Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Defense of Tim Brewster

The Gophers were defeated by Ohio State in football this past Saturday. That should not be newsworthy in itself. The Gophers have won only seven times in the history between these two schools. They have won twice in Columbus since World War II. The Gophers were 16.5 point underdogs going into the game against the #19 Buckeyes. On paper, and on the field, the game was a mismatch.

Still, Gopher Nation was rife with discontent after the game. In looking at the comments section of the main story from the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Kent Youngblood, the following is a selection of the comments from the intelligentsia:

  • "1 TD in 8 quarters? They were never in the game for goodness sake. The people of the state of Minnesota deserve better. We need to demand excellence out of this once national power of a program. How can Iowa and Sconni have solid teams and the U of M has been average to horrible for the past 40 years? START GRAY NOW. Get rid of Weber and Brewster. Clearly none are good at their job.s (sic)." - "Big Sting"
  • "Note to Joel Maturi: Resign immediately, but not before you fire your brilliant TE coach." - "Farmboy 7"
  • "This is one big stinkin' football program. It gets worse every year. Add two more decks to that U. Stadium, put a roof on it, and give it to the Vikings....The Gophers certainly don't deserve a new stadium." - "Clel"
  • "Please, please, PLEASE! Everyone e-mail Joel Maturi and tell him Brewster has to go. The fact that we were down by over 30 and Weber was still playing shows Brewster has a screw loose. Gray is the future and there was no reason he shouldn't have been in there more. Jon Gruden and Tony Dungy are viable options at head coach. If Gray doesn't start next week it could get ugly." - "Gophernate"
  • "I wouldn't be surprised if the Gophers lose every remaining game....including South Dakota State." - "Hahahaha99"

And that's just a sampling.

Gopher coach Tim Brewster has been under considerable heat for the past few weeks. When the Gophers played in Happy Valley against Penn State (the Big Ten's leading defense) two weeks ago, Minny was shut out and held the ball on offense a mere 18 minutes. This past weekend, the Gophers played the league's second-ranked defense and were close for the first half, only to be steamrolled in the second half, mostly because Ohio State scored 24 points off of four Minnesota turnovers after the break. For this, according to many Gopher fans, Brewster needs to be fired.

Remember, Minnesota fired a coach in Glen Mason on New Year's Eve 2006 after an embarrassing Insight Bowl loss to Texas Tech after blowing a huge lead. The Gophers finished 6-7 that season with a very young football team. Still, Athletics Director Joel Maturi had seen enough. The fan base had increasingly grown weary of Mason. The knock was that he didn't win enough in the Big Ten (32-48) and couldn't consistently beat Wisconsin and Iowa. Also, the Gophers never finished with more than five conference wins in Mason's ten seasons, and never finished higher than fourth. Mason was viewed as perfect for turning around moribund programs, but could not adjust to game situations on Saturdays. He couldn't (or wouldn't) recruit Minnesota's top football talents, and was thought to be arrogant with the public and the media. His act had grown tired to many people, and Maturi clearly bowed to public pressure in dismissing Mason.

Maturi had dismissed basketball coach Dan Monson a few weeks prior and needed to hit a home run with the two new coaches. After a national search was conducted, and the names Lane Kiffin, David Gibbs, Gary Patterson, and others were thrown around, Maturi settled on Denver Broncos' assistant Tim Brewster as the new coach, and handed him a five-year deal. He had a reputation as a recruiting dynamo from his days at North Carolina and Texas under Mack Brown. Brewster was introduced to the public and wowed the student section at a Gopher basketball that night with the announcement that his staff was going to recruit the state hard and everywhere else for talent. It was also clear that Maturi wanted to change everything in the football program. There was no immediate reason to rebuild the program. The team had won six games the season prior and had plenty of talent returning to the team for 2007. A strong recruiting class secured by Mason was expected, headlined by some local talent (including Armstrong's David Gilreath, who ended up pulling his commitment after Mason's firing and signed with Wisconsin instead), and the team had an easier schedule for which to look forward. Still, Maturi clearly wanted to dismantle the way things had been done under Mason and build a new program in his - and Brewster's - image.

That meant the running-dominant offensive system would be replaced by a spread offense commanded by spread dynamo Mike Dunbar. The defense would be coordinated by Everett Withers, whom Brewster lauded as one of the game's up-and-coming coaching prospects, and would be "simplified" from the previous season's version. As spring practice rolled along, it was clear the 2007 team was going to be bad. Only a triple-OT victory over Miami (OH) saved the program from the indignity of a winless season, and the 1-11 squad allowed a whopping 440 points! Still, one cannot rebuild unless one tears down first!

