One month into a frustrating coaching search, the Gophers administration found faith in irony by hiring the coach of the team who ended Minnesota’s season in March.
Men’s Athletics Director Mark Dienhart announced Saturday that former Gonzaga coach Dan Monson will be the Gophers’ 14th head men’s basketball coach.
“I’ve always said, and my administration (at Gonzaga) knew, that if I left it would be one more step, and this is the step that I’ve chosen,” Monson said.
“This is the place that I want to be. I think I’m in the best league in the country, at one of the finest institutions in America, and I plan on being here for a long time.”
Monson signed a seven-year contract with a base salary of $150,000 per year, and a media income and supplemental package amounting to an addition $340,000 per year.
“I think we have a coach here, with whom we have a signed contract, who is worth every penny of what he’s being paid, and I’m awfully glad he’s here,” Dienhart said.
Monson also received a ringing endorsement from University President Mark Yudof.
“I think coach Monson is outstanding and he’s the right person to grow the basketball program and take us where we want to go, and take us there what I’ll call the right way,” Yudof said.
Monson, 37, comes to the Gophers program after compiling a record of 52-17 in his two seasons as head coach at Gonzaga. Monson was a nine-year assistant to Dan Fitzgerald, six years as the top assistant and the final three as associate head coach, before taking over in 1997.
In his first year, Monson’s team posted a 24-10 record, won the West Coast Conference regular-season title, and advanced to the second round of the National Invitational Tournament. Monson was the first coach in WCC history to win the regular-season title in his inaugural season. Following the season he was voted conference coach of the year in the WCC.
His second year saw Monson marshal his troops all the way to a first-ever appearance in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. Along the way, his team pulled upset wins over Minnesota, second-seed Stanford and Florida. Only eventual champion Connecticut could stop Gonzaga from marching further into March.
Starting the morning of the Gonzaga game, former Gophers coach Clem Haskins was at the forefront of allegations involving numerous cases of academic fraud among his players. Haskins’ contract was bought out in June, and the search for a coach began.
The search included going after high-profile candidates Rick Majerus from Utah and Flip Saunders from the NBA’s Timberwolves, both of whom declined consideration. Athletics Director Terry Holland of Virginia was courted heavily, but also withdrew last week, leaving Monson, though not a top candidate, a more-than-attractive option for the job.
“He was hired because I think everybody in the country knows what a rising star he is,” Dienhart said. “He’s not a well-kept secret.”
Because of pending investigations into alleged academic fraud by both the University and the NCAA, Monson’s abilities to handle the possible sanctions, will become equally as important as wins, losses, and tournament berths.
“I know that with this probation, that the next coach here has to do it the right way,” Monson said. “Academically, things have to be a priority, and off the court things have to be done the right way, and that’s what I feel like as a coach I stand for.
“In that regard I’m coming into a place that expects me to run my program the only way I know how.”
The Gophers men’s basketball program might have taken an important step toward regaining integrity Saturday, as Monson appears determined to ensure his players join him in his academic focus.
“When we were going through that (NCAA tournament) run,” Monson said, “one of the things I really did emphasize to our kids is this cannot affect your academic life.” “You’ve got to sell them and educate them on the importance of that aspect of their life. They’ve got to believe that in their heart that, ‘This is an important part of what I do at college,’ and if it’s not, they won’t be part of my program.”
Notes: Gonzaga associate head coach Mark Few will be promoted to the head coaching position today, succeeding Dan Monson, ESPN reported Sunday.
“We’ll continue this program in the same manner,” Few told ESPN. “We’ve got seven of 10 (players) back and the only thing that will change is that I’ll be deciding the minutes.”
Few, 35, has been an assistant with the Bulldogs for 11 years.