The new University of Minnesota athletics director Mark Coyle sat down with the Minnesota Daily on Friday for the first iteration of a monthly Q&A.
Coyle discussed his first few months on the job, the J Robinson termination and his future plans, among other topics..
Editor’s Note: “MD” signifies Minnesota Daily; “MC,” Mark Coyle.
MD: How has it been for you and your family getting acclimated to the state of Minnesota?
MC: It’s been great being back here. We were here from 2001 to 2005, and I’ve talked a lot about [how] our oldest two children were born here. We now have Benjamin in our family, so it’s three of us and my wife Krystan, but it’s been really great to be back. We really enjoy the Midwest values and being around a lot of family, which has been great for us.
MD: Do you have a favorite Minnesota team you’ve been following this year?
MC: I’m not dodging your question, I follow them all … I have a great deal of respect for student-athletes because they come in and they [have] got to compete in a high level in the Big Ten conference. They have to compete academically at a world-class institution and do it the right way, academically, so I really enjoy watching all of our sports. As you know, I got here in May and started in early June, and it’s been great to get to the fall sports … See the success of our teams, because we really need to be a part of that.
MD: At your opening press conference, you said that you hoped to create a culture of accountability. Do you believe you’ve done that so far?
MC: I think it’s hard to do it in four months. I tell people I’ve been very fortunate to go out and talk to a lot of different groups, internally and externally. I think that’s awesome, because it gives me a chance to talk about all the great things that are going on here. The academic success that we have with our student-athletes, the athletic success we had this past year. At the same time, it’s been a difficult part of my job because we’ll be defined by our actions, and I think you have accountability by your actions … I kind of use the phrase “trust with verification.” People trust me right now, right? I’m new, they hear what I’m saying and they want to make sure we’re doing things the right way all the time. That we’re low ego, high output — that we commit to all of our student-athletes. But ultimately, our actions will define us. I’m looking forward to when we get a few more months into this, where people will see that we walk the talk. What we talk about is who we are and what we want to be.
MD: Going off that, do you believe you’ve accomplished what you’ve wanted to in your first 100 days?
MC: Yeah. I think a big thing was for me to get here and listen. I talked a lot about that at the opening press conference. I wanted to make sure I listened to people. I’ve had a chance to meet with each one of our head coaches. I’ve met with our senior staff and our department heads in each one of the departments to kind of get a feel of where we’re at as the department. I am so grateful for the reception I’ve received from the staff, from the coaches, from the students, so I’m pleased with that, but there’s a lot of work we need to do to continue to move forward and get to where we all want to get to.
MD: What do you think is going to be the most beneficial part of the Athletes Village project?
MC: I think the biggest thing Athletes Village does is, for the past 18 to 24 months, there’s been a lot of talk nationally about the impact on the student-athlete experience. I think there’s no question Athletes Village will have a huge impact on all 700 student-athletes. We have 25 sports, 700 student-athletes. They’ll all be able to use that facility, whether it be our leadership center, whether it be our training table [or] new training facility ... I think it’ll have a huge impact on what we call the student-athlete development side on what we do. Again, I think that’s going to be an important piece for us as we continue to move forward and continue to compete at a high level in the Big Ten.
MD: One of your biggest moves so far has been the termination of J Robinson. Why did you feel the time was now?
MC: As I mentioned when we were going through that process, I’ve known J a long time, since 2001. There were serious allegations made against the program, and I think it was important for us to take our time to gather the information, working with the Minneapolis Police as well as working with the Office of General Counsel, who did that report, so once we had gathered all that information, we made the decision. And again, we released the police report. That’s public, and people can see why we made the decision we made.
MD: Did you happen to read the Minnesota Daily article about the athletic department knowing of drug problems within the wrestling team back in December? Do you have any comment?
MC: I did not have a chance to see the article. I got here in May, so I’m not dodging the question, but I can tell you again that we made the police report public and our investigation public, what we found, and we stand by that decision.
MD: On Thursday, men’s hockey head coach Don Lucia said he hopes to sign his contract extension soon. Do you have any update on that?
MC: As I shared when I got here, I don’t mean to keep going back to my initial press conference, but we talked about sitting down with each head coach, and I’ve had a chance to sit down with [Lucia} and all of our head coaches, and we won’t comment on contracts and where they’re at, but again, we’ve had positive conversations, and we’ve won five straight [hockey] conference championships. We were just picked this week by the coaches to repeat again, and I look forward to watching Don and his team compete and try to defend that Big Ten conference championship as well as advancing far in the NCAA tournament and competing for Frozen Fours. We’re at a spot where we can compete at a high level, and I’m excited to watch that program compete.
MD: How do you feel about the state of the men’s basketball team?
MC: I’ve enjoyed getting to know [head coach Richard Pitino]. I give coach Pitino a lot of credit. When I started, I started with the Gopher Road Trip right away, and Richard, when he talked to our fans across the state, he took responsibility for last year. I think he’s grown a lot — he’s learned a lot from last year. I think that team has learned a lot. I can tell you they worked incredibly hard over the summer, bringing in speakers to talk to the team about accountability, about how to be good leaders, how to do things the right way, academically, athletically, socially. Those were all things Richard did on his own, and I really compliment him. I know they’re working hard. I always go down to this: Nobody wants to win more than coach Pitinio and the kids on that team. I feel it’s my job — it’s our department’s job — to do everything we can to support him and the team as they try to compete at that high level.
MD: Any future plans, anything on the horizon you feel is worth sharing?
MC: I think the biggest thing is our fall sports are off to such a great start. Obviously our volleyball team is ranked second in the country, women’s soccer is ranked eighth in the country, women’s hockey is up [Friday] — they’re ranked second in the country, men’s hockey, so there’s so many good things going on athletically, but I think sometimes we lose sight of all the academic success. It’s great when we can tell people that we’re the highest-rated public institution with respect to student-athlete academic performance. That’s a big thing we need [to] talk about. The thing we need to share, and again, we’re excited about those things and continuing to build on that great foundation in our department.
Editor’s Note: This Q&A has been edited for clarity.