Maroon and gold were the colors of choice in downtown Owatonna Tuesday night as the University of Minnesota Coaches Caravan opened up its four-city tour at Torey's Restaurant. It was a festive night hosted by Federated Insurance, a major sponsor of Gopher athletics.

Director of Athletics Mark Coyle and the five coaches had many topics to be proud to promote. Broadcaster Mike Grimm emceed the on-goings, poking fun at some coaches along the way. The coaches took lighthearted shots at each other and themselves.

Fans enjoyed a variety of Torey's Restaurant appetizers and beverages and took pictures and got autographs. Paul Bunyan's Axe, which the Gophers won back from Wisconsin in the final game of the regular season, was a popular destination. It was also a great rallying cry for football coach P.J. Fleck, who was the final coach to speak.

Fleck talked about the youthful team that the Gophers will have again this coming season after playing 15 freshmen in the bowl game after last season. The team is the second-youngest in the nation according to Fleck. He spoke briefly about Owatonna graduate Jason Williamson before the formal presentation. Williamson, who early enrolled at the university and is still a high school senior, suffered a non-contact knee injury ACL tear during spring ball.

Fleck said his rehabilitation is coming along and that he will be back strong. He said it was likely Williamson would mostly have seen time on special teams if he had played right away, as Minnesota has several veteran running backs returning in the fall. Fleck also sited Williamson as an individual who dreamed of being a Gopher while growing up and can now live out that dream.

First-year women's basketball coach Lindsay Whalen played the crowd well and tossed in a Cabela's reference for good measure. She also added that she'd like to come to town to play golf while joking with Coyle about how much spare time she has. Whalen expressed her appreciation to Coyle for having faith in her as a viable coaching hire despite never having coached a game before coming on board. She said Owatonna reminded her of her hometown of Hutchinson.

Men's basketball coach Richard Pitino joshed that most times he's come to Owatonna for these events he has to apologize for his team. This time the team is coming off a positive season that included several big wins, including a victory in the NCAA tournament.

In commenting on Amir Coffey, who has eligibility left but is pursuing the option of going into the NBA, Pitino said he supports Coffey. He said it's good for the program when a player has the chance to chase a lifelong dream of professional basketball.

Men's hockey coach Bob Motzko said the team overcame some adversity during the season. The team will have a large freshman class announced soon. Motzko, who is from Austin, Minnesota, joked about having fond memories of victories in Owatonna while playing football, hockey and baseball.

Volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon talked about the importance of academics, echoing remarks made by Coyle right before him. The Gophers have a good academic record and are ranked high in the Directors Cup, which ranks schools in their athletic success.

The crowd cheered loudly at the mention of the Gopher softball team which will host a Super Regional this weekend against LSU. Goldy Gopher got the crowd riled up with his antics to open up the program.




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