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Updated: March 31st, 2013 10:05pm
Zulgad: What's going on with 'U' search? It's anyone's guess at this point

Zulgad: What's going on with 'U' search? It's anyone's guess at this point

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

Minnesota Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague was applauded in this space last week after it was reported that his pursuit of Shaka Smart had come up short. Smart had decided to stay at VCU rather than head to Dinkytown or UCLA.

The feeling was that Teague, who came to Minnesota from VCU, had started out by aiming high and, even though he swung and missed, he didn't begin by taking the safe route after firing Tubby Smith as his men's basketball coach.

The assumption at that point was that Teague was working with a small list of candidates and that Smart had simply been atop his notepad.

During his press conference last Monday to announce Smith's dismissal, Teague also said that he would not be using a search committee. That was applauded because this important of hire shouldn't have to be guided by an outside firm and if Teague and his right-hand man, Mike Ellis, appeared qualified to make any hire it would be a basketball coach.

A week later, however, it has become more difficult to applaud Teague's actions. Instead, it's become easier to simply scratch your head and wonder what the heck is going on.

Teague is making sure as few people as possible know the answer to that question. He isn't returning many, if any, messages and if he does pick up his cell phone, a no comment is quick to follow.

Since news broke that Smart had been able to get a nice raise by having Minnesota and UCLA interested in him, Teague's potential hires either have been doing the same as Shaka or simply saying no thanks.

Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg, a somewhat curious choice given his incredibly strong ties to Ames, managed to get himself a 10-year, $20 million extension after the Gophers inquired about his interest in coaching at Williams Arena.

Teague also reportedly checked into the availability of his buddy Brad Stevens, the Butler coach, but that wasn't going to happen. Stevens also turned down UCLA to remain at Butler.

All the while, there was an assumption that worst-case scenario the Gophers and Teague could turn to former Gopher Flip Saunders. "Old Flip, will take the job," became the common refrain. My radio partner Jeff Dubay was infuriated that Saunders, a former Wolves coach and current Twin Cities resident, was seen as the safe choice because he believed Saunders was the best choice.

But the Flip speculation and arguments ended Saturday when it was reported that Saunders had turned down the job. Saunders is working for ESPN this season and there has been speculation he will be reunited with the Timberwolves this offseason in some capacity. But the Gophers job did make sense.

So what happened?

According to sources, it was believed that Teague and Ellis wanted to help Saunders hire his coaching staff. Considering Saunders' years of coaching experience this seemed to be a curious approach by the Gophers administrators and could have meant one or two things.

The first would be that Teague had little interest in seeing Flip bring his son, Ryan, on board after having seen Tubby employ his son, Saul, on the Gophers coaching staff. The second might have been a desire to dismiss Saunders from the picture all together before his name was mentioned as a candidate again.

In other words, Teague and Ellis might have known that Saunders would take himself out of the running if he was told that he could be the coach but not have complete say on his assistants.

This is pure speculation but at this point that's all we have to go on.

The feeling here is that Teague should at least tell people he's alive and well and looking for a coach. First impressions in this town are critical - Brad Childress made such a bad first impression as Vikings coach that he never fully recovered - and right now Teague is in the process of making one of the most important hires he will oversee as the boss of the athletic program at Minnesota.

Let's make one thing clear: This is not asking Teague to reveal any great detail about what he's doing. There is a difference between giving out important inside information and simply communicating with your fans to enable them to know that everything is fine and you're in control.

Teague has a Twitter account, so why not use it?

Right now, this Gophers search appears to be off the tracks and the message is being controlled by the media. That isn't a good idea. Not when it appears that all you're doing is swinging and missing.

And please don't tell me that fans and reporters should just wait for this process to play out because in 2013 it's beyond naïve to think that will happen.

Teague could put an end to the feeling that things aren't going well in quick fashion if he hires Buzz Williams as his coach. Williams led Marquette to the East Regional final, where it lost 55-39 to Syracuse on Saturday. Many wonder why Williams would want to leave Marquette for Minnesota, but if a Big Ten school is going to pursue Williams it's hard to believe he won't listen.

Of course, Williams also could go back to the administrators at Marquette and do what Smart and Hoiberg accomplished by getting a big raise. The same thing could happen with Florida Gulf Coast coach Andy Enfield, who, according to a 1500 ESPN report, received a phone call from the Gophers.

There is another scenario that could be in the works as well.

As has been well documented, Teague and Ellis are known for their work with the Villa 7 program. It's actually Ellis' baby and serves as a way for athletic directors to get to know college basketball assistants. It's essentially speed-dating for assistant coaches and ADs.

There is nothing wrong with Villa 7, but if the Gophers hire a high-level assistant there will be plenty of people left wondering why Smith needed to be fired less than 24 hours after a loss to Florida in the NCAA tournament and whether Teague really did have a solid game plan as to how to replace Smith.

It would be interesting to hear how Teague responds to those questions. Right now, it would be interesting to hear how Teague would respond to any questions.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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