University of Minnesota Athletics Director Mark Coyle sat down with the Minnesota Daily on Wednesday for the third edition of a monthly Q&A.
Coyle discussed the volleyball team’s NCAA tournament run, his support of football head coach Tracy Claeys and the U.S Bank Stadium controversy, among other topics.
Do you have any winter break plans?
Winter break plans will be going to the bowl game with football, being out there supporting them and obviously we come back with all of our winter sports in full swing. We’ll be busy back here with plenty to do on campus.
The volleyball team is in the Sweet 16. What is like to be the Athletic Director of a nationally successful team?
It’s a credit to [volleyball head coach Hugh McCutcheon] and those students on that team. They’ve worked incredibly hard all year. They’ve beaten the number one team [twice] this year, I think … so they’ve had a phenomenal year. [I] had a chance to be at the [Sports Pavilion] last weekend and saw them compete on Friday and Saturday night ... We’re so fortunate with such a great fan base that supports our program, so it’s really exciting, obviously. [We have a] big match on Friday against Missouri …
The program has seen a lot of success with McCutcheon. Do you notice anything from him in particular he does differently?
… He has an incredible wealth of experience, being an Olympic coach two times and being on the international level and coaching at that level … he brings an incredible background, history, knowledge and understanding of that game and I think most importantly, he knows how to motivate his team. Every time we play, we’re top two in the country for most of the year. Our last four home matches were all five set matches and all close games and those kids pulled it through and had a great finish … he brings a great deal of experience and knowledge to the process, which is great.
Favorite part of volleyball games?
I have great respect for the competition. I love to watch students compete at a high level ... There’s no doubt when you’re playing Hawaii to advance to the regional … kids are competing at a high level, which I appreciate, and the crowds have been awesome. We’re so thankful for the people that come and support our volleyball program.
The football team just finished 8-4 in the regular season with the first year of [head coach Tracy] Claeys at the helm. You put out that statement throwing your support behind him — what led you to that decision?
Tracy and I have talked a lot. When you go from being a coordinator to a head coach or when you go from being a deputy athletics director to an athletics director, there’s a transition you go through. I’m very appreciative and respectful of what coach Claeys and that staff has done. We’ve had eight wins. I think three out of the four years we’ve had eight win seasons, which is a great accomplishment. We’re excited to play Washington State in the Holiday Bowl and, again, I’m thankful for his hard work and I look forward to working with him.
When you put out that statement, multiple media outlets were reporting about a possible extension for Claeys. There’s some people who disagree with giving Claeys an extension. How would you respond to people who disagree with that decision?
As with any head coach, we really don’t talk about contract extensions and negotiations. I would leave it at that.
Did the football team meet expectations this year?
That’s probably a better question for the students and the coaches who are in it day in and day out … I’m excited. We’re 8-4 and some people are disappointed, and that’s great because that means we have expectations. I think that’s great that we have expectations. Again, the [team had its] third eight-win season out of four years. I think with this group over the past four years, I think we had 30 wins, which is great. I think we continue to make progress, but obviously, like volleyball, we want to compete at a high level. That’s our ultimate goal.
The men’s basketball team is now 8-1 after getting eight wins all of last season. Are you feeling more optimistic about the future of the program than you were a month ago?
If you remember when we talked over the past few months, I give [men’s basketball head coach Richard Pitino] a lot of credit. This past summer, they brought in a lot of people to talk to that team and they really focused internally on what they were doing and how they were doing things and how could they improve their process. Obviously, I’m optimistic after the 8-1 start. [They had] a nice win last night at the Barn. Again, I give Coach Pitino a lot of credit. I give the students on that team a lot of credit because they looked inside themselves and what they have to do to do things better and they took ownership from last season, and I think you’re seeing the results with their hard work this past summer … Obviously, we’ve got a game Friday night, a game Sunday and then a few more non-conference games, and then we’ll start playing against Michigan State on the 27th. So again, I’m excited about the start we’ve had.
The women’s hockey team is off to another hot start like the previous years. What do you do as an AD with a program that’s almost always successful?
I think sometimes when you have programs that are achieving at a high level, you sometimes take your attention off of them and try to focus on others in the department. I think it’s important that we continue to focus on women’s hockey. [Women’s hockey head coach Brad Frost] has done a phenomenal job. We split with Wisconsin, who’s number one in the country this past week. We have a big series this week out in Boston … I have a lot of respect for Brad because obviously they compete at a high, high level and they’re not shy to play people, which I really appreciate. It helps our program get better and build a solid foundation for the future.
The University recently disclosed that you and other school admins attended soccer and football games at U.S. Bank Stadium for free for business reasons and it sparked a state legislative audit. What do you think of the University deciding to disclose your and other administrator’s use of the suites?
Well, again, the Minnesota Sports Facility Authority invited us to attend the game, and we put out a statement earlier in the week. I don’t have much to add after the statement.
The statement said you were conducting business there. Your wife went with you to a game. Why would you bring a spouse, a non-U-employee, for free to the event when it’s meant for business purposes?
Again, we put out a statement on that, and I stick by our statement.
The statement said that you and other admins will reimburse the Minnesota Sports Facility Authority for tickets. Do you know how much you will be paying back?
The value of the ticket was $200 … for all the tickets that, again, we were invited to by [the Minnesota Sports Facility Authority]. We reimbursed those ticket costs.
Editor’s Note: This Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.