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The Truth Revealed

This article is all my own conjecture and opinion, so please take it as such. However, it doesn't necessarily mean that the broad scope of some or all of what I'm suggesting is untrue.

The lack of a new basketball coach (and the number of guys to turn it down) reveal much about the actual state of Gophers athletics relative to the national scene. We've all wondered how it is the Gophers can excel at so many sports except for the biggest ones? Volleyball, wrestling, baseball - even hockey (current meltdown notwithstanding). The firing of Tubby Smith, in my opinion, has brought out shadows of all the skeletons in the closet working against the U becoming a big time sports university.

1) The 'Aw-shucks' Problem.

Listen to Sid Hartman (who I'm sure you're close personal friends with, because who isn't these days?). What he says is true - we don't believe that we can be big time. We don't believe that it's our right to deserve anything more than mediocre - except in hockey. Interesting, that. Our women's hockey team just dominated a season like no other, and I feel like all is right in the world and its not a big deal. The men's team just lost to Yale, and I'm wondering if Lucia is losing his touch. We don't mess around with hockey in this state, but football and basketball? Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice - well, we Minnesotans ain't gonna be fooled again apparently.

2) Facilities

The lack of a new men's basketball coach isn't a money problem (Shaka Smart could make double what he got here or at UCLA. Hoiberg could've gotten more.) Flip didn't say no because of money. And it's not the Big Ten either - a nicely competitive league with its own cable network (and $$$ and exposure coming in). It's not lack of recruiting talent per se - see the local Big Three and number of Big Ten products who get drafted into the NBA. No, I think it's coming down to facilities and another factor that I'll address next.

There was a recent ESPN or SI article on Hoiberg (before we wanted to hire him) talking about how he loves Ames and everything. It wasn't lost on me that they referenced following him around in Iowa State's sparkly new practice facility and he looked around and said he loved it there. As much as it doesn't matter to me, it matters to teenagers what kind of facilities they're going to be put up in. And right now, no national caliber coach worth his salt is coming within 10 feet of the U of MN because we've got no practice facility and a not vintage enough with cool modifications to be hip Barn.

My guess is if we didn't have TCF Bank stadium, it would've been harder to get Jerry Kill to come, and even if he did, would've been harder to keep him here. There's a reason why Teague is willing to give him whatever he wants. Winning football means more money for every other sport.

3) Culture

In terms of hockey, football, and a lot of other sports, the Twin Cities has a lot to offer. What I mean is that culturally, if you're a football player, there's not much up here to necessarily turn you off. It's the Big Ten, we love hard workers and underdogs, and appreciate toughness and other manly activities such as hunting and fishing.

Basketball, however, is unique among the sports in that it is (and I mean this in the nicest way possible) the most ego driven of all the sports. No where is individual talent more impactful on a team's season than in basketball. Now, we love winners here, but we don't like prima donnas. We like underdogs, but we don't like players who think they're better than they are and simply underperform. I'm not saying that all basketball players are prima donnas with an overinflated sense of themselves, but I am suggesting that guys who are top ten recruits in the nation understand full well that their lives are going to be very different than most recruits, and that in the case of Tyus Jones, for example, he could be a high NBA draft pick in two years, perhaps earning more on his rookie contract per year than his college coach. Who has the power then? Furthermore, I'm not sure Minnesota feels all that welcoming to guys coming from a basketball culture. I look at the Timberwolves as the best example of this. They have a hard time holding on to guys if money and winning are equal between options. It's hard to compete with places like Miami, or Chicago, or places where hoops are a part of the fabric of the city. We have hockey rinks here. That's what people in the broader public relate to, not basketball courts. It's something we have to overcome to get bigtime national recruits.

In many ways basketball is set of fiefdoms, with different guys recruiting players or executives or coaches to their fiefdom and giving out just enough power to keep the peace (and keep people in line). This is the milieu Teague comes out of. What has he learned so far? He's not alpha enough over Smart anymore to get him to come here. In fact, he couldn't win out over Hoiberg either. The whole Flip Saunders thing revealed the country club aspect of the U, which Teague rightfully drew a line against and then (and I can't keep what actually happened there straight) marched right over himself (potentially) by wanting to choose assistant coaches.

Without adequate facilities, Teague is dealing from a weak fiefdom, and he simply doesn't have the currency to establish the kind of basketball hierarchy he wants.

4) The Solution

Simple. Find the Jerry Kill of college basketball who would jump at the opportunity to compete in the Big Ten. A young guy who has a track record of winning, who'd be amazed by a $1.5 million a year salary, and who is just enthusiastic about the opportunity.

Next, fundraise like your job depends on it (because it does) and build the best damn football and basketball practice facilities you can afford, followed by a really sweet renovation of the Barn (say, improve seating and lighting and scoreboards so it feels like a swank loft or something, but not a wholesale overhaul of the Barn).

That's it. Kill will improve the football side, new guy will improve the basketball side, and the U athletic department should be flush with money in the coming years.

But until that happens, appreciate what you're seeing right now as it is showing the truth of where the U actually is in terms of competing at a national level in college athletics. There really is a lot of work to do, and we can either step up to the plate or continue to accept mediocrity.

Editors of The Daily Gopher retain the right to remove posts deemed excessively offensive or grossly inappropriate. Keep it clean and don't be mean.

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