After an 8-23 season where rumors swirled of a coaching change, Golden Gophers coach Richard Pitino won the Big Ten Coach of the Year after a 15-game turnaround that propelled Minnesota to a fourth-place finish in the Big Ten.
Pitino beat out Northwestern coach Chris Collins, Purdue coach Matt Painter and Maryland coach Mark Turgeon for the award. Ironically, Collins was nominated for the national coach of the year honor, while Pitino was omitted from the list.
The Gophers coach gave his thoughts on the award last Wednesday: “I think it’s such a 180 that we almost laugh about it a little bit because it was so hard last year,” Pitino said. “That’s just the nature of this business. You should be fired one day, you don’t know what you’re doing, to now you’re a good coach again. I try not to buy into it too much. If somebody stops me and says something nice I appreciate it and I say thank you.
“It’s nice, but other than that, just kind of go with the flow.”
Three Gophers players also received honors for their tremendous season.
Guard Nate Mason was named to the All-Big Ten First Team, the first Gopher to accomplish that since Vincent Grier in 2005. He finished the regular season with better than 15 points and five assists per game.
Center Reggie Lynch was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year thanks to a school record 106 blocks, including 11 in a win over Penn State.
Finally, guard Amir Coffey was named to the Big Ten All-Freshmen Team after averaging 12 points per game and nearly four rebounds.
Minnesota’s award-winning roster plays in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament on Friday.