Saturday Sports Q&A: Coyle likes the direction of Gophers' athletic department
The University of Minnesota student-athletes are among the highest rated academically among public schools in the nation. That is one reason why director of athletics Mark Coyle is excited about the state of the athletic department.
ROCHESTER — Mark Coyle has been the director of athletics at the University of Minnesota for the past seven years. During that span he has seen the university and the state of college athletics undergo a lot of changes.
Coyle was in Rochester this week to speak at the Rochester Quarterbacks Club meeting. He also had time to chat with Post Bulletin sports reporter Guy N. Limbeck.
Post Bulletin: The Gophers football program is off to a great start this year and has really turned the corner under coach PJ Fleck. How big is that for the success of Minnesota’s overall athletic program?
Mark Coyle: Obviously football is such a big visual part of our program and when they get off to this nice start it’s a credit to coach Fleck and our student-athletes, who are working so hard. We’re excited to have them off to a great start, and the volleyball program is off to a great start, the soccer program is doing well. So a lot of our fall sports are doing well. But obviously football gets a lot of attention and we’re thankful for the great start.
PB: Is it a money-driver for the athletic program when the football team is doing well?
Coyle: Yeah, obviously through ticket sales and so many people come on campus so it’s a great way to showcase our campus. And all the great things going on on a game day, fans tailgating, coming to the stands, so it’s a big deal to have football winning.
PB: You noted the fall programs are doing well. How would classify the overall state of the athletic department?
Coyle: We feel really fortunate. We have such great coaches right now and great student-athletes. And academically we’re the highest rated public school in the country with academic success. Athletically we’re in the top 10 percent and our fall sports have all gotten off to good starts so I think there’s a lot of excitement and momentum as you start the new (school) year and we’re looking forward to another great year of Gophers athletics.
PB: The NIL (name, image, and likeness) has burst on the scene in college sports. How has that impacted athletic programs?
Coyle: Well, I think it (started) last July so it’s been 13, 14 months that new legislation came into place where student-athletes could benefit off their name, image, and likeness. And I give Jeremiah Carter, our compliance director, and Julie Manning, our deputy athletic director, a lot of credit. We had a working group, working together with staff, our students, our coaches because we wanted to make sure we do everything we can to help our students maximize on that NIL along with educating them. We’ve partnered with some outside vendors to help us in terms of education for our student-athletes. We had over 130 student-athletes with NIL deals this past year in all 22 sports. So every sport had at least one kid with an arrangement in place. So we’ll continue to grow that program.
PB: The transfer portal has also become a big part of college athletics. How difficult is that to deal with?
Coyle: I always respect our coaches and that transfer portal has added a whole new layer in terms of trying to manage that. We’ve had good kids leave our program, we’ve brought in good kids to our program. It’s not going away so we have to be sure we stay committed to our focus. We talk about graduating, winning, preparing for life after sports. We just have to continue to focus on those things and those transfer things will work themselves out in the future.
PB: How big of an impact are UCLA and USC going to have coming into the Big Ten Conference?
Coyle: Oh, I think it’s going to have a huge impact. I think if you look at the exposure, sometimes you get caught up in the football exposure, but if you look at the exposure for all of our programs, our student-athletes have a chance to compete coast-to-coast, with Rugters and Maryland on the east coast and Penn State. And now you go out to USC and UCLA on the west coast and compete in between. So we think it’s going to be a great experience for our student-athletes and I think our fans will be really excited about it.
PB: You recently had to cut a few athletic programs. Has that had a positive financial impact on the athletic department, and could any of those programs be reinstated?
Coyle: We had to make a difficult recommendation to our Board of Regents a few years ago when we looked at those sports and we made the tough decision, and the board approved to eliminate those three programs (men's gymnastics, tennis and indoor track and field). And when we made that decision there we had a couple of factors that we looked at. First we had obviously the financial impact on our program. At the time our budget was ninth or 10th in the Big Ten but we offered the fourth number of sports in the Big Ten. So we were a little out of alignment on that side. Also there was the Title IX component involved in that decision. So for us to continue to remain in compliance with Title IX (we had to cut some men’s sports).”
PB: Ben Johnson, the new men’s basketball coach, got off to a strong start in his first season. How do you feel about the state of that program?
Coyle: We’re so grateful for Ben for believing in us. We’re so grateful he believed in Minnesota and wanted to come back home and be a part of our program. Obviously he’s had great success in recruiting and you saw how hard our team played last year. They were competitive and in almost every game. I think we’re going to have great days ahead for our basketball program.
PB: The women’s basketball program has had a little more of a struggle. Any concerns there?
Coyle: No, when we hired Lindsay (Whalen as coach), she was still playing in the WNBA and there’s a learning curve for anybody. Lindsay had a top-10 recruiting class, they’re on campus now, and we’re very confident and feel we’re going in the right direction and have a great year ahead of us in women’s basketball as well.