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Who Should Minnesota Hire As Their Next Head Basketball Coach?

Brian Dutcher, San Diego State


After nearly a decade in charge in Minneapolis, it appears that the Richard Pitino era may soon be coming to an end. A 2020-21 season that began with so much promise has floundered, with the Gophers losing five straight, punctuated by embarrassing defeats to Big Ten bottom-feeders Northwestern and Nebraska last week. Even though athletic director Mark Coyle has to deal with Pitino's relatively hefty 1.75 million dollar buyout, I can't imagine a scenario in which Pitino is the head basketball coach next fall. As someone who has been very displeased with the Pitino tenure for awhile now, evidenced by this post over two years ago, I'm excited for the future and intrigued about what Coyle's next move will be. 

Assuming the Gophers do officially move on, I've compiled a list of ten coaches who I would want to take over the program. I've decided to separate these coaches into three tiers:

  • Tier 1: Hires that are probably unrealistic, but ones that I would consider true "home-run hires". These hires are almost surely never going to happen but hey, a fan can dream, right?
  • Tier 2: Hires that I believe would be perfect for the role, and actually have a good chance of happening. While I may not classify them as "home-run hires", they would still be terrific moves and I'd be thrilled with any of them running the program.
  • Tier 3: Hires that I wouldn't be very thrilled about, but at the very least they're a step in the right direction post-Pitino. 

Tier 1

John Beilein, former Michigan HC
Currently unemployed in the coaching profession, John Beilein has become a popular name amongst programs looking to move on from their respective head coaches. He's certainly qualified for any power conference job; Beilein climbed the ladder in the Division I ranks and eventually landed at Michigan, where he won 278 games and played for the National Championship twice. Beilein is now 68 years old, but I still believe that he wants to coach. A return to the Big Ten would be perfect, but I'm just doubtful that Beilein would take the Gopher job. He has no obvious ties to the program or the state of Minnesota and frankly, he could probably land a bigger job if he wanted to. It remains a nice little pipe dream, but one I don't think will actually happen.

Kelvin Sampson, Houston HC
There are several reasons why this almost definitely will not happen. For one, Kelvin Sampson's last job in the Big Ten was at Indiana, a program that was dead in the water following NCAA violations he oversaw. Secondly, Sampson is another guy without any obvious ties to Minnesota and he seems pretty content at the moment with Houston. However, I still think this would be a pretty awesome hire for one obvious reason: he wins. Everywhere Sampson has gone he has had success, whether it be at Washington State, Oklahoma, Indiana or now Houston. Just look at what the UH basketball program has become since he took over. A middle-of-the-pack American Athletic program has suddenly become the conference's powerhouse and a fixture in Top 25 polls. Of course with winning off-the-court problems seem to follow him wherever he goes. Sampson has been hit with serious NCAA violations on numerous occasions and in multiple locations. Some fans might still be willing to take the leap, but Coyle almost certainly won't, even if Sampson had interest.

Kevin Willard, Seton Hall HC
Casual college basketball fans might not know much about Seton Hall's Kevin Willard, but he's become somewhat of a hot commodity. Willard got his start in the college coaching ranks under Rick Pitino at Louisville, before a great run as head man at Iona. Since taking over at Seton Hall, he's turned the Pirates into one of the most consistent programs anywhere in college basketball. They are on the cusp of making their sixth straight NCAA Tournament appearance (would've made it in '19-'20 if it hadn't been cancelled) and have finished .500 or better each year in the Big East during that span. Willard is clearly in demand but he's waiting for the right job, as he turned down an offer from Virginia Tech when they were looking to replace Buzz Williams. I think he'd be a truly cold-blooded get for Mark Coyle, but there's little reason to believe that would actually happen. He has no ties to the Midwest and is an East Coast guy through and through. It's also difficult to say that Minnesota is a much better gig than Seton Hall at this point, even with the basketball talent inside the state currently.

Tier 2

Brian Dutcher, San Diego State HC
Coyle will undoubtedly swing at some big names for the job but I truly believe his first call should be to Brian Dutcher at San Diego State. Dutcher checks just about every box you could want in a Gopher head coach candidate. He's waited his turn in the coaching world, spending nearly three decades as an assistant and associate head coach at Michigan and SDSU before eventually landing a head coaching job. Since then, he's gone 87-30 with the Aztecs, and had potentially the best team in program history last season before March Madness was cancelled. Dutcher also has a connection to the university; his dad, Jim, was head coach at Minnesota for over a decade and Brian is a Gopher alum. In addition, Dutcher makes a ton of sense financially. He just signed an extension that raised his buyout to 6.9 million dollars, but it would only cost 1 million if the University of Minnesota were to hire him. San Diego State AD John David Wicker has even acknowledged the fact that Minnesota is an important place to Dutcher stating, "It means so much to him and his family. I feel comfortable if that's something he really wanted to do." This hire makes so much sense, I almost feel like it won't happen.

