Minnesota players push on for themselves, as well as former coaches

Junior center Spencer Tollackson disagreed with the coaching change.

by C.J. Spang

On Oct. 26, at basketball media day, former Minnesota men’s basketball coach Dan Monson came over to talk with me before he addressed the media as a whole.

He asked me how things were going as sports editor and I gave him my standard response: I was enjoying it, but no one told me how difficult it would be managing people.

His response was, “It’s lonely at the top.”

A little over a month later, it got a whole lot lonelier for Monson as he resigned as coach of the Gophers on Nov. 30 – just seven games into the season.

He wasn’t the only coach to go. Just eight days later, assistant coach Bill Walker “parted ways” with the team.

But, while nearly everyone in the media has been busy taking parting shots at Monson, there’s at least one question no one has bothered to answer.

How does a team that has won the same number of games as coaches it’s lost in the past eight days feel?

“I think initially the guys were emotional and kind of shocked,” junior center Spencer Tollackson said Monday in regards to Monson’s resignation.

For Tollackson, who said he was very close to the two coaches and became very emotional the morning he found out, hurt was something else he was feeling.

“To lose two of your favorite coaches, and ‘your boys’ as I would say it, in a matter of two weeks, it hurts.”

As for whether or not the right decision was made about “his boy” Monson, Tollackson answered without hesitation.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “I don’t think it was the right decision. I stand by coach 100 percent.”

And from the sounds of things, both Monson and Walker are standing by their former team 100 percent.

Tollackson said he’s talked to both coaches numerous times since the changes and he said they wish nothing but the best for the team and have been telling them to keep fighting, get better and win.

“It’s nice to know that there’s no bridges burned or hard feelings, necessarily,” Tollackson said. “I think everybody knew that that would be the case, but it’s just nice to know they’re still with us even though they can’t be with us.”

And Tollackson knows he and his teammates are partly to blame for those coaches no longer being with them.

At the press conference where Monson announced his resignation, athletic director Joel Maturi covered all his bases by saying everyone was to blame for what happened, but called out the players specifically.

“Quite frankly, I told (the players) if they had played a little bit harder, we wouldn’t have had this meeting,” Maturi said.

Tollackson said Maturi’s statement isn’t completely true, but it has some merit to it.

“There are so many factors that come into play,” Tollackson said. “I think that’s why I was pretty emotional because Ö any time something drastic happens like that, you always think, ‘What could I have done? I wish I would have done more.’ “

Whether or not the Gophers did enough during the first seven games to prevent Monson’s resignation varies, depending on who’s asked.

But that’s no longer the issue. The issue is whether or not the Gophers can move on and put it behind themselves to have a successful season. And, according to Tollackson, that’s something they owe themselves and Monson.

“You’ve got to put it in the past and you’ve got to move on,” Tollackson said. “Nothing personal to coach again, but we owe it to ourselves, we owe it to (Monson) to move on and to try turn this thing around.

“There’s a reason why what happened happened, and we’re trying our hardest to change that and make sure we don’t go in that direction again.”

And, at this point, that’s how Minnesota’s success should be gauged. Not by wins and losses, not by postseason bids, but whether the Gophers can turn things around and salvage this season, proving they have not given up on a season so many others already have.

– C.J. Spang welcomes comments at [email protected].