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A former UNI assistant has been named the new men's basketball coach at Minnesota.

University athletic officials have selected Ben Johnson to fill the vacancy. They announced the hiring Monday, one week after firing Richard Pitino. Johnson has agreed to a five-year term, pending the completion of a background check and Board of Regents approval.

Johnson returns to his alma mater after spending three seasons at Xavier as an assistant coach. The 40-year-old is a native of Minneapolis who was on Pitino's staff for five seasons. He played two years for Minnesota after transferring from Northwestern.

Johnson was on Ben Jacobson's staff at UNI for four seasons (2008-12). The Panthers went a combined 93-77 and made four postseason appearances during those years. In 2009-10, UNI won a school-record 30 games and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament after upsetting No. 1-seed Kansas in the second round.

During the past week, there had been plenty of speculation about who Pitino's successor would be. Johnson's hiring was announced just hours after a Minneapolis television station reported that Jacobson was being considered for the vacancy. According to KSTP, Jacobson interviewed for the job over the weekend.


Jacobson just completed his 14th season at UNI, where he is the school's all-time wins leader (291-174). The North Dakota native has guided the Panthers to four NCAA Tournament appearances during his tenure, including the Sweet 16 trip.

UNI finished the 2020-21 regular season at 10-15 after being picked to win the Missouri Valley Conference. The Panthers played much of the season without league player of the year A.J. Green, who was sidelined with a hip injury after the third game.

Green is the son of UNI Associate Head Coach Kyle Green, who's name was also mentioned as a possible successor to Pitino in a story published Monday by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Green is native of Minneapolis and has strong recruiting ties in the state of Minnesota.

It's not surprising that Minnesota would've been interested in hiring Jacobson, given his success at UNI and athletic director Mark Coyle's familiarity with the Cedar Valley. Coyle grew up in Waterloo, where he graduated from Columbus Catholic High School in 1987.

Sources: KTSP-TVMinneapolis Star-Tribune

Men's Basketball: UNI vs. Missouri State (Dec. 28, 2020)

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