Minnesota Gophers Football: A Gradual Landslide of Problems
As a fan of Minnesota Gophers football, there are no such thing as high expectations. In 2007, athletic director Joel Maturi presented Gophers fans with a new era of football. He hired Tim Brewster from the staff of Mike Shanahan's Denver Broncos. He served as the tight end's coach for Denver and had previous experience at the collegiate level with Texas Longhorn's head coach, Mack Brown.
Gophers fans and Minneapolis media were hoping for former Gopher and then Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy to make the move to the NCAA. The university informed media outlets that they had hired a firm to help them find the best fit for their needs for a head football coach.
Recruiting was the primary quality Joel Maturi was looking for in a new coach. Brewster's name showed up in reports and after some digging Minnesota was expecting a top-end recruiter with absolutely no coaching experience. In his initial news conference, Brewster promised the Gophers would be playing in Pasadena in his tenure as coach.
Oh, how wrong he was, with recent developments following the lack of success in 2009, there have been preliminary reports that Maturi is contemplating firing the coach, while there are still many good options on the market. Did Maturi fire previous coach Glen Mason too early? Should Maturi be fired? So many questions, so little success. What will it take to make a winner at the University of Minnesota?
In 2006, Glen Mason was fired after 10 seasons for his inability to win the "big game." In seven of his 10 seasons in Minnesota, the Gophers qualified for bowl games. He brought them back to notoriety after 13 seasons without a postseason appearance. Although it may sound like no reason to be let go with all of those accomplishments, the list of bowl games they were invited to was limited to the MicronPC.com Bowl, Insight.com Bowl, Sun Bowl (twice), and the Music City Bowl (three times).
Most notably, he prepped his Gophers during the 2003 season to win the championship alluding the Gophers since 1961. Dinkytown was buzzing about the Gophers' tremendous offensive talent. A team with star power, led by senior running-back Marion Barber III and the surprising freshmen phenom, Laurence Maroney.
A 6-0 start with wins against four cupcakes and two impressive victories at Penn State and Northwestern had Gopher Nation believing. In week three of the conference play the Gophers got to test their talents against the No. 4 Michigan Wolverines at home. I have attended a number of Gophers games at the Metrodome and none of them came close to roars that evening. They had their home-field advantage.
With a 28-7 lead after third quarter, the Gophers looked to be primed to take that next step every fan was waiting for. A hurricane of blue and gold stormed onto the field in the fourth quarter and wiped away a 21-point lead in less than 10 minutes.
With 5:48 remaining the Gophers were tied 35-35. A Michigan field-goal in the final minute of play sealed the deal and "The Mason Era" of Gophers football is now remembered for one game.
In Mason's last season the Gophers played in a low-level bowl game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders. An even better start in this affair gave the Goph's a 38-7 lead with 7:48 remaining in the third quarter. Minnesota gave up 31 consecutive points and Mason was coincidentally fired shortly after the game.
A city with very softcore media members is very reluctant to put any pressure on player or coach for their lack of success. The Gophers home radio station is WCCO, an affiliate of CBS Radio and their networks. They are so reluctant to criticize the team for anything they don't do well.
It seems like a brown nosing contest between their on-air talent and staff of the university. The lack of difficult questions. The lack of a true, unbiased reporter is so obvious it makes many listeners oblivious to exactly what's going on with the team. This happy-go-lucky attitude is the sole reason this team will struggle to get to that next level. The lack of scrutiny and good sports reporting is a sad underlying factor.
KFAN Sports Radio (Clear Channel) was actually shunned when requesting interviews because of their ability to criticize the mistakes being made on the field. Collegiate athletes are well protected by the NCAA and the universities in which they play for, but they are not exempt from criticism.
When they sign that letter of intent and accept that scholarship to pay for their education, they know what comes along with it. The University of Minnesota lies in the heart of Minneapolis, a major metropolitan area. Currently college athletes are not paid actual salaries, but they do get a significant tuition paid for every year.
A four-year education and all of its expenses easily cost over $50,000 at the majority of Big Ten Schools. In some cases it can approach six figures. So, realistically they are getting paid something for what they are doing on the gridiron.
This soft attitude cultivated by the majority of reporters, radio hosts, and other personalities in the Twin Cities media has caused many fans to accept mediocrity. Hey, if the Twins get swept by the New York Yankees in the first round of the playoffs, the talk you hear is not about how poorly the team executed. It is about how great of a job the ballclub did during their final month of regular season play to get to that point.
Real fans don't care about division titles, they want championship banners hanging from the rafters. The Twins aren't stupid. The team they put together every year is built to do one thing: win a division.
Tim Brewster and his coaching have been some of the worst I have witnessed in my short history of watching football. Off the field, he has had coordinators just leave. On-the-field, he had a blueprint for a successful running attack right in his hands when Mason left him a machine when it came to churning out yardage.
Switching to the popular spread offense with no personal for it to be effective was a catastrophe in its own right as well. He turned a perennial bowl contender into a 1-11 laughing stock in the Big Ten. Then came the second season. The season that was supposed to offer the most improvement or at least signs of improvement. It looked promising.
The Gophers began by winning seven of their first eight games with the only loss coming on the road versus Ohio State. Respectable losses are not good enough for championship programs. BCS Bowls, New Years' Day Bowls, and any successful program can not consider a game in which the scoreboard shows a defeat, a sentimental victory.
Crime within the program began prior to Brewster ever coaching a game. Four of his players were suspended indefinitely for suspected rape of a student. Since then, there have been minor incidents with other players including troubled running back, Kevin Whaley.
