Gophers’ hiring of volleyball coach Keegan Cook further confirmation of Hugh McCutcheon’s legacy

The most comforting aspect of the Gophers’ choice of a new volleyball coach is the presumed involvement of their former volleyball coach.

Hugh McCutcheon is a heavyweight in the volleyball world. He is being replaced — or replacing himself — with another heavyweight.

On Monday, a few days after the Gophers were eliminated in the NCAA tournament, Minnesota announced the hiring of McCutcheon’s replacement, the University of Washington’s Keegan Cook, a coach who would not be insulted if you compared him to his predecessor.

McCutcheon announced during the season his resignation as the Gophers coach. He’ll now become the assistant athletic director and sport development coach, and will emphasize student-athlete development.

For many revenue-sport college coaches, this transition would smell like a dubiously defined golden parachute. McCutcheon has built up enough credibility that his retirement from coaching can be taken at face value.

Through his expertise and humane leadership, McCutcheon has made the Minnesota job something to which to aspire. Athletic director Mark Coyle’s ability to land Cook is an acknowledgment of the program’s prominence.

Cook’s résumé looks a little like Hugh McCutcheon’s, down to Cook borrowing McCutcheon’s philosophies about coaching student-athletes. Cook, like McCutcheon, has won consistently and has coached the U.S. women’s national team.

Cook will try to continue the excellence established by Mike Hebert and continued by McCutcheon, and he appears to have the coaching chops to do so.

In eight seasons at Washington, Cook went to the Elite Eight four times, and the Final Four once. That’s comparable to McCutcheon’s exploits.

In some ways, this might be the most impressive hire in the program’s history.

Hiring McCutcheon was a coup for the athletic department, but his wife is from Minnesota, so there was a lure other than the job.

Cook’s hiring is different. He was born in California. He attended college and got his first job in California. He associates volleyball with beaches and palm trees, yet he just took a job where the best beaches are manmade and lake-adjacent, and we think of palms as that which must be protected by mittens.

That Cook would think of Minnesota as an upgrade is proof that McCutcheon has been a willing ambassador for the program, the University and Minnesota’s freeze-dried quality of life.

This move is also evidence that the shifting form of big-time college sports favors the Big Ten and the SEC. The Pac-12 faces an uncertain future, with USC and UCLA leaving for the Big Ten, and more defections likely. In fact, Washington leaving for the Big Ten remains a possibility.

Minnesota is, these days, a sure thing, bolstered by McCutcheon’s presence: Big Ten Network dollars, strong volleyball programs in the state, an attractive arena and a passionate fan base.

Cook just left an established Pac-12 power in the middle of winter for Minnesota. He may need to buy an ice scraper. He won’t need to downgrade his goals.

Assuming he can keep most of the Gophers’ current roster intact, he inherits talent and depth. He’ll also have McCutcheon in the building for support, advice and connections.

McCutcheon’s presence should make this transition smooth. Given that the Gophers program doesn’t need to be overhauled, smooth would be just fine.