Dienhart vows to get the right coach

Jeff Sherry

Prior to practice Wednesday, one day after Gophers football coach Jim Wacker announced his resignation, freshman running back Byron Evans was pulled aside to discuss the prospects of playing for a new coach.
First, however, Evans wanted to talk about Wacker.
“Coach Wacker going, that’s kind of sad,” Evans said. “But he did what a lot of coaches didn’t want to do — he came here and tried.”
Evans was right. Top coaching candidates hardly beat each other down for the opportunity to coach at Minnesota five years ago. The program’s problems with the NCAA, a lack of overwhelming in-state talent, and a recent losing tradition all scared away many top prospects.
Since then, only one of those negatives has disappeared.
Therein lies the challenge for University men’s athletics director Mark Dienhart. Dienhart must find a coach capable of turning around the Gophers football program. Then Dienhart must find a way to sign him.
“I am confident that we will attract the kind of individual who will be able to recruit and guide a team to a winning future,” Dienhart said Tuesday. “We will do what it takes to find that individual, and to give that individual the tools to produce a team that is not only competitive, but one that will compete for a Big Ten championship.”
Dienhart said he knows the task won’t be easy, especially with three other Big Ten schools looking for top coaching talent at the same time. But Dienhart discussed several strategies he’ll use, and he said he’s confident they will result in a top-notch hire.
One key, Dienhart said, is to keep an open mind. He said he’ll explore many options, including NFL coaches, college head coaches and top assistants.
“There are plenty of good college football coaches out there who do not have marquee names,” Dienhart said. “But are the ones with marquee names good ones? Absolutely. And are we going to rule out going after someone with a marquee name? Absolutely not.”
Dienhart said he didn’t have plans yet to call anyone in particular, but there is wide speculation on who he might approach.
The marquee names include Kansas State coach Bill Snyder and Kansas coach Glen Mason, both of whom have turned their schools from doormats into winners. Louisville head coach Ron Cooper, a former Gophers assistant, is also a high-profile candidate.
Head coach possibilities from less-visible programs include Ball State’s Bill Lynch, Iowa State’s Dan McCarney, and Bowling Green’s Gary Blackney. Other possibilities are Florida defensive coordinator Bob Stoops and Detroit Lions running backs coach Mo Forte, a teammate of University Vice President McKinley Boston at Minnesota in the 1960s.
Dienhart also said he’s going to make sure to talk with as many people as possible. He didn’t hesitate to say he’ll be asking for help in the search.
“Many of the athletics directors from many of the conferences are people I can talk to and will talk to,” Dienhart said. “Those folks have worked at multiple institutions, they know different people. The folks on our staff right now, they will be people whose council I take. There are tons of ways of finding things out.”
Once the right person is found, Dienhart said he wants to make sure to get him. He said he’ll be aggressive in pursuing his candidate, and he’s willing to back it up financially. Dienhart said he’d be willing to spend up to $1 million a year — some of which could come from private donations — to get the right coach. By comparison, Wacker’s annual salary is $300,000.
“I think you’ve only got one decision to make,” Carlson said. “Do you want to compete?”
— This story contains information from the Associated Press.