The Minnesota Golden Gophers ended their Big Ten campaign with another strange blow-out loss to Purdue. They’ll be the #9 seed in the Big Ten tournament and will play Illinois for the third time this season at 11 am central time on Thursday. Very few people will see that game. If they lose, and let’s be honest they probably will, they’ll be in good shape to lose an opening round game in the NCAA tournament, which will be unwatchable.

For whatever reason, there is an assumption that the next Gopher coach will have some sort of local connection. We love our local connections, as any viewer of the local nightly news can tell you. No matter the national or international story, you’ll know how it allegedly affects you, no matter how obscurely. Why would a hypothetical coaching search be any different? When discussing candidates with local ties, it is important to acknowledge the general lack of success of Minnesota basketball teams, and ask why local connections are really a good thing.

Flip Saunders
The former Gopher point guard is at the top of the casual fan wish list. He has coached in NBA conference finals three times, and has been fired three times. After taking a year off and dabbling on television, he is looking to get back into basketball.

Why Flip:
There is a desire for a perceived quick fix and Saunders fits that bill. He has name recognition. He’s been extremely popular since he hasn’t had to coach a local team. He has NBA ties, which could help with recruiting. There is an assumption that because he coached in the NBA that he would be successful in the college ranks. There is also the assumption that NBA ties guarantee recruiting success.

Why not Flip:
One of the main criticisms of Tubby Smith is that he has treated his time at Minnesota like an early retirement and only wanted to secure a high paying job for his son. Hiring a 58 year who has been in semi-retirement for the last few years who would assuredly hire his son doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. He has never coached college basketball, and it is a big assumption that any NBA success translates to the college level. I’ve been trying to think of successful college coaches who came from the NBA without college head coaching experience first, and have drawn a blank. He also hasn’t recruited in nearly 30 years. His name alone will get him in the doors of the “Big Three,” but that is only one recruiting class. He’ll need to recruit nationally, and the process from identifying talent to getting them on campus to actually signing with the program is a real grind even for the youngest and hungriest coaches. He can’t just write a check, at least for the Gophers with their history of NCAA violations.

The verdict:
Saunders shouldn’t be the head coach, if he is even interested. The Gophers need a program builder, and Flip is anything but that. There is also the pesky problem of his interest in buying the Timberwolves and running the team. He can’t do that and coach the Timberwolves.  He’d win press conferences, but winning games is more important.

Tim Miles
The former Southwest State, North Dakota State, Colorado State, and current Nebraska head coach has climbed the ranks from barely Divison I all the way to the Big Ten.

Why Miles:
There is no question that Tim Miles is a program builder. Under his leadership, North Dakota State had a winning record in their first two seasons of Division I play. He turned Colorado State from a mediocre football school into an NCAA tournament team. His teams get consistently better throughout the season and season to season. He won only five Big Ten games in his first season with the Cornhuskers, but that was one more win than last season, despite losing the team losing four seniors from the season before. He tweets during games too.

Why not Miles:
The question isn’t about whether Tim Miles would be a good coach, but if he is worth pursuing. He has a sweet heart contract at Nebraska, plenty of time to build a team, and no pressure or expectations. He also has the benefit of a brand new practice facility and a brand new arena.

The verdict:
He’d probably be a good coach, but why would he come to Minnesota? There are too many reasons to stay in Nebraska. Miles is also a decent guy, and I doubt he would bail out after the first year of his contract, especially for another Big Ten team.

Ben Jacobson
The current Northern Iowa head coach has been in Cedar Falls for seven years, and has two NCAA tournament appearances.

Why Jacobson:
In 2010 the Jacobson led Panthers went on one of the most unexpected Sweet 16 runs in recent memory, including a two point victory over Kansas, the number one seed. Athletic directors are always looking for the next big thing, and Jacobson was that.

Why not Jacobson:
Northern Iowa had a great season a few years ago, but hasn’t done much since. There were no NCAA tournament appearances since that one great season, and there won’t be on this year. The 2010 team had five losses. Over the last three seasons Northern Iowa has lost 42 games.

The Verdict:
If Jacobson is even considered a viable candidate,then something has gone drastically wrong in any potential coaching search. Mid-major coaches need to strike while the iron is hot, and Jacobson didn’t. Whether he was waiting for better offer or wasn’t interesting in moving, he probably won’t be able to leave Northern Iowa until after another miraculous post-season run.

3 thoughts on “Who’s got next? A look at “local” candidates to be the next Gophers coach.

Comments are closed.