Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Gopher Football - What To Do?

The Gopher football team is 6-6 and bowl-eligible now that the regular season has concluded. Due to an absence of bowl-eligible teams in the Big Ten, the Gophers will get an invitation, and it will likely not be a ticket to Detroit and the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl. Recent projections have the Gophs either in the Insight Bowl in Tempe, AZ (third time in four seasons) on December 31 or the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio on January 2. The Alamo Bowl is the better of the two, so look to the Gophers to be spending New Year's Even in the desert against a Big 12 opponent - likely Missouri.

Despite going to the second-consecutive bowl game in the Tim Brewster era, much of Gopher Nation is not exactly enamored with the game prospects. After taking over a team which lost to Texas Tech in the 2006 Insight Bowl, Brewster went 1-11 in his inaugural season, improved to 7-5 (plus a loss to Kansas in the Insight Bowl to finish 7-6) in 2008, and finished at the .500 mark this season. The 2009 campaign featured shutout losses at Penn State and Iowa, getting trounced 37-7 at Ohio State, scored no offensive touchdowns in a game they narrowly won at home against South Dakota State, and a bad home loss to a rotten Illinois team which was missing its best player, QB Juice Williams, after the first quarter. On the positive side, the team won on the road at Syracuse (not a big accomplishment) and Northwestern (a much bigger accomplishment in hindsight), rolled up 500 yards of offense and won an entertaining Halloween home game against Michigan State, and posted the best defensive effort in many years in the loss to Iowa in the season finale. The 2009 schedule was much tougher than a season ago. Still, the debate among Gopher Nation residents is whether progress has been made from year two to year three.

The vultures in the mainstream media have largely dug in. At the Star Tribune, for example, Sid Hartman is, well, Sid Hartman, and supports Brewster. Crotchety Patrick Reusse has done what he does best: wait for public opinion to develop and then pounce. When Brewster was first hired, he preached caution to Gopher fans who wanted a more experienced hire. Once they finished 1-11, he was almost clamoring for Glen Mason (whom Reusse managed to savage on a daily basis during his final years on campus) and has spent the past two seasons calling for Brewster's ouster, including this gem and naming Brewster his annual "Turkey of the Year." The usually more-measured Jim Souhan has made calls for Brewster's ouster an almost daily occurrence.

The general public likely falls in line with the "Bash Brothers" Souhan and Reusse. Guys like me who preach at least one more year of patience get lumped in with Sid. The only guy whose opinion matters, Director of Athletics Joel Maturi, has said (at least to Sid) that Brewster will return in 2010. He will be coaching in the fourth year of his five-year contract next season, and coaches rarely enter into the final year of their contracts anymore. They are either extended or fired. So, the University has essentially three options with Brewster right now:
  1. Do nothing and talk extension sometime next season
  2. Extend Brewster now and make a commitment
  3. Fire Brewster now and cut bait
Options two and three should not occur, given that there is no reason to do either at this juncture. An extension is not necessary since Brewster is not in his final year (and won't be next year) nor is he a flight risk to another and better job. Secondly, firing Brewster after his 6-6 season is simply not appropriate.

The Gophers sputtered offensively most of the season. Junior QB Adam Weber seems to be regressing. The team seemed to struggle with new coordinator Jedd Fisch's offensive schemes all season long. All of this is on Brewster and absolutely needs to be rectified before next season. But, a fireable offense? Not on your life.

Critics like to point out that the Gophers had an experienced offensive coordinator in Mike Dunbar, brought in by Brewster on day one, who was cast aside last season due to personality conflicts with the head coach, who subsequently brought in an inexperienced Fisch. However, the offense was not exactly humming one season ago, especially when the team was losing six-straight to ruin a season which started 7-1. The Gophers tried the spread offense for two seasons and deemed that they wanted to have a pro-style offense used at many other successful schools. There were many growing pains this season, and losing Eric Decker for the season in the Ohio State game did not help matters. The pressure will be intense on Brewster to improve on this area immediately.

On defense, the Gophers have plenty of athletes in the mix. However, the team will lost all but two starters to graduation after the season, and many of the Brewster recruits will be front-and-center next season. This could be a positive. The defense will miss the experience of Lee Campbell, Simoni Lawrence, Cedric McKinley, Kyle Theret, and Eric Small next season. However, underclassmen like Michael Carter, Gary Tinsley, among others will be fun to watch in more prominent roles. There is plenty of athleticism on the defensive side of the ball for the Gophers to be solid next season.

The recruiting class ahead is big for Brewster and his coaches. This will be his third "true" class, as his first one was a mixed bag due to his late hire. Last season, Brewster added many junior college players (WR Hayo Carpenter and OL Jeff Wills, among others) to fill immediate needs and the results were a mixed bag. If the Gophers are able to bring in Cretin-Derham Hall OL Seantrel Henderson in this class, Brewster will have established himself as a recruiting dynamo to be able to sign the state's #1 recruit. Henderson reportedly has Minnesota among his final choices, and Gopher Nation will hold its collective breath. Either way, Brewster's recruiting classes have been much more athletic than any one brought in by Glen Mason over his final five seasons.

Gopher fans need to take a breath. The university is not going to eat $1M and fire Brewster after to appearances in the Insight Bowl. He was brought in by Maturi to change the way things are done at Minnesota, and he is doing so. He irritates many because of his optimism (what's he supposed to do - Mason was criticized for not selling the program) and his backing of his players despite poor performances (again, is he supposed to publicly call out college kids?). Some have noted that the students are completely apathetic because of the dearth of empty seats during the final games at TCF Bank Stadium, but why is that on the coach? If students want to stay in the dorms and drink instead of going to freeze outside at a football game against South Dakota State, who can blame them, and why is that on the coach? Others have noted that a big-name coach would revitalize the program, but get serious. Tony Dungy is not coming here! Nor is Jon Gruden. This is simply not a good enough job for an established coach to take. Cite the Tubby Smith situation all you want, but the circumstances were completely different. Kentucky is a fever swamp which forced Smith out, and Smith needed to rebuild his reputation. An established football coach would come in here, cool his jets for 2-3 years, and then leave for greener pastures. Some say that'd be fine, but then they'd be clamoring for a coach who sees Minnesota as a destination rather than a layover stop.

Brewster deserves to coach here next season. If the team sputters, then he'll likely be fired after next season. If they improve to 8-4 next season and beat Wisconsin and/or Iowa, he'll get an extension - likely two or three seasons (not ten years). That's the way it should be.

1 comment:

  1. I have watched almost all of the Gopher games this season and I think the Gophers for the most part have a nice defense but their offense is horrid. I don't think that Brewster is that bad of a coach but you can't keep changing the offensive coordinator every season. It will be interesting to see how the Gophers do in the bowl season.