Coaches Caravan makes final stop in Alexandria

Fans interacted with Gophers head coaches, including P.J. Fleck and Lindsay Whalen.

Nolan O'Hara

Fans poured into the Carlos Creek Winery in Alexandria last Wednesday to attend the sold-out final stop on the Gophers’ annual Coaches Caravan.

Alexandria was the last of four stops on the Coaches Caravan that began in Owatonna on May 21. At the event, fans met Gophers coaches, took pictures with Paul Bunyan’s Axe and bid on memorabilia at a silent auction.

The caravan is one of the two community tours that the athletic department is offering for fans this summer. The Paul Bunyan Axe has a tour of its own, making stops around greater Minnesota. Its ninth and final stop is on Wednesday, June 19 in St. Cloud.

The event featured the radio voice of Gophers sports, Mike Grimm, and athletics director Mark Coyle. Coyle introduced each of the coaches on the tour, who were met with a roaring applause.

“We have phenomenal people who are doing really special things,” Coyle said.

Five Gophers teams were represented at the event. Football head coach P.J. Fleck, men’s and women’s head basketball coaches Richard Pitino and Lindsay Whalen, volleyball head coach Hugh McCutcheon and men’s hockey head coach Bob Motzko were all in attendance.

Whalen, a Hutchinson, Minnesota, native, spoke to what it meant to be a part of the Coaches Caravan.

“Well, for me, it’s a little more special because I’m from a small town,” she said. “I’m from communities just like this, and so it reminds me of teachers and different people in the community that really helped me get to where I am.”

Along with a stop in Alexandria, the Caravan stopped in Owatonna, Dellwood and Chaska. 

“It’s what makes our state really great, the ability to have the majority, or all our state, to be Gopher fans,” Fleck said. “It’s a chance for us to be able to meet our fans face-to-face, have them be able to give us their opinions, talk about their families and really kind of get to know each other on a first-level basis.” 

In addition to providing fans an opportunity to celebrate Gophers sports, the Coaches Caravan contributed toward student-athlete scholarships, as $5 of each $15 ticket sold went to the Golden Gopher Fund.

“It’s critical. I think it’s critical,” Fleck said. “Anything that’s good for our student-athletes, continues to raise money for our student athletes, that can make our University better and create more opportunities and more resources for them is always a win. I think it’s a terrific thing.”

Pitino spoke to their roles as coaches in helping their student-athletes. Two of Pitino’s former players, Amir Coffey and Jordan Murphy, have the chance to get drafted in Thursday’s NBA draft.

“Yeah, I mean it’s everything that we do,” Pitino said. “Everything we’re trying to do is to help those guys achieve their dreams. It’s a unique opportunity and we’re fortunate for it.”