Thus far, Gopher AD Norwood Teague is two-for-two in firing coaches in consecutive years. He fired Pam Borton as the school’s women’s basketball coach, seemingly less than 24 hours after her last game last week. She got the ziggy in less time than Tubby Smith got axed around this same time nearly a year ago.
Borton was my fifth coach I covered as the longest tenured Gopher women hoops beat writer, She had her faults — no coach is perfect, and for whatever reason, she couldn’t convince too many local Black females to play for her.
Former Gopher Leah Cotton, who played for Borton (2010-13), recently spoke to the MSR while in town for the team’s Senior Night March 2. She is now living and working in Kansas City and also coaching young girls’ basketball. “She made me a tougher individual,” Cotton said. “She helped me overcome a lot of adversities, things I wasn’t sure about or wasn’t familiar with. She helped me get more familiarity with it.”
Not every female hoopster is a Lindsay Whalen or Rachel Banham. Therefore, it’s a tough sell to attract any out-of-state blue-chip players to come here, and seemingly even tougher to get the locals. Not every female hoopster is a Whalen or Banham dreaming of one day wearing Gopher colors. And such dreams especially don’t often come to native-born Black Minnesotans just because Minnesota is the state’s only Division I school.
Borton wasn’t going to get a Tayler Hill or such top-10 nationally recognized players because they are coveted by higher-profiled, more successful programs. “Something has to change with the program,” stated Bobby Commodore, one of the few Black Gopher fans, regarding this recruitment problem.
Ginger Commodore concurred: “We have been trying to be supportive, [but] there’s something missing. I don’t know what it is.”
“They need some other players,” continued Bobby. “They haven’t had players of color — maybe one or two. You got to be able to recruit some other talent here, and if that’s what it takes to get talent, then that’s what it takes.”
I can easily attest that only during a couple of years, maybe four seasons when the Barn was full to watch the team, we talked about packed stands like Gopher men’s basketball. Some want you to believe that Borton was the main cause for attendance dropping three-fold in recent years, but if having 6,000 folk in a place that holds nearly 15,000 is big-time here, that many people watch Connecticut or Tennessee open practices.
Also, I still contend that if ever Minnesota gets bold enough to start five Black women, or have a majority-Black team, you will see even the so-called “faithful” disappear as well. None of 12 Borton-coached teams had enough Black players that you needed two hands to count them. This isn’t because she didn’t want them, but the former coach’s local recruiting circles were too restrictive. Almost subconsciously, she and her staff knew that the majority of Gopher women hoops fans aren’t that progressive.
Oh, they want to see winning, but winning that fits in an Adolph Rupp-type world where it’s not about winning as much as who is doing it that matters more.
I said that this year’s team wasn’t that good. Obviously, based on what I read from Teague’s reported quotes last week, he didn’t share my educated observation. He supposedly said that this year’s Gophers underachieved, which would be more accurate if it were two-on-two basketball with junior Rachel Banham and redshirt frosh center Amanda Zahui B. Both rightfully earned all-conference honors this year, but not two-on-five as was too often the case.
Oh, the squad worked hard, but the Gophers weren’t going to crack the Big Ten’s first division (finishing in the first four or five spots), let alone be successful against teams that annually are in those slots. Minnesota historically has finished in the first division a grand total of 11 times in 32 years.
Furthermore, the Gophers have a .500 or better all-time record (not counting this season) against just two conference schools, Indiana and Michigan. To go a bit further, Minnesota is 30-63 all time against nationally ranked opponents.
And with two more schools joining the league next season — Maryland (0-2) and Rutgers (0-1) — this record isn’t going to drastically improve just because a new coach is hired.
Finally, the published quotes from Teague’s post-firing press conference last week don’t give this reporter much hope. His diversity hiring track record thus far has been dismal, and if he is looking to placate those women’s sports boosters, the ones that have been around forever, then diversity, I’m afraid, will be the last consideration in his so-called national coaching search.
“It certainly would be good for the university to get a little more diversity here,” said Bobby Commodore. “I’m not sure who they would be able to get here.”
See our list of potential Gopher coaching candidates in this week’s “Another View” in the MSR print edition.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman @ spokesman-recorder.com.