Sunday, January 31, 2010

Predictable Split Puts Pucksters in Deeper Hole

Alaska-Anchorage's Friday night woes are well-documented. The Seawolves are 0-6-0 in Friday night games on home ice this season, including Friday night's 7-4 loss to the Gophers. So, it should come as no surprise that the Seawolves turned things around and beat the Gophers 2-1 on Saturday night at the Sullivan Arena.

After Zach Budish's first period goal gave the Gophers a 1-0 lead, UAA's Josh Lunden scored less than a minute into the second period to tie the game. Kevin Clark's goal 14 minutes later - short-handed, nonetheless - gave the Seawolves a 2-1 lead they would not relinquish. After a listless third period in which UAA goaltender Jon Olthuis turned aside all seven shots, the Gophers left town with a split when anything other than a sweep would have been unacceptable.

Alex Kangas played much better in goal on Saturday night, stopping 22 of 24 UAA shots. Budish completed a four-point weekend with his goal, set up by Jordan Schroeder, who had a solid three-point weekend.

So, the Gophers are in a much bigger hole after Saturday's loss. The remain mired in seventh place, a full seven points out of the final first round home ice spot, and just one point ahead of eighth-place Alaska-Anchorage. The Gophers missed an opportunity to bury the Seawolves on Saturday night with the loss, given that the Gophers have two games in hand over UAA, and also missed an opportunity to pass North Dakota (in the process of being swept at home by Denver) for sixth place.

The Gophers are idle next weekend but face four very difficult series to close out the WCHA regular season. Out of the break, the Gophers head to Denver to take on the Pioneers (#2 in the PairWise), followed by a home series against Colorado College (#12 in the PairWise). A road series at UMD (#6 in the PairWise) is followed by a home matchup against Wisconsin (#3 in the PairWise) to close the regular season. Obