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Gophers fire women’s hoops coach Borton

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Gophers fire women’s hoops coach Borton
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By Marcus R. Fuller

St. Paul Pioneer Press

MINNEAPOLIS — After 12 seasons as women’s basketball coach at the University of Minnesota, Pam Borton was fired Friday following her fifth consecutive year missing the NCAA tournament.


Gophers athletics director Norwood Teague, who spoke to the team and recruits about his decision, said at a news conference Friday he didn’t know a specific thing that would have saved Borton’s job.

“I don’t know if it was one exact goal,” Teague said. “Certainly, I wanted to get into the NCAA tournament. You always want to do that, no matter what program you’re talking about. That was part of it. It was just an overall evaluation of the program.

“This decision is a future decision. It’s not based on what’s been done in the past. I looked at who we are and where we’re going. I really felt like we needed new leadership for the future.”

Borton, 48, had a 214-139 record with the Gophers, including 104-94 in Big Ten play. In her final game, Minnesota lost to South Dakota State 70-62 Thursday in the third round of the WNIT to finish the season with a 22-13 record.

Borton coached Minnesota to the NCAA Final Four in 2004, but the Gophers haven’t made the NCAA tournament since the 2008-09 season. They showed promise early this season, going 10-3 in nonconference play, but opened Big Ten play 3-6 before finishing in sixth place with a 9-9 record.

This season’s Gophers team featured junior guard Rachel Banham, the Big Ten’s leading scorer, and center Amanda Zahui B., the Big Ten freshman of the year. They were the first Minnesota teammates to be named All-Big Ten first team since Lindsay Whalen and Janel McCarville during the Final Four season in 2004.

Under Borton, the Gophers have a combined 31-52 Big Ten record the past five seasons.

“I am grateful for my 12 seasons at the University of Minnesota. This is a great state and University, and I have enjoyed becoming a part of this community,” Borton said in a statement. “I want to thank my players and staff over the years. We’ve accomplished a lot together, and they have made the experience truly special. I want to give a special thanks to our current players and staff. They are a great group, and I have enjoyed coaching and working with them every day.”

Assistant coach Kelly Roysland, a former Gophers player, was named interim head coach. A national search will begin immediately.

Teague wouldn’t say whether Roysland would be interviewed as a possible full-time replacement for Borton. He already has a short list of candidates and a few qualities he’s looking for — similar to when he hired Richard Pitino to replace Tubby Smith as men’s basketball coach last year.

“Someone who is a recruiter — both locally and nationally,” Teague said. “Someone who can really get it done on the recruiting trail and attract great kids and great talent. Someone also who is a communicator. I know that’s a broad term. But it is a key component to any coach. Someone has to be a great communicator to 18- to-20-year-olds. And lastly, they have to be a great leader.”

In a surprise move two years ago, then-Minnesota athletics director Joel Maturi extended Borton’s contract just before he was replaced by Teague. He said later that he was made aware of the extension when he came on board but “I don’t know what happened there.”

Essentially, in extending the contract in 2012, the university covered Borton for an additional two years’ worth of buyout compensation. Under terms of the contract extension, if she had been dismissed after last season, the university would have owed her $167,500 per season for the remaining three years of her contract, a total of $502,500. Borton’s previous extension signed in 2008 was to expire after 2013-14, but the amendment signed by Maturi on June 15 made it valid until 2015-16.

“Norwood has made a decision that he thinks is appropriate,” Maturi said Friday. “Pam’s legacy is what it is. She had a good 12-year run. I certainly wish her well. She’s a good person. She has a good heart. She’s done a lot of good things for the University of Minnesota.”

This season, Borton’s salary is $335,000, plus $150,000 in supplemental and media compensation. That was a $10,000 raise from last season’s salary and a $5,000 increase in supplemental and media compensation.

The university has to pay Borton half her base salary for the next two seasons, which comes out to $335,000. Minnesota also had to pay Smith’s $2.5 million buyout after firing him last year.

Teague would not discuss Borton’s future when addressing questions about the program last week. But he expressed optimism about the returning talent — and said he thought the Gophers could be an NCAA tournament team next season.

Borton struggled in recruiting the best in-state players. She recently landed Minnesota’s Associated Press player of the year Carlie Wagner of New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva High School.

Wagner said Friday that she is sticking with her commitment to the Gophers.

“So far I haven’t changed my mind,” she said. “That’s where I want to go; that’s where I want to be. I just feel a comfort when I’m there.”

But Borton and the Gophers lost out on several other top local recruits: Minneapolis Washburn’s Chase Coley (Iowa), Bloomington Kennedy’s Kenisha Bell (Marquette) and Park Center’s Cayla McMorris (Wisconsin), all three of whom are top-100 prospects.

Even bigger misses were two 2013 McDonald’s All-Americans from Minnesota: Nia Coffey (Northwestern) of Hopkins and Rebekah Dahlman (Vanderbilt) of Braham.

Injuries contributed to the Gophers failing to meet their goals this season. Starting point guard Shayne Mullaney (concussion), backup point guard Stabresa McDaniel (concussion) and reserve forward Jackie Johnson (knee) missed several games to end the season.

Banham played through pain after hurting her knee earlier in the season and suffering a foot sprain in a second-round WNIT win over Southern Methodist. But she will return next season with a chance to become the school’s all-time leading scorer, surpassing Whalen.

“Besides that the roster is going to be pretty darn good next year; I think this is a golden opportunity for anyone,” Teague said. “We’re going to have a lot of people interested in this job.”

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.