The 2008 season was much-improved, thanks to a strong recruiting class and a maturing core. Withers was replaced by Ted Roof as DC, and the team allowed far fewer points. The Gophers started 7-1, and rumors of Brewster-to-the-NFL and other plum collegiate jobs abounded. There was plenty of talk among Gopher Nation to extend him now. Maturi resisted, and the team lost its final five games to finish 7-6. The schedule was going to be tougher in 2009, the team would replace Dunbar as OC with young Jedd Fisch, and Roof resigned for the DC job at Auburn and was replaced by Kevin Cosgrove, but expectations were high for the first year in their own stadium.

The 2009 recruiting class was one of the best and most athletic ever to come to Minnesota. Brewster has acquitted himself quite well on the recruiting trail and Minnesota high school coaches say Brewster and his staff have made strong inroads with the coaches in the effort to keep the top players home. Not all of them stay here. Cretin WR Michael Floyd, for example, opted for Notre Dame before the 2008 season. Still, Brewster was there in the end, which was not a place the Gophers typically found themselves in the past.

So, fans are looking to make another coaching change after only two recruiting classes from Brewster? That is beyond absurd reasoning. Unlike the NFL, where the draft, free agency, and salary cap can make the rebuilding process faster, the collegiate ranks clearly take time. New regimes mean new systems, styles, and recruiting efforts, not to mention working with 18-22-year-old kids along the way. Brewster deserves the opportunity to serve out the length of his contract to see if his recruits can cut the mustard at the collegiate ranks or at least at the U. The jury is still out whether or not Brewster is a good technical coach, but he has shown an ability to recruit well.

Another reason for him to return is that this program hasn't exactly been stellar in the past. The Gophers won 10 games in 2003, and that was the first time since 1905 that this had been accomplished. The fans in the comments section point to the "once national powerhouse" tradition at the U, but that was in the 40's and early 60's. Sophomore players on the last national championship squad of 1960 would be almost 70 years old today. Coach Murray Warmath is often viewed as a deity in these parts today, but fans forget that he was run out of town by an angry fan base after a combined 11-18-2 mark in his final three seasons at the U, concluding in 1971. The successors since Warmath's "resignation" after 18 seasons, two Rose Bowls, and a 87-78-7 (65-57-4 in the conference) record have not exactly been stellar (Big Ten Records in parentheses):

  • Cal Stoll, 1972-1978 = 39-39 (27-29)
  • Joe Salem, 1979-1983 = 19-35-1 (12-32-1)
  • Lou Holtz, 1984-1985 = 10-12 (7-10)
  • John Gutekunst, 1985-1991 = 29-37-2 (18-28-2)
  • Jim Wacker, 1992-1996 = 16-39 (8-32)
  • Glen Mason, 1997-2006 = 64-57 (32-48)
  • Tim Brewster, 2007-Present = 12-19 (5-14)

So, there you have it, Gopher Nation....In 38 seasons of football, the Gophers have not had a coach post a career conference record over the .500 mark. Only Mason has managed to breach the .50 mark, and his critics are quick to point out that was courtesy of a cake non-conference schedule. Where the heck are the "Glory Days" everyone speaks about? What tradition are we looking to recapture?

I've heard a lot of comparisons of Brewster to Wacker, but to compare the football situations of both men is ridiculous. Yes, they both have outgoing personalities compared to Mason's somewhat dour persona, but Brewster has proven to be a far superior recruiter and the talent on this year's team far surpasses anything on any of the Wacker teams.

The bottom line is that this program has absolutely sucked for a very long time, period. That the public has created unrealistic expectations on its football team to try to restore some sort of winning tradition that was last present when the current crop of 65-year-olds was in high school is laughable. Look, nobody wants a winning football program more than I. However, the public and administration has to be willing to be patient with a coaching staff and give it time before clamoring to make wholesale changes in search of a quick fix.

I remain a huge Mason supporter, and I believe if he were still the Gophers' coach, the team would be in far better shape than the current lot. If someone with the recruiting ability of Brewster (or even Brewster himself) would have come on to Mason's staff, the team would be among the top teams in the Big Ten and would at least compete with Wisconsin and Iowa. However, the public wanted "Mase" gone and Maturi obliged and hired Brewster to change everything. He needs more than three years to work his magic, and the public needs to get off his back.

