Mark Coyle is scheduled to make his first official public appearance as Gophers athletic director on Wednesday in Hutchinson, Minn., on the first leg of a goodwill road trip.
The caravan gives citizens across the state an opportunity to meet coaches and top athletic department officials and pose questions about the state of Gophers athletics.
Coyle takes ownership of his new post this week in the midst of a brewing scandal involving his wrestling program and legendary coach J Robinson.
So much for easing into the job.
Wonder if Human Resources handed Coyle his ID badge, computer password and copy of a news release from Robinson’s agent basically putting the university on notice that he’s ready to fight allegations that he self-policed a drug problem within his program?
“I have no further comment until the University starts telling the truth about what it knows,” Robinson’s agent, James C.W. Bock, sent in a text message to the Star Tribune.
Let’s start with this truth: I don’t know what took place within Robinson’s program. A Gophers wrestler told the Star Tribune last week that Robinson learned that some of his wrestlers were using and selling Xanax and that he offered them amnesty if they wrote a letter confessing to it.
The unnamed wrestler painted Robinson as a rogue coach determined to handle discipline of a serious offense his own way.
Robinson fired back late Monday night, issuing a response through his agent that indicated he alerted his bosses, specifically interim athletic director Beth Goetz, that he became “suspicious” members of his team were using drugs.
A sizable distinction exists between reporting to superiors a suspicion of drug use and what one of his wrestlers told this newspaper, that Robinson confronted his team about selling drugs, offered amnesty and confiscated pills.
If that allegation is true, Robinson didn’t exactly come clean in his statement. His description of events makes no mention of drug dealing or the coach taking possession of pills — the most damning allegations.
Robinson’s statement raises more questions about this case, the handling of it, and who knew what.
Did Robinson inform Goetz or anyone else in authority what drugs he suspected his wrestlers were taking? Did he say how many student-athletes he believed were involved? Did he mention the possibility that some were selling drugs, if he knew, as the unnamed wrestler indicated?
Questions remain on the other side, too. What steps did the university take once Robinson brought forth his suspicions? Did Goetz share that information with her boss, university President Eric Kaler? Did the school take Robinson’s information serious enough and follow proper protocol?
This whole case seems clouded by unknowns right now. Robinson’s legacy is threatened to be tarnished by it, and the athletic department finds itself with another serious problem.
The university announced Tuesday that it will conduct its own investigation in addition to an ongoing police investigation. This school must lead the nation in internal investigations into alleged wrongdoing in athletics.
Into this ring of fire steps Coyle, who accepted the job already knowing he inherits a men’s basketball program facing an image problem after a series of off-the-court issues.
The good news is that Coyle knows Robinson from his previous stint in the Gophers athletic department. He knows how to find Robinson’s office.
Anyone who ever has met Robinson knows that he’s a tough customer. He’s not going to be backed into a corner without a fight.
His rebuttal through his agent indicates he’s willing to take on his own university. But the vagueness in his account leaves more unanswered questions that require a thorough investigation of e-mails, other documentation and interviews.
Coyle brings a reputation and track record as an athletic director who cleans up messes. He fixed problems at other schools.
He’s walking into another one his first week on the job.
Chip Scoggins • firstname.lastname@example.org