “I respect Richard for that, but we clearly feel it’s time to take the next step. I have the utmost respect and confidence in Richard. I’m excited that he’s the basketball coach, and we’ll continue to work with him to get us to the next level, to compete for championships and to build this the right way.”

The Gophers will lose Daniel Oturu to the NBA Draft, and Marcus Carr announced earlier this week he’s going to go through the draft process but not hire an agent. He’s expected to return next season, and the Gophers will bring in Jamal Mashburn Jr. and Martice Mitchell as freshmen.

Minnesota has two more scholarships to fill, assuming Oturu stays in the draft, and the hope is one of them goes to Hopkins star guard Kerwin Walton. He released a list of six finalists on Tuesday, and it includes the Gophers. He’s the top remaining uncommitted in-state prospect left, and expects to make a college decision when the spring singing period opens April 15.

Football season in jeopardy?

There remains plenty of doubt and uncertainty for what the future holds in college sports due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Will there be a football season? Will it have to be adjusted?

The short answer is we don’t know yet. That’s especially frustrating for Gophers fans, since Minnesota is coming off its best season in 115 years, which ended with a win over Auburn in the Outback Bowl. That game, and the historic Penn State game, were recently re-aired on YouTube for fans while we practice our social distancing.

All spring football activities were canceled due to Covid-19, and most players are back home. We don’t know what the future holds.

“We can’t wait until we get back to campus, back to football, to soccer, to volleyball, to hockey, all the other programs get back to competing because that means we’re all in the same place and people are doing better,” Coyle said. “We’ve got to be prepared for those scenarios. We simply don’t have the answers yet, we don’t know what it’s going to look like.”

NCAA approves waivers for spring seniors

Senior spring college athletes who had their seasons taken away because of Coronavirus got some good news on Tuesday. The NCAA is allowing waivers for those seniors who want one more year to come back, if they so choose.

Coyle told Gaard it’s a work in progress, and he’s communicating with his coaches and staff to grand those requests.

“If we do have student athletes that want to return, we want to work with our coaches, we want to make sure we outline the parameters of what that looks like,” Coyle said.

How is Coyle staying busy?

Like the rest of us, Mark Coyle is working from home in these uncertain times. He has daily conference calls with the Big Ten, and offers time to check in on Gophers student athletes. So what does he do when he’s not an athletic director? He goes for a run with his wife every morning, watches 80s movies like Breakfast Club, 16 Candles, Ghostbusters and Top Gun and says his wife is big into cards.