Athletics director Norwood Teague said he’s impressed with the group of coaches he has for the 23 sports teams at the University of Minnesota.
“I cannot be prouder of the group that we have,” Teague said.
Teague said he looks for three traits, among others, in coaching candidates: integrity, strong recruiting skills and the ability to “develop the men and women off the field, on the field and in future endeavors.”
Teague, now in his third year at Minnesota, has made multiple coaching moves since he was hired.
“It’s a terrific group, and they have us on a great path moving forward,” he said.
Head men’s basketball coach
Teague garnered a lot of attention when he haired Richard Pitino as head coach of the men’s basketball program in April 2013.
In his first year at Minnesota, Pitino made significant changes to the team’s style of play. The Gophers played a faster-paced offense and pressing defense.
The Gophers finished 25-13, setting a school record for most victories in a season, while winning the NIT championship.
Now, with a few recruits primed for his style of play and an understanding of what the Gophers can achieve, Pitino’s system seems to be gaining traction in Minnesota.
“If you’re going to play a certain way, you better recruit to it,” Pitino told the Minnesota Daily in June.
Teague appears to have confidence in Pitino’s ability to draw in quality players, too.
“Richard and his staff — they are excellent recruiters,” Teague told the Daily in June.
Head women’s hockey coach
Brad Frost, now in his eighth year as head coach of the women’s hockey team, deserves much credit for the team’s success so far.
Under Frost, the Gophers have reached the national championship the past three seasons, winning back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013.
For Frost, that kind of success starts with recruiting.
“Our recruiting philosophy, and it always has been, is to recruit great people from great families that happen to be good hockey players,” he said.
Senior forward Rachael Bona said Frost and his staff excel in simplifying the lives of student-athletes.
“They make it easy for us, even though it’s a very hard task,” she said.
The coaching staff takes into account the work ethic of potential players.
“We just feel as a staff that if we develop our players as players but not as people, what are we here for?” he said.
Frost said he thinks their process improves his players as people.
“We tell our players and [their] parents that we’re going to develop them as people. We’re going to care about them and stretch them. We’re going to be hard on them when they need it, but they’re going to be better people when they leave here,” he said.
Head volleyball coach
Hugh McCutcheon was extremely qualified for the head coaching position of the Gophers volleyball program.
He coached both the men’s and women’s Olympic volleyball teams for the United States. In 2008, McCutcheon led the men’s team to a gold medal before winning a silver medal at the 2012 London Olympics with the women’s team.
In adjusting to the college game, McCutcheon and his staff seem to have transitioned rather well. Like Frost, he acknowledged the importance of the recruiting process.
“It’s important to recruit with integrity,” he said. “We value the idea of forming relationships with these potential student-athletes.”
For McCutcheon, who’s in his third year at Minnesota, transparency is key. He and his staff are honest with their players, senior Morgan Bohl said.
“They always stress that if we need someone to talk to, we can come to them,” Bohl said. “[McCutcheon] is pretty open with us.”
In developing his student-athletes as better people, McCutcheon said he relies upon the similar principles of success in both life and sports.
“The great thing about sport is that it’s very analogous to life,” he said. “You have to work with your teammates to manage the problem you’re faced with.”
Head women’s tennis coach
As head coach of the women’s tennis team, Merzbacher establishes familiarity with his players from the start.
Merzbacher himself was a member of the men’s tennis team from 1984 to 1986, winning two Big Ten conference titles and three All-Big Ten selections. Teague hired him in summer 2012.
He uses this past experience in his coaching to understand what the players are encountering.
“Without my opportunity here, I never could have played beyond college,” he said. “We all go through things in our lives that affect our tennis. I feel like I’ve done it all. I feel like I’ve experienced the good and the bad of being an athlete, so I encourage my players to hang in there and stay positive.”
In his recruiting, Merzbacher said it’s important for him to get to know his recruits before signing them.
“When I was hired here, I told my bosses that I just want to know who we’re getting. It’s very important to me,” Merzbacher said. “We need to know who we’re getting because we’re trying to do something special here.”
Merzbacher said he tries to make his players realize the importance of seizing the opportunity they have.
“I kind of lived it, and now I just want to keep enlightening them on what a great opportunity it is to play here and get a degree from here,” he said.
Head women’s basketball coach
One of Teague’s newer hires is Marlene Stollings, the head coach of the women’s basketball program.
Stollings spent the past two years as head coach of Virginia Commonwealth University. Teague was VCU’s athletics director prior to taking the job at Minnesota, although he did not hire Stollings at VCU.
Stollings’ style is quite similar to that of Richard Pitino. Her teams score points — at least 90 points with VCU five times — just like she did when she played, in bunches.
In her home state of Ohio, Stollings holds the record for most career points, among both boys and girls, with 3,514. That’s almost 1,000 more points than LeBron James’ high school career total at 2,657.
But beyond her playing career, Stollings has seen success coaching as well.
“Coach Stollings is a proven head coach, a proven recruiter and at each step in her career, she has improved the program from which she worked big-time,” Teague said at the press conference announcing the hire in April.
At the same press conference, Stollings said “recruiting will be the lifeblood of this program.”
She expressed the need to keep Minnesota’s best players in their home state.