Monson resigns as coach

Assistant coach Jim Molinari will serve as interim coach until a new coach is hired.

C.J. Spang

Minnesota men’s basketball coach Dan Monson resigned Thursday, just seven games into an already unsteady season.

Monson met with athletics director Joel Maturi on Thursday morning, and the two came to an agreement that Monson stepping down made the most sense for the floundering program, both men said at a news conference Thursday.

ESPN.com reported Monson negotiated a buyout worth $1.35 million, but terms of the deal were not disclosed at the press conference.

Assistant coach Jim Molinari was named interim head coach, effective immediately.

“I leave here Ö with a great deal of pride,” Monson said. “I didn’t accomplish what I wanted to on the court, but I came here to restore respect in other areas and I feel like I did what I was asked to come here and do. And with that, I have no apologies.”

Monson’s resignation is not surprising, given the state of the program, but the timing is.

As early as the end of last season, rumors surfaced that Monson would be fired the day after Minnesota’s season ended, but Maturi instead gave Monson a vote of confidence upon entering the 2006-07 campaign.

Rumblings of his imminent departure persisted before the season began, with many predicting he would leave at the end of the season barring a dramatic turnaround in its balance.

But the Gophers have struggled out of the gate this season, losing five straight games after a 2-0 start. Most recently, Clemson thumped the Gophers 90-68 Wednesday night at Williams Arena.

Maturi, who met with Monson early Thursday like he does after most games, said their joint decision wasn’t just a rushed judgment after a disappointing loss.

“This is a decision based on more than one game,” Maturi said. “We had hoped the program would move in the right direction when we made the decision that Dan was going to continue as our basketball coach. We just felt it was best to accept Dan’s resignation at this time.”

But Monson said he felt last night’s loss played a role in the decision. In fact, he said he could pinpoint when he realized his ship was sinking.

During a nine-day span dating back to the early part of last Tuesday’s loss to Iowa State, Monson said he started evaluating things in a different light, as the effort and energy he had strived for in his team hadn’t materialized.

“You’d like to have the emotion they had in the locker room when I told them I was resigning,” he said. “You’d like to have that emotion at halftime last night and that would give you a little bit more of a different feeling.”

Maturi said players’ lack of effort contributed to Monson’s departure.

“Quite frankly, I told (the players) if they had played a little bit better we wouldn’t have had this meeting,” he said. “But we’re all at fault.”

It remains to be seen who will be coaching those players in the future. Molinari, who has previous head-coaching experience – most recently at the helm of Bradley University for 11 seasons from 1991-2002 – could be considered, but Maturi is leaving the door wide open.

“Anybody who’s interested in the job will be a candidate,” he said.

Monson was a prime candidate for the position back in 1999 after establishing himself as one of the country’s elite up-and-coming college coaches during his two years as head coach of Gonzaga. He led the Bulldogs to a 52-17 mark and an appearance in the Elite Eight in the 1999 NCAA Tournament.

In eight seasons at Minnesota, Monson compiled a 118-106 overall record and went 44-68 in the Big Ten.

He guided the Gophers to four National Invitational Tournament appearances and a 2005 NCAA Tournament bid.

This was Monson’s second year without the probation that had been in place since the 1999 academic scandal under former head coach Clem Haskins.

But Monson made no excuses on his way out the door and didn’t blame the probation or anything else for his departure.

New leadership might be best for the young crop of players and the University, he said.

“Its time for somebody else to make the next step,” he said. “And that’s to have more success on the court than I did.”

Hoffarber plans to stay

Despite the coaching change, at least one incoming recruit will still be coming to campus next fall.

Blake Hoffarber, the 6-foot-3-inch senior guard from Hopkins High School said he’s always wanted to play at Minnesota and that won’t change.

“I like coach Monson, but I came here because I wanted to be a Gopher and that’s what I’m sticking with,” he said.

Hoffarber said he’d spoken to fellow recruit Al Nolen Jr. of Patrick Henry High School, and while Hoffarber said he wouldn’t put words in Nolen’s mouth, he said he thinks Nolen wants to stay as well.

As for who will be the next head coach, Hoffarber said he’s excited to see what happens.

“I think they’re going to go out and get a good coach,” he said. “Maybe it might be Molinari anyway, I like him a lot too, but it’s going to be interesting to see what happens and I’m excited for that.”