Coaches, Coyle kick off statewide tour

Eight coaches and new athletics director Mark Coyle visited Hutchinson last week.

University director of athletics Mark Coyle speaks with the press at the Crow River Golf Club in Hutchinson, Minn on June 1. This was the first stop of the Gopher Road Trip Chalk Talk where University coaches talk about the upcoming season with fans and the press.

Zach Bielinski

University director of athletics Mark Coyle speaks with the press at the Crow River Golf Club in Hutchinson, Minn on June 1. This was the first stop of the Gopher Road Trip Chalk Talk where University coaches talk about the upcoming season with fans and the press.

Carissa Polo

An annual tradition for Gophers athletics kicked off last week as eight coaches and new athletics director Mark Coyle hit the road for the Gopher Road Trip.

The event, which started in Hutchinson, Minn., marked the first public appearance for Coyle as well as his first day on the job. It also featured commentary and appearances from coaches in eight sports including football, volleyball, women’s swimming and diving, cross country, tennis, golf, soccer and men’s tennis.

The event serves as a chance for fans across the state to interact with coaches and hear about the current state of Minnesota athletics. The road trip also comes just weeks after Coyle was announced as the new athletics director. 

The first four legs of the event concluded last week and continued Tuesday and Wednesday with Coyle and football head coach Tracy Claeys joined by eight different coaches for four stops in southern Minnesota.

Coyle’s first day focused on investment

In his first public appearance as athletic director, Coyle immediately looked to gain the approval and trust of Gophers fans as he informed them of his mission in the athletics department — a department faced with numerous challenges — going forward. 

With criticisms over misspent money, Title IX compliance concerns, discipline and character concerns on the men’s basketball team, like a criminal conviction of a formerl player who was a member of the team when the crime he was convicted for occured and an open criminal investigation of a current player, and poor performances from high-tier sports like men’s basketball and hockey roiling the department, Coyle said he wants fans to feel reassured that the department is heading in the right direction. 

“I just want to make sure [the fans] feel comfortable with me, that they know who I am and what I’m trying to do,” Coyle said. “Our focus is on the athletes and our coaches,” Coyle said. “You all take the time to make an investment in our program, and I want you to know that we want to make an investment back in you.” 

Coyle also gave the crowd an update on J Robinson, Minnesota’s head wrestling coach. Coyle announced at the event that Robinson was placed on paid administrative amid criminal and internal investigations of his team’s alleged prescription drug distribution and abuse. Robinson allegedly sought to handle the issue internally — claims his agent has denied.

Claeys working with “best team”

Head football coach Tracy Claeys also appeared during the first four stops of the road trip event and is the only coach who will appear on the last four as well. 

Claeys shared insight on what the team has been doing in the off-season and said he’s optimistic heading into his first season as head coach. 

“I feel really good with where we’re at in the football program,” Claeys said. “We’ve got five years invested in this thing, and we’ve got great kids, and it should be our best football team coming out this fall.” 

Claeys made some bold predictions in his address to the crowd and even said he hopes his team will make an appearance at the Big Ten Championship, a feat the team has yet to accomplish.

“I’ll be disappointed when we get to late November and we’re not in the top to go to Indianapolis and play for the Big Ten Championship,” he said. “We’re far enough along. I think that’s how we should be judged.” 

Hugh’s Crew

Volleyball head coach Hugh McCutcheon was also in attendance during the Hutchinson event and spoke about his team’s historic 2015 season that ended in the Final Four. 

“We had a start to the season that was not so good,” he said. “And that was tough because the team had worked very hard. I give this group of athletes in particular a huge amount of credit for the amount of effort that they put into their improvement.” 

The team only lost two seniors after the season and looks to find the same level of success that it did this year. 

McCutcheon’s recruit class has recently been ranked eighth in the nation, and three Minnesota incoming freshmen made Volleyball Magazine’s 2016 “Fab 50” list, the highest number in the Big Ten.

“I say it to my team all the time: Championship results take championship behaviors,” McCutcheon said. “But when the space between what you’re saying you want and what you actually do to get that gets to be small, then that’s when some really great things can happen.”