U of M staff greets Austin fans

Published 2:43am Wednesday, June 5, 2013

It was a dream for kids — and perhaps some adults.

A dozen coaches, along with assistants, media professionals and of course, Goldy, stepped off their tour bus and brought University of Minnesota athletics to Austin Monday evening during the latest stop in the 2013 Gopher Road Trip: Chalk Talk. A swarm of maroon and gold, people from infants to elderly, awaited. Gopher fans scrambled for pictures, handshakes and a few words with some of their favorite coaches, including head football coach Jerry Kill and head hockey coach Don Lucia, among the many others. Many were curious about new mens basketball head coach Richard Pitino’s thoughts. For Pitino, there isn’t a much better way to acclimate to a new state and new fans.

“I think this is good for me, more than anything,” he said Monday night. “I think it shows me as a Minnesota basketball coach how important this program is to the state,” he said.

While some Division I NCAA schools have fans mainly in one sport, Pitino noted how the University of Minnesota is the only Division I school in the state and has a lot of support throughout all athletic sectors.

“We’ve met a lot of fans,” Pitino said about the tour. “I think this tour is great. It affects our whole athletic department.”

For young athletes like Cooper Guttormson — a third-grader from Southgate and hockey player who has been watching Gopher Hockey since age 3, there wasn’t much to say or do other than soak in the moment, collect some autographs and meet some role models, like coach Lucia. And for those even younger, like 1-year-old twins Collin and Carter McRae, it was a chance to meet a big, furry, goofy gopher: Goldy.

Even for the longtime, hardcore fans, the opportunity was rare.

“I think it’s great because so much of the time the Twin Cities is separate from the rest of Minnesota,” said Jacob Ulland of Austin, just minutes after chatting with coach Kill. “I can’t remember the last time something like this happened in Austin.”

Coaches echoed the same sentiments and said it’s important to bring the University of Minnesota to people who otherwise wouldn’t see its programs and people.

“It’s important for the community,” Lucia said, “for us to come to them, too.”

The tour will continue Wednesday with stops in Owatonna and Red Wing before heading to northern Minnesota in late June. The complete schedule is available at mygophersports.com.