The control of the team has seemed to slip through grasps of Brewster's hands before his team ever played a game. A lack of consistency and what looked like an unprepared football team was sent on the field every week in his first season. With losses to Florida Atlantic and North Dakota State at home, Gopher fans should have cried for a change at the end of the season.
They are taking risks on high school students with low academic scores. It might pick up their recruiting class rank a few notches, but they are not recruiting as well as Tim Brewster and WCCO want you to believe.
I attended his press conference to introduce his freshmen class of 2008 last year. I got a pamphlet full of names I have never heard of before. Many of them could have great grades right now. Many of them could have been very good high school students. I remember speaking with a member of the team who I'd rather not name for this article, but prior to the season starting in 2008, he told me that he thought the team was heading in the wrong direction.
He also said this when I asked him about the prospectus of the team's newcomers I was scheduled to meet, "We got this kid Whaley who is legit, he's got an unbelievable 40 time. You might have to wait a while to see him though, I just heard he got shot in his leg I think."
It kind of sums up my points about the recruiting process as a whole. It's okay to take a chance on some kids you think can turn their lives around. The team needs a foundation of good kids, with great families, with high motivation, and the mind set that the minute they step foot on the field at TCF Bank Stadium, they are there to win football games and start a life.
Tim Brewster seems like a good guy every time I have asked him a question or listened to him speak. His vibrant, charismatic attitude is just not the approach that I think translates to Gopher fans. You can hoot and holler all you want, but when it comes down to it in Minnesota, you will keep your job if you give fans a small glimpse into that elite status.
If you can get Gophers Fans that one game which creates that college football euphoria, you will keep your job. It's not about winning the Rose Bowl anymore, it's about the kids on the team playing great in a 55-0 loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes at home. There are not many hearts left on the field. The lack of character of the recruits being brought in showed on that field.
Brewster isn't talking about Gopher pride and our rich history. What can Brewster be telling these kids to get them to sign with Minnesota? We have no history in our program. You have to go back over 40 years the last time we really won a bowl game. Our new stadium was the talk of the town for hmmm...three weeks, maybe.
TCF Bank Stadium opened in 2009 as one of the biggest spectacle's of the Fall. Finding a ticket to the opener was very tough. The next home game against California was my first trip to the stadium and I was overwhelmed by the crowd. Then people realized how the product was on the field. With the exception of the best receiver in the Big Ten, Eric Decker.
The Gophers, for much of the season, looked terrible. I feel bad for quarterback Adam Weber. His offensive line battled through injuries and just played horrendously all year long. Every time I looked down field for a receiver, Weber was on his back. I'm not sure if it's the offensive line or the complexity of Jedd Fischs' NFL style playbook, but the players do not seem to be grasping it.
The defense looked much better this past season and looked to be making giant leaps in contrast with the other side of the ball. It could be the academically the Gophers just aren't smart enough. To run a difficult offense like that of Jedd Fisch you are going to need some brainiacs on that side of the ball.
Outside of Adam Weber dropping back and staring down Eric Decker on a majority of their pass plays, when it came to moving the ball without him, it was shameful. The inability to ever get into a consistent flow during a game is troublesome. Running backs Duane Bennett and Kevin Whaley do not possess any breakaway speed.
Their receivers are so overshadowed by Eric Decker it's impossible to get a feel for who can play now that he's gone. It was supposed to be Brandon Green and Troy Stoudemire, but it didn't seem to be clicking during the final weeks.
Academics weren't great when Mason was at the helm, but the kids he brought in were playing decent football. The University of Minnesota currently boasts an average acceptance ACT score of 24, but it sure doesn't seem to be reflecting with the sports teams. There is a reason that Minnesota has close to the worst graduation rate in the Big Ten Conference: They are taking high risk with kids who have checkered pasts.
The fan base was calling for backup QB MarQueis Gray, another one of Brewster's prized recruits with academic issues. He was forced to sit out a season because of his ACT was red-flagged. On Dec. 15, Pioneer Press beat reporter, Marcus Fuller reported the Gophers had received a commitment from former four-star recruit, James Green.
Little do Gophers fans know that Green had his ACT red-flagged and he had to sit out last season. He had committed to becoming a Tennessee Volunteer. They cut ties and he lost interest from Florida, Ohio State, Auburn, and South Carolina. It's just depressing when you realize those school gave up on him and we're supposed to get excited.
I understand that kids have trouble academically and need more assistance some times. Most of these kids who do not pass their ACT's the first time did not pass it for a reason. To my understanding, you are allowed to take the test for the first time as a junior in high school, and if you need to take it again you may do so up to two times as a senior in high school.
Enough is enough at the University of Minnesota. Maturi, if it's you signing the Gophers next coach, make a splash. Ignore the amount of dollars for once with your football program. You counted on selling out games just because you built a stadium for a bad football team. The place was built to be filled with screaming maroon and gold crazies on every Saturday afternoon.
TCF Bank Stadium struggled to be filled against the SDSU, a relatively local Division 1-AA school. Tim Brewster is not going to fill the stands with every decent prospect he signs having some problem. Media outlets, I cry for more criticism of this team and the university. Don't shy away from the facts. Praise when praise is earned. Criticize when criticism is necessary.
Start building a program with smart, athletic, and good talent. Don't shoot for the stars when the star has a chance of imploding. This city needs to realize that division championships mean absolutely nothing. The media here needs to realize that with defeat comes criticism and with victory there is room for improvement.
It shoudn't be good enough until you have all the chips in front of you. Take it to the next level Minnesotans. If you want rings, you need to start demanding rings. The Vikings have finally figured it out. You put the product on the field, people will come, people will praise, and if you don't end up with the Lombardi Trophy in February, there can be no satisfaction.
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