Eric Musselman, Arkansas HC
A Minneapolis native whose dad also happens to be a former Gopher head coach, Eric Musselman certainly makes a lot of sense as well. Musselman has had a fascinating career path overall, getting into coaching with a semi-pro team before multiple stops in the NBA, in college, and internationally. In 2015 he was hired at Nevada and went to the NCAA Tournament three times in four seasons, making the Sweet 16 in 2017-2018. It eventually landed him at Arkansas, where he is the favorite for SEC Coach of the Year, as the Razorbacks are 18-5 overall and 10-4 in the league. In a vacuum, an Arkansas coach jumping to Minnesota might be slightly unrealistic, but Musselman's ties to the state are obvious and a major selling point. Apparently Musselman also has a relationship with head football coach P.J. Fleck, making this hire an even greater possibility.

Craig Smith, Utah State HC
Another Minnesota native, Craig Smith has done an excellent job in his post at Utah State since 2018. He led the Aggies to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011 in his debut campaign, and was well on their way to another one last year. The 2020-21 Utah State squad is currently on the cusp of Tournament consideration as an at-large bid, while sitting near the top of the Mountain West standings. Prior to his time in Logan, Smith was head man at Mayville State and South Dakota, where he had plenty of success. The vast majority of his coaching stops have been in the Midwest so a return to the region could be in the cards. The only thing that could stand in the way is the fancy new extension he just signed, a six-year deal that runs through 2025-26. His buyout is 25 percent of whatever is still remaining in his base salary if he chooses to leave. That's still money Minnesota could pay, particularly for a highly qualified head coach with one of the best winning percentages in Mountain West history.

Porter Moser, Loyola-Chicago HC
Porter Moser's stock has exploded since leading Loyola-Chicago on an improbable Final Four in 2018, and it seems likely the 52-year old will eventually take the jump somewhere else. Moser's career path has also been interesting, including past head coaching gigs at Arkansas-Little Rock and Illinois State. Both jobs he struggled at, but there's no denying the job he's done at Loyola. After some initial struggles in the Horizon League, the program has been very consistent since joining the Missouri Valley. In addition to that Final Four run, the Ramblers have won at least 20 games five times and won the 2015 College Basketball Invitational. Moser does not have any Minnesota ties, but he has coached nearly his entire career in the Midwest and is a native of northern Illinois. For the Gophers, Moser would bring a rising name in the coaching industry who is known as a superb recruiter, especially in the Chicago area.

Tier 3

Niko Medved, Colorado State HC
Medved is the final of the so-called "Mountain West Trio" of coaches with Minnesota ties currently having success out west. Medved is a Minnesota alum and a native of the state whose first head coaching job was at Macalester College in St. Paul. From then on he has climbed the coaching ladder with head coaching stops at Furman, Drake and Colorado State, as well as a brief stint as a Gopher assistant. Medved certainly checks boxes as a guy who understands the state and the program, and he has Colorado State in the mix for NCAA Tournament contention this year. My primary concern with Medved is that he simply has not been a head coach for very long. While he's been successful at all three of his stops, he's only been a head man since 2013 and is just 47. He's considered a rising "up and comer" but so was Pitino, which always makes me skeptical. Compared to others on this list, that lack of experience is notable.

Tim Miles, former Nebraska HC
Yet another candidate with strong Midwest ties, Tim Miles was the head coach at Nebraska from 2012-2019. It's hard to gauge Miles and his tenure in Lincoln. On one hand, Nebraska is a very difficult place to win and will always be a football school, yet he made one Tournament appearance and appeared in two NITs. On the other, he was 116-114 overall and 52-76 in Big Ten action, with the program stalling over his final few seasons. Still, Miles will get an opportunity again somewhere, and Minnesota does make some sense. He's coached in Minnesota before at Southwest Minnesota State and obviously knows the Big Ten as a whole. Still, Miles has simply not won enough for me to get super excited about him potentially landing in the Twin Cities. His career win percentage is .544 and even back at Colorado State, the school that got him a power conference gig, he was sub-.500. He seems like a great guy and he should get another chance somewhere, but I don't think Minnesota is the right answer.

Darian DeVries, Drake HC
Drake's hot start to the 2020-21 season has elevated the name of Darian DeVries, who is in his third season in Des Moines. So far with the Bulldogs, DeVries has gone 68-27 overall and looks like he may get them to their first NCAA Tournament since 2008. Prior to his time with Drake, DeVries was a longtime assistant at Creighton, coaching under both Dana Altman and Greg McDermott. It's definitely a solid resume but again, DeVries simply doesn't have a ton of experience as head coach. Drake is his only head coaching experience at any level and needless to say, the Big Ten is a little bit of a jump from the Missouri Valley. I do think he has the chance to be a highly successful head coach considering he is just 45, but I'd like someone with more valuable coaching experience at this point.

Other Names I'm Watching
T.J. Otzelberger, UNLV Head Coach 
Matt McMahon, Murray State Head Coach
Dane Fife, Michigan State Assistant
Dennis Gates, Cleveland State Head Coach
Luke Murray, Louisville Assistant
Travis Steele, Xavier Head Coach
Dana Ford, Missouri State Head Coach
Ryan Pedon, Ohio State Assistant

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