Jim Souhan
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The last time the University of Minnesota's athletic bosses hired a women's basketball coach, they were investing in hope.

This time, they're working with something much closer to certainty.

Hiring Lindsay Whalen as she completed her playing career with the Lynx was a unique and attractive set of circumstances. It was worth a try, to see if she could transition quickly into coaching and recruiting.

She managed the latter, if not the former.

Now the Gophers women's basketball program might have the best of both worlds — Whalen's recruited talent, and a coach with a résumé so ideal for Minnesota that if she didn't exist, the Gophers might have invented her.

Dawn Plitzuweit can coach. She took South Dakota to the Sweet 16. She took West Virginia to the NCAA tournament in her first and only season with the Mountaineers.

She has recruited Minnesota and what Minnesotans consider the "other'' parts of the Midwest. Whalen is known to think highly of her.

After years of a slow building of talent and expectations, Plitzuweit's arrival means that the program's long-anticipated future is finally imminent.

The Gophers should be a winning team next season. They have plenty of talent, and now they have a coach who has proven she can work with talent.

On Monday, the Gophers introduced Plitzuweit at a news conference on the women's basketball practice court. She and athletic director Mark Coyle both stated that she had to make a difficult decision in leaving West Virginia.

Like most diplomacy, that's nonsense.

Plitzuweit knows how much talent there is in the state of Minnesota. She knows she can recruit well here. She knows she can win here. She knows that Minnesota, more than most states, values women's basketball.

This was likely one of the easiest decisions of her life.

During her news conference, Plitzuweit sounded like a veteran coach. She cautiously answered questions by offering messages curated for the current players sitting in the third row of the audience, and for future recruits.

In an informal chat following the conference, Plitzuweit showed the side of her that probably wins over those recruits. She was funny, self-deprecating, relaxed and down to earth.

But that's not what matters most.

What matters most is her resume.

She's recruited well in Minnesota and the Midwest. She has developed average players into stars. She has built winning records at Grand Valley State, Northern Kentucky, South Dakota and West Virginia. Her overall record is 365-141.

She has taken four straight teams to the NCAA tournament, and that streak would stand at five if perhaps her best team, the South Dakota squad that finished 30-2, hadn't had its postseason canceled by COVID in 2020.

I don't like the way Coyle handled Whalen's firing. (Yes, it was a firing. If you tell someone they can't keep their job, from that point it doesn't matter how the departure is framed — it's a firing.)

Coyle didn't need to embarrass her while the Big Ten tournament was in town. He could have waited a few days, and held a news conference after the tournament, and at least offered the illusion that firing Minnesota's greatest winner was a difficult decision.

Coyle keeps saying that Whalen is an important part of the athletic department, but I have trouble believing she wants anything to do with Coyle after that show of disrespect.

Luckily for Coyle, he hired someone capable of shifting attention back to the program's talented youngsters.

After the news conference, Amaya Battle, Mara Braun, Mallory Heyer and Nia Holloway spoke with reporters. Battle reiterated that the most important players on the roster stayed with the program, even before Plitzuweit's hiring was announced, because "we all committed here for a reason, to turn this program around. And since we've been here, we've all grown really close.''

Plitzuweit chose wisely. She should win here, and probably right away.