After a turbulent 2015-16 season and a rough start to the offseason, Richard Pitino and the Minnesota Gophers are looking to start over.
Pitino will need to do so quickly in order to prove he has a place in the new Minnesota regime.
A page was turned when the university hired Mark Coyle as the new athletic director. The athletic department has been without a leader since last summer, when former A.D. Norwood Teague resigned due to sexual harassment reports. With a new football coach and Wednesday's Minneapolis Star Tribune report that the wrestling team was dealing Xanax, Minnesota's problems go beyond the foundering basketball program.
However, Coyle has shown that he can step in to uneasy situations. He is coming off a one-year stint at Syracuse, which had just been handed sanctions following an extended NCAA investigation that held the athletic department hostage. Prior to Syracuse, Coyle was hired as Boise State's athletic director three months after the football program was handed a three-year probation. Coyle is already a member of the Gophers family, having served as Minnesota's associate athletic director of external relations from 2001 to 2005.
If Pitino hopes to remain in that family, he'll need to develop a relationship with Coyle and regain the trust of Gopher fans.
The Gophers are coming off a season in which they lost a program-record 23 games and won just two Big Ten games. They also dealt with the late-season dismissal of senior Carlos Morris and the suspension of Dupree McBrayer, Nate Mason and Kevin Dorsey. Dorsey eventually transferred after it was revealed a sex video was briefly posted on his personal Twitter account. Things have gotten even hairier in the offseason, as a university audit and Star Tribune report found that Pitino spent twice his budget for private jet transportation. Center Reggie Lynch was also suspended in early May after being arrested on suspicion of criminal sexual conduct.
It'll take some work, but rebuilding Pitino's image begins with steadying the ship this season and forming a solid foundation with the 2017 recruiting class. The Gophers have zero commits for 2017, but have offers out to a number of promising talents. The goal is to lure Gary Trent Jr., Isaiah Washington, Terrence Lewis, Theo John, Sidney Wilson or McKinley Wright to Minnesota.
If they fail to land those prospects, there is plenty of depth. Minnesota's high school class of 2017 is full of talent, with seven players listed as three-star recruits or higher by 247Sports. Bringing in a talented class is just the first step for Pitino and Minnesota. The Gophers are consistently more talented than their record shows. The key is what happens when the players get to campus.
With a head coach and athletic director in place, the focus must be on developing a consistent program that can establish an identity and compete no matter what.