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April 4, 2013

Courrier: Margenthaler hire similar to Pitino hire

— It was 12 years ago, and Minnesota State was searching for a men’s basketball coach.

There were some “big” names bouncing around as the possible replacement for retiring Dan McCarrell, and it appeared at time as though Dave Boots, Tim Miles, Randy Brown and Scott Trost each spent some time on the search committee’s radar.

But in the end, a young, eager assistant from South Dakota State, not known to many basketball fans here, was hired, and the Matt Margenthaler era began at Minnesota State.

Though little was known about Margenthaler, the son of a legendary Division II coach who had one season of head-coaching experience but had played under and coached with some pretty good mentors, he promised to be aggressive in recruiting and build the program into a national-championship contender.

You’d have to say now that it was a pretty good hire, with a 254-110 record and eight trips to the NCAA tournament.

Those thoughts came back Wednesday when the University of Minnesota announced that Richard Pitino, the son of legendary Rick Pitino, had been hired as its next men’s basketball coach.

Over the previous nine days, plenty of speculation had centered on Shaka Smart, Brad Stevens, Fred Hoiberg and Flip Saunders, and it appeared that Gophers’ athletic director Norwood Teague had struck out on each pitch.

But will the university benefit from a young, eager go-getter, one with little head-coaching experience who has learned under his dad and Florida’s Billy Donovan, with a reputation as an aggressive recruiter?

If he’s still on the job in 12 years, it will be a successful hire.

When Margenthaler was hired, most thought he wouldn’t be here long, using this as a stepping stone to a more lucrative offer. He’s had opportunities, though to this point, none have lured him away from his Taylor Center office.

Most people think that Pitino won’t stay long at Minnesota, and that could be true. But if he has success with the Gophers, it gets pretty easy to stay. If he doesn’t, Teague will be doing another search in a few years.

There’s little chance that Pitino’s record will match Margenthaler’s, given that the Big Ten has fewer gimmes than the Northern Sun.

You never know if a coaching search goes bad until it’s too late. There seemed to be a lot of panic in the Gophers’ fan base over some reported misses, but if the young Pitino has the Gophers competing for Big Ten championships and Final Four appearances in the future, folks won’t remember who didn’t get the job.

In fact, it took quite awhile to remember some of the names that were leaked out before Margenthaler was hired 12 years ago.

Chad Courrier is a Free Press staff writer. To contact him, call 507-344-6353, e-mail at ccourrier@mankatofreepress.com, check out his local sports blog or follow his Twitter feed @ChadCourrier.

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