The Gophers men’s basketball team has begun its coaching search. Here’s a list of six potential candidates.

With Richard Pitino out, athletics director Mark Coyle has begun a nationwide coaching search to fill the void.

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Parker Johnson

Former Gophers head coach Richard Pitino looks on from the sidelines during a free throw attempt at Williams Arena on Wednesday, Feb. 26. The Gophers entered the second half with a 47-31 lead over the Maryland Terrapins.

AJ Condon, Sports Reporter

On Monday, the Gophers athletics department announced it will be parting ways with men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino, citing the need for new leadership.

With Pitino officially out the door and on his way to New Mexico, Minnesota will look for its next coach to try and turn around the men’s basketball team. It’s an enticing opening with many capable candidates to take over. Many of the candidates who have been floated have ties to Minnesota, which could help in-state recruiting, something Pitino was often criticized for not doing enough of.

“I’m excited about our search process as we begin that process. I feel like we have a very attractive job, we play in the best conference in America — in the Big Ten, a very competitive conference. I feel like we have great opportunities in front of us and we look forward to starting our national search,” University athletics director Mark Coyle said.

Another factor in Minnesota’s coaching search is diversity. As first reported by the Star Tribune, the University is the only school in the Big Ten that is without a person of color in the role of athletics director, head coach or president. When Pitino was still at the helm of the men’s basketball program, all 19 Minnesota head coaches were white.

It has been 14 years since the last person of color was hired by Minnesota as a head coach, which was when Tubby Smith joined the men’s basketball team. Coyle hopes to increase diversity within the school’s coaching staff and told the Star Tribune that his athletics department is “the most diverse group on campus” in terms of its athletes and staff.

As Coyle and the athletics department begin their search for the next head coach of the program, the Minnesota Daily came up with a list of six possible candidates who are likely on Coyle’s list.

Niko Medved, Colorado State

Niko Medved is in his third season as the Rams’ head coach and has been able to increase Colorado’s win total in his first two seasons. After coming into an 11-win team, Medved led the Rams to a 12-win season in 2018 and a 20-win season in 2019. This season, Medved led Colorado State to an 18-win season, including a 14-4 record in conference play.

Medved has ties to the Gophers’ basketball team as well as the state of Minnesota. Medved was born in Minneapolis and attended the University of Minnesota where he earned his B.S. in kinesiology and master’s in sports management.

Between his first coaching position and his current team, Medved spent one season as the assistant head coach in Minnesota under Dan Monson.

Ryan Saunders, Minnesota

Minnesota fans are all too familiar with Ryan Saunders, as his most recent position was the head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Saunders was named the interim head coach on Jan. 6, 2019, and was fired Feb. 21, 2021 after a 43-94 record over the two-plus seasons.

Born and raised in Minnesota, Saunders played for the Gophers from 2004-08 where he was a two-time captain. After his playing career, Saunders went back to Minnesota and spent time under former coach Tubby Smith on the coaching staff.

Saunders has experience with the Gophers and could help Minnesota with its struggles to keep high school recruits in-state.

Eric Musselman, Arkansas

Another tie to Minnesota is Eric Musselman, who’s led the Razorbacks to a 22-6 record, sitting just behind Alabama in the SEC rankings. Bill Musselman, Eric’s father, coached the men’s basketball team at Minnesota from 1971-75 with a 69-32 record.

Later, Bill was the head coach of the Timberwolves from 1988-91 while his son, Eric, helped on the coaching staff. Musselman has been impressive in his two years at Arkansas with over 30 years of coaching experience, including at the NBA and college level.

In his five years at the collegiate level, Eric has accumulated at least 20 wins in each season. He holds the ninth-best active record among Division I coaches with at least four years as head coach. Going 20-12 in his first season, and 22-6 this past season, Musselman holds a 130-45 record as a head coach in college basketball.

Brian Dutcher, SDSU

Brian Dutcher is in his fourth year as the Aztecs head coach with two Mountain West titles under his belt, as well as leading SDSU to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2015.

During his fourth season, Dutcher led the Aztecs to a 23-4 record with a 14-3 conference record. On top of his track record, Dutcher also has ties to the Gophers basketball team.

His dad, Jim Dutcher, coached the Gophers men’s basketball team for 11 seasons from the 1975 season to the 1985 season, where he was fired midway through the season.

Other candidates; Non-Minnesota ties

Dennis Gates, Ohio

Current Cleveland State head coach Dennis Gates is quickly rising as a potential candidate for the job at Minnesota.

Gates is in his second season with the Vikings and has led them to the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 2008-09 season. After an 11-21 record in his first season, Gates turned things around and held a 19-7 record overall with a 17-4 conference record.

Gates has also won back-to-back Horizon League Coach of the Year awards. He came into his second season picked to finish seventh in the conference, and instead followed it up by finishing first to earn his second Coach of the Year award.

Gates and the Vikings will face off against Houston in the first round of the NCAA tournament March 19.

Anthony Grant, Ohio

Another potential candidate is current Dayton head coach Anthony Grant. Grant is in his fourth season with the Flyers and is coming off a historic year. They finished the season 29-2, before the pandemic hit — the most wins in a season in school history.

Grant won the National Coach of the Year award while leading the Flyers to their third regular-season conference title in the last five years. In the 2020 NBA draft, the New York Knicks selected former Dayton forward Obi Toppin with the eighth overall pick after a stellar season with the Flyers.

In Grant’s most recent season, he was unable to replicate last season’s success and missed out on the NCAA tournament. Dayton went 14-9 overall, and the Flyers earned a No. 4 seed in the NIT tournament.

More to come

These are likely just a few of the candidates on Coyle’s list, with many others being considered for the position. Whoever steps in as the team’s next coach will have young talent to work with in a competitive conference and top-notch facilities. Coyle believes whoever steps in will be poised to succeed in the near future.

“I think it’s very important that we cast a wide net and we be very broad as we start to look at candidates. I’m getting lots of phone calls, there’s lots of interest in this opportunity,” Coyle said. “I think we need to find someone who has competitive success and can help us build this program.”