Gophers hire new athletics director

By Marcus R. Fuller St. Paul Pioneer Press MINNEAPOLIS -- Mark Coyle's introduction as the University of Minnesota's new athletics director came with tears Wednesday. Not because of what he has in front of him, which will be as exciting as challe...

By Marcus R. Fuller

St. Paul Pioneer Press

MINNEAPOLIS - Mark Coyle’s introduction as the University of Minnesota’s new athletics director came with tears Wednesday.

Not because of what he has in front of him, which will be as exciting as challenging for him.

Coyle, who was Syracuse’s AD for only 11 months, got choked up - almost immediately - about an experience he had when Goldy Gopher, the Minnesota athletics program’s mascot, came to his then-3-year-old daughter Gracie’s birthday party while he worked for the U more than a decade ago.


“So the question is why Minnesota?” Coyle said at Wednesday’s news conference. “And it was very simple for me. I’ve been in this for a long time. We love this place.”

After pausing to get his composure after 30 seconds, he continued.

“It’s harder than you think,” he said. “I remember Goldy Gopher walking down the steps of our basement and Gracie singing the Minnesota fight song. That’s why Minnesota. This is a special place.”

University President Eric Kaler announced Coyle as the replacement for Norwood Teague.

Coyle, 47, briefly tackled NCAA sanctions at Syracuse after being hired last year. But the Iowa native was mostly known for keeping Boise State on the map in football as AD from 2011 to 2015. He started his career with the Gophers in 2001 during a time of transition before former AD Joel Maturi arrived to deal with major Title IX issues. Now, Coyle takes over after the department was rocked by a sexual harassment scandal last summer with the resignation of Teague and the men’s basketball team embarrassing the U with an 8-23 record and off-court issues under embattled coach Richard Pitino this year.

“My No. 1 goal is to bring consistency,” Coyle said Wednesday. “I think this department has been through a lot, the transition, and I think that’s the No. 1 goal is to bring consistency and some stability. That will be my focus.”

The timing of Coyle’s hiring is significant since it comes on the heels of Pitino suspending his fourth player in the past few months, this time for an alleged sexual assault. Interim AD Beth Goetz wasn’t going to have the authority to make major decisions on Pitino and other programs with the search process nearly concluded.

Kaler was asked how important it was to have Coyle start soon to change the culture. Goetz will continue to lead until Coyle arrives around Memorial Day weekend.


“It’s important,” Kaler said. “I’m very glad he could get here quickly. Beth did a great job as an interim leader. But there’s certain things an interim leader just can’t do. Mark’s going to grab the reins and hit the spurs.”

Coyle spent four years at the U more than a decade ago, serving as an associate AD for external relations from 2001 to 2005. He was responsible for sales and marketing, the ticket office and licensing.

Coyle was on campus Wednesday to interview with the search committee, and meet with coaches and other leaders in Gophers athletics, faculty and university senior leadership positions. Kaler announced his hiring at a 4 p.m. news conference.

A copy of Coyle’s five-year contract states he will be paid a base salary of $850,000, and his Syracuse buyout is $500,000. Teague made $500,000 per year.

“It’s remarkable what the average compensation for Big 10 athletic directors is, about $910,000,” Kaler said. “Mark obviously had a strong contract at Syracuse and it was important to let him make a financial step to come here. He will be in the mid-range of the Big 10. And you’re right, though, in the past we have been satisfied with lower compensation for our athletic directors. Mark is in a different class and is deserving of the compensation that he will be given.”

Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim told on Wednesday that he didn’t see Coyle’s departure coming.

“I would say it’s a surprise,” Boeheim said in the article. “I really liked Mark Coyle. I thought he was really good. Thought he had a good grip on everything in a relatively short period of time. It’s shocking. I like him a lot, and I thought he was doing great.”

His ties to the Midwest appeared to be a big reason why Coyle is leaving Syracuse after less than one year on the job. Coyle’s wife, Krystan, has a sister who lives in Rochester, Minn.


Coyle and his wife, a doctor of physical therapy, have been married for 16 years and have three children. They both grew up in Iowa. Coyle’s wife is a Council Bluffs native. He grew up in Waterloo and got his undergraduate degree in English and played football at Drake University in Des Moines.

Coyle got his first job in athletics working in the ticket operations at Florida State and Miami (Fla.). He earned a second master’s degree, in sports management, from FSU in 1993.

The first administrative experience in college for Coyle came at Minnesota in 2003. He was promoted to associate AD of marketing and sales and then to associate AD by then-Gophers AD Joel Maturi, who told the Pioneer Press that Coyle was a “great hire” and a “good fit” at the “right time.” Maturi attended the Wednesday news conference at the U.

Coyle left Minnesota to be associate AD for development at Kentucky, responsible for fundraising and sports administration. He worked closely with basketball coach John Calipari for two years after the NCAA tournament championship coach was hired by the Wildcats.

When Coyle got an opportunity to run his own program for the first time in 2011, Boise State was dealing with NCAA rules violations in five sports, including football. He was able to lead the Broncos out of that turmoil.

That caught Syracuse’s attention when it searched for an AD to handle the Orange’s five-year probation from men’s basketball NCAA violations. A Syracuse columnist wrote that Coyle was possibly fleeing New York because Syracuse’s problems were just too big for him to fix.

“No truth at all to that,” Coyle said. “(Syracuse Chancellor Kent) Syverud, his management team, they have been so supportive, and it is such a special place. I can’t stress enough: I regret the timing. There was one place I was going to leave Syracuse for, and it’s Minnesota.”


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