Don't waste your time arguing with me about taxpayer-financed stadiums and the like. I always maintained that a football stadium would never solve the U's football problems overnight, and that winning was the best cure. However, the sparkling new stadium will only serve to level the playing field on the recruiting trail against the likes of Iowa and Wisconsin. If the Gophers can build a winning tradition in their new digs, complete with a hostile atmosphere from the fans, the recruits will notice. Brewster can lay it on thick in recruits' living rooms, so no doubt this is being done repeatedly.

The Gophers need more time with this regime in order to get better. If Maturi bows to public pressure and cans Brewster after this season or next, the clock will start all over with someone else, and the road to respectability will get longer.

Post-Script: By the way, Tony Dungy is not coming here to coach. I repeat, Tony Dungy is not coming here to coach, so get it out of your heads. Even if he did, how is a guy who hasn't coached at the collegiate level going to be the answer? How will the U pay him? Forget it - it's not happening.


  1. I agree Dungy is not coming here but I disagree his lack of college coaching experience would make his job difficult. Tony Dungy would not have to recruit. You tell me parents wouldn't want to have their kids play for him? All he would have to do is show up at a recruit's house and the parents would be gushing over him. Pete Carroll wasn't a head coach at the collegiate level and things seemed to work out pretty well for him.

    Maturi made a big mistake in 2007 by hiring an inexperienced coach to lead this team. Period. Sure, Brewster had a reputation for recruiting but this guy had too many unknowns. Clearly, he is overmatched every Saturday. Clearly, this team has no blueprint for progress (look at the coordinators revolving door, the switch to the spread, then switching to a "power running attach," one that is last in the Big Ten).

    The fact is Brewster took over a young 6-6 team and took steps backwards. That Gary Patterson guy seems to be doing pretty well right now (#5 in the BCS).

    What will happen is Brewster will get another year, the team will finish towards the bottom of the Big Ten (again), and he will be fired. My hope is that Maturi can capitalize off of Bresters good recruits and bring in an experienced/reputable coach that can mold the talent and make them relevant in the Big Ten (and maybe win a trophey game or two). Winning cures everything and an experienced coach actually can achieve that here soon.

  2. Well, Anonymous, why did he fire Mason in the first place? Your argument seems to make my point very clearly. A new coach - regardless of who he is - will not be able to turn things around tomorrow. Period. How can he prevent coordinators from taking better jobs? roof took a better job at Auburn last year, and does anyone think that firing Dunbar was the wrong move? Brewster needs more time.

    The Dungy argument is pure fantasy.

  3. I disagree, Sid...I mean Brian... He could prevent coordinators from leaving by having success and showing that the program is headed in the right direction. Let's just sign Brewster to an extension now! It sounds like he's the victim of poor circumstances (mediocre coordinators leaving, firing a spread guru and replacing him with an over-matched/un-qualified offense coordinator, Decker getting hurt, etc.).

    Funny how other programs can turn things around and at least show progress (Alvarez inherited a worse-off program as did Ferentz).

    Due to Mason's pay-out, Maturi realized he wouldn't be able to spend on a coach so he gambled that a good recruiter could somehow figure out how to coach. Recruiting has improved but the coaching ability is Wacker-esque (at least Wacker's teams could score).

    The state of Gopher football is on Maturi- He hired Brewster hoping he caught lightning in a bottle and would be able to take the program to the next level. The reality is, he is on course to take a step back. Maturi caved into public opinion and fired Mason. He wanted a new brand of Gopher football to christen the new stadium. Well, the buzz has worn off after only four games in the new stadium (look at the empty student section). If he wants to make this program relivent, it would be in his best interest to pony up and steal a proven coach (like he did with Tubby). If he keeps Brewster around, not only will the buzz be gone, but the program will fall into the apathy that we endured during the Wacker years.

    Maturi has a choice. Either admit that Gopher football is a lost cause or pull a Tubby-esque heist. With a shiny new stadium and added revenue streams, he needs to give one last try to make the program relivent.

  4. Alvarez did not have a winning record until year 4 when they went to the Rose Bowl. The first 3 years he went 1-10; 5-6, 5-6. In year 4 he went 10-1-1

    Ferentz's first 3 years he was 1-10, 3-9 then 7-5 (won Alamo Bowl); year 4 went 11-2 and went to Orange Bowl and lost)

    Even the great coaches take time to rebuild programs. We need to be patient....heck we waited nearly 50 years, we can wait a couple more.

  5. I don't want people to look at Brewster and say,See,he's just as mediocre as every other mediocre Gopher coach in recent history." SCREW MEDIOCRE! If you're going to settle for middle of the road,that's all you'll ever be.

