The University of Minnesota Board of Regents voted Thursday to approve a three-year contract extension for Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle. The financial terms of the extension are largely the same — Coyle could earn over $1 million each year, with incentives — and the contract is expected to receive final regents approval Friday.
Coyle, the Gophers AD since May 2016, has received positive endorsements from the outgoing President Eric Kaler, coaches and others during his time. Some regents argued in favor of postponing the vote on the new contract, however, at least until the board's December meeting.
Regents said they had gotten a heads-up that a new contract might land on their Finance & Operations Committee meeting agenda earlier this week, but they had not seen it until shortly before Thursday's meeting and did not have enough time to review the contract carefully.
Some regents also suggested the next university president might want to have some say on a high-profile member of the U's leadership team. Regent Darrin Rosha noted Kaler made an athletic director change seven months into his tenure.
"A decision like this really ties the hands of the incoming president," Regent Michael Hsu said, adding he takes Coyle at his word when he has said he is loyal to the university.
But other regents and Kaler argued for swift action to lock in Coyle. "It's an opportunity to send a strong message to a valuable member of our community," Kaler said.
He and others said the move will ward off efforts by other institutions to recruit Coyle and ensure continuity as a new president takes over next summer. Kaler is stepping down in July, and the university is searching for his replacement.
"When you have someone who is the best in his industry and his vocation, you need to keep them," Regent Dean Johnson said.
Added Regent Peggy Lucas, "I would consider the passage of this as a gift to the new president, whoever he or she might be."
Regents voted 9-2, with one absence, to endorse the extension and move it forward to Friday's final vote.
Financial terms in the extension are largely unchanged: Coyle's base salary stays at $850,000 and he will continue to be able to earn up to $150,000 in incentive compensation, based on teams' performances, academic results and other factors. Another $100,000 is contributed annually to his retirement account.
The new agreement does revise the conditions under which Coyle can pull out of the contract, gradually reducing a penalty for doing so the longer he stays. Whereas his original contract states he has to pay a termination fee equal to his base salary if he leaves early, that amount in the amended agreement shrinks over time.
Upon arriving from Syracuse in May 2016, Coyle immediately dealt with serious issues in Gophers athletics.
On his second day on the job, he placed J Robinson on administrative leave while the school examined the longtime wrestling coach's handling of a drug problem inside his program.
Within his first year, he led the department through a scandal involving several football players and an alleged sexual assault, a boycott by the football team, a high-speed search for a football coach, leaked confidential documents related to a fundraiser violating the school's sexual harassment policy and more.
When Coyle was introduced in Minnesota, Kaler noted that "Mark's new job here is a big one, with large challenges to tackle and exciting opportunities to seize."
More opportunities could come this winter, as two of his most high-profile coaching hires begin: Bob Motzko in men's hockey and Lindsay Whalen in women's basketball. In his first two years on the job, Coyle replaced six of his department's 21 head coaches.
Men's basketball coach Richard Pitino, who has experienced both success and failure under Coyle, called his boss "the total package."
"He can fundraise, he hires really good people, he protects everybody. In today's world that's really important," Pitino said.
"I think he's one of the best ADs in the country. It's smart of Minnesota to try to lock him up. Especially now that President Kaler is leaving. It was important to get that done."
Staff writer Marcus Fuller contributed to this report.