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Gopher Basketball Coaching Search: Potential Candidates with ties to Minnesota

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Let’s apply the Duck Duck Grey Duck Litmus test to the Gopher Basketball coaching search

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Before the list, a comment on this desire to hire someone with Minnesota ties.

This really should not at all be a factor. Mark Coyle should be hiring the best person for the job, the coach he thinks will have the best chance to be successful here. If that person is an assistant coach in the SEC who has never stepped foot in Minnesota? Great, hire that guy. If Coyle finds an amazing recruiter with ties to other recruiting hotbeds and the presumed ability to connect with the recruiting scene here, then hire that guy.

Now, if you find that right hire who ALSO grew up playing Duck Duck Grey Duck, fantastic. But I am hopeful that whomever is hired is capable of building relationships in the recruiting scene and is able to coach the kids on his roster.

The Duck Duck Grey Duck litmus test should come second to qualifications. If the name is only on the list because he’s from MN and we wouldn’t really be interested in hiring him if he were from Delaware, then let’s not entertain the thought.

With that said, there are some viable names who have ties to the program or the state of Minnesota.

  • Craig Smith - Utah St - A member of the Tim Miles coaching tree. Smith was with Miles at North Dakota St, Colorado St and Nebraska; helping Miles to turn around all three of those programs. Maybe not coincidental that the year after Nebraska finished 11-7 in the Big Ten, making the NCAA Tournament, Smith left to become a head coach and Nebraska floundered for the next 5 seasons before Miles was let go. Smith was successful at South Dakota for 4 seasons before going to Utah St where is hoping to take the Aggies to the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season (2020, they did earn the Mountain West auto bid after winning the Mountain West Tournament). His first head coaching stint was at DII Mayville State where in his third year he took the Comets to the D2 NCAA Championship game.
  • Eric Musselman - Arkansas - Musselman was the big name 2 years ago and has made the jump from Nevada to Arkansas very well. Currently the Razorbacks are potentially a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament, which would be their highest seed since the Nolan Richardson days. Having success like that in another P5 conference makes a move to Minnesota unlikely. He has expressed interest in the past to coach where his father coached in the 70s. Would be a great hire, but a lot of logistics are in the way of this one.
  • Brian Dutcher - San Diego St - His father coached the Gophers in the 11 years before Clem took over. Brian Dutcher was a kid in those years, growing up in The Barn. His career has been largely tied to being the top assistant for Steve Fisher both at Michigan and San Diego State. He has only been a head coach for 4 seasons. He has a track record of recruiting success and his recent contract extension has a provision where the buyout is dramatically lower if he gets the job at Minnesota. There is clearly a desire to be here and Dutcher has a long history of collegiate success, even if it’s primarily as an assistant.
  • Niko Medved - Colorado St - A University of Minnesota grad, born in Roseville and even spent 1 year as an assistant coach in Dan Monson’s last year. Medved spent several years as an assistant at Furman and Colorado St (under Miles as well, working with Smith above) before becoming the head coach at Furman. He spent 4 years in Greenville, going 23-12 in his final year before taking the Drake job. The stop in Des Moines was short, just 11 months before feeling compelled to take the Colorado St job. Now at Colorado St, he has the Rams in position to make the NCAA Tournament and possibly win the Mountain West in a year his team was picked to finish 5th.
  • Ryan Saunders - recently fired from Timberwolves - People love Saunders and the story of taking over the Timberwolves following his father’s passing. He was a Gopher, but I’m inclined to pass on Saunders at this point. He has really not demonstrated anything to show that he’d be successful here, at the college level. If we were Vanderbilt fans, this name would not remotely be on our radar.

What is interesting is that there is a quality list of candidates here who have direct ties to Minnesota. Over the last several searches for a men’s basketball or football coach, having a Minnesota guy has always been talked about, though never materialized in any meaningful way.

Were I to list my preference on this list?

  1. Eric Musselman - this one will be a challenge and expensive. But someone showing significant success at another P5 school would be fantastic. And the Big Ten is a jump up from the SEC, which typically finishes 4th or 5th among P5 conference rankings. Arkansas certainly will be giving him an extension soon, so this one would be tough.
  2. Craig Smith - If he manages to get Utah St. into the tournament this year, it would be 3 straight years for the Aggies. And 2 of those as an at-large. It would not be a sexy name but this would be a great coach who works hard in recruiting.
  3. Brian Dutcher - San Diego St has had some very good teams recently and Dutcher has a history of recruiting some big-time players to his programs. He would be a clear third on my personal list, but Dutcher would be a good hire.
  4. Niko Medved - There are a few things to really like about Medved. He’s young, has that high-energy enthusiasm that’s reminiscent of PJ Fleck. One conference title (Furhman) and zero NCAA appearances is what holds me back from getting too excited. But I firmly believe in the next couple years he will a sought after mid-major coach.
  5. nobody else - Of the names with local ties, I’d be happy with any of the 4 names listed above.