  6. How is hiring someone like Dungy for one or two years until he decides he wants to return to the NFL going to bring them out of the mediocrity the program has been stuck in for almost 50 years?

    The point of my article is that it is far too early to render a verdict on Brewster until we see how his recruits fare, and that will take more than three seasons. Comparing him to the Wacker era is ridiculous, and you know it. The Gophers were getting KILLED by everyone under Wacker. He was a tremendous human being but could not handle recruiting in a major conference, and the results showed on the field. Brewster has shown an ability to recruit not seen since the Holtz era. Now, he needs to translate the success onto the field with the recruits he brought in.

    Wisconsin has had two coaches in 20 seasons; Iowa has had two coaches in 30 seasons. Why does the U continually search for the secret sauce and fail to let coaches establish their programs? Maybe stability IS the secret sauce?

  7. Stability in systems and personnel, along with a higher talent-grade, is ESSENTIAL in not just program success but long-term program success. Quick fixes are just that, quick fixes. You want a more permanent solution? Be patient.

  8. Wisconsin was 6-27 in the past three years before Alvarez took over.

    Minnesota (under Mason) was 20-17 in the past three years before Brester took over.

    Since Brewster was hired to "re-build" a .500 program, he is 12-21 overall (.364 winning %)with a pathetic (and non-competitive) 5-16 (.238 winning %) record in the Big Ten. Which by the way, are Wacker-esque numbers. Punky is also 0-8 in "Trophey Games" and his "signature win" is a road victory over a 5-7 Illinois team last season.

    I agree coaching stability is huge in becoming a consistent winning program. However, Maturi decided to hire a Tight Ends Coach to lead the program. It's not Brewster's fault that he wasn't prepared for this job. This hire is on Maturi and he needs to fix this mess by pulling in a reputable coach that will stick around for a while. Sure, it's tricky to accomplish this but it's worth a shot.

  9. Anonymous - You keep coming back to my point....why fire Mason if the program was 20-17 in the previous three years? The public wanted Mase gone despite the relative success - and the young football team set to come back in 2007 - and my gut tells me you may have been in the "Fire Mason" camp. When that chant started at Gopher hockey games, Maturi pulled the plug. If you fire a guy with success, it's because he wants to change everything. I agree with you 100% that Maturi is all-in with Brewster. I also believe that he needs more time. Your continued Wacker references are counter-productive. If the Gophers win all their remaining home games this season (and they should), they'll be 7-4 heading into an Iowa game, which will be an uphill climb. Name a Wacker team which finished 7-4. I'll gladly concede the point that they won consecutive games against Wisconsin in 1993-94 under Wacker, but that was it. In other "Trophy games," let's look at Michiagn (5 losses, and none competitive):

    1992 = 13-63
    1993 = 7-58
    1994 = 22-38
    1995 = 17-52
    1996 = 10-44

    The schedule is tougher this year than last. Looking at the schedule before the season, I'd bet most Gopher fans would have been happy with 4-4 in the Big Ten with another solid recruiting class coming in for 2010, and then they could definitely be a challenger next season.


  10. First off, the Wacker comparisons are accurate:
    -Losses to Bowling Green and Florida Atlantic (at least Wacker could bear the cupcakes)
    -29-6 home loss to a 3-9 Michigan team
    -Close to nine quarters of shut-out football this year
    -Oh yeah, 55-0 to Iowa

    Let me personally hand Brester a pen so he can sign the contract extension he deserves after he goes 3-5 in the Big Ten this year (with impressive victories over the three worst teams in the Big Ten- Northwestern, Purdue, and Illinois. Sorry but they will not beat Michigan St. this weekend).

    This team is loaded with upper-classmen and all they can do is beat the bottom three of the conference while not even be competitive against the rest of the schedule (this includes the Wisconsin game as 'Sconnie tried their hardest to piss away the game).

    Brester does a great job of recruiting, according to Rivals. However, name me one Brewster recruit that has made an impact on this team.

    I appreciate your Sid-like optimism but you are living in a dream world if you think Brewster will be a long-term answer here.

  11. BTW- I forgot to mention the loss to North Dakota St. (in which they weren't even competitive aginst the 1-AA school).

  12. Anonymous - You were close, but you pegged the Illinois game wrong. Still with the huge number of penalties against Sparty and the porous defense in every game (not to mention the predicable use of Marquis Grey for running plays), however good a recruiter he is, Brewster clearly cannot coach. Why can't we expect excellence? If basketball school Illinois and brainiac school Northwesterrn can make the Rose Bowl, why not the third largest school in the country? Gopher nation - we deserve better!