Let’s Speculate! Potential Minnesota head basketball coach candidates
Welcome to Let’s Speculate! on Coaches Database, where we go through programs that are or may soon be looking for a new head coach and speculate who they may hire next.
Today’s program is Minnesota, coached by Richard Pitino for the last eight seasons (fired on March 15).
- Brian Dutcher – San Diego State head coach
- If Minnesota is going to make a change, then San Diego State‘s Brian Dutcher should be the first phone call. Dutcher is an alum, the son of former Gophers’ coach Jim Dutcher (who won the program’s last Big Ten title in 1982), and he is doing an incredible job since taking over the Aztecs back in 2017. Last year’s team was the last undefeated team in college basketball and clinched the MWC title with weeks still left on the schedule. San Diego is a great place to live and Dutcher has been with the SDSU program since 1999, but an opportunity to move up to the Big Ten and rebuild his alma mater may be enough to pull him away.
- Niko Medved – Colorado State head coach
- Minnesota alum. Minneapolis native. Former Gophers’ assistant (2006-07). Up-and-coming head coach who has already shown an ability to win at three different schools. Niko Medved checks all of the boxes. The 47-year old is in his third season at Colorado State, helping improve the Rams from 12 wins in his first season to 20-12 (and likely a postseason berth) last year. He left Drake after just one season to take the job at CSU, a place he previously spent six years as an assistant, so it would make sense for his next career step up would be a return to home, as well. If Dutcher is the first call, Medved is surely the second.
- Craig Smith – Utah State head coach
- Dutcher and Medved would be our top choices, but Smith is not far behind. The Minnesota-native is a disciple of Tim Miles and has had success as head coach at South Dakota and Utah State. He won the MWC in 2019 and finished tied for 2nd last year, which would have gotten him a fourth-straight postseason berth (two with each school). His regional ties and coaching record make him a very strong candidate.
- Scott Nagy – Wright State head coach
- After 21 seasons as South Dakota State head coach, during which time he helped transition the program from D-II powerhouse to Summit League powerhouse, Nagy took the Wright State job and has just kept on winning. He just wrapped up his second-straight Horizon League title and would have been in the postseason for the third time in four years with the Raiders. High-majors are going to come calling this March and it might be the right time for the 54-year-old Nagy to make the jump up to the Big Ten.
- Ben Johnson – Xavier assistant
- If Coyle goes the Power Five assistant route, Johnson has got to be the top of the list. He spent five years as an assistant under Pitino at Minnesota and is credited with a recruiting a number of important in-state recruits (Amir Coffey, Daniel Oturu to name a couple) to the Gophers. He is a Minneapolis-native who won two state titles at DeLaSalle HS and twice served as a team captain at UM. Left his alma mater in 2018 to work at Xavier but bringing him back home could be a huge hit for Minnesota.
- Dane Fife – Michigan State assistant
- If not Johnson or any of the head coaches listed above, Michigan State assistant and former Hoosier Dane Fife could be a great option. Fife may not have ties to the state, but he was raised across the lake in Michigan and he’s been coaching/recruiting in the Big Ten since 2011 (and in the Midwest since 2005). He was one of the youngest head coaches in Division I – leading IPFW from 2005-11 – and has since been a key member of a Tom Izzo staff that’s taken Sparty to two Final Fours in the last six years.
- Tim Miles – former Nebraska head coach
- Miles is going to get another shot. He’s well-liked in the college basketball world, he’s had success at multiple levels and he’s still only 54 years old. Will it be Minnesota, who played against Miles for seven years at Nebraska? Geographically it makes sense, as Miles prior jobs have been in Minnesota, the Dakotas, Colorado, and he’s originally from neighboring South Dakota. Does Miles even want to go back to the Big Ten? The money will be better but the pressure will be lower at a mid-major like Colorado State or North Dakota State, where he coached before arriving in Lincoln in 2012.
- Ryan Saunders – former Minnesota Timberwolves head coach
- Recently fired NBA head coach Ryan Saunders was born in Minnesota – where his dad, Flip Saunders, was working as a UM assistant. He later graduated from Wayzata HS (MN) played for the Gophers before starting his coaching career in the pro game (with one year as a student assistant under Tubby Smith in between). It seems like there is definite interest from Saunders’ side and he could be a good choice, though he has no college coaching or recruiting experience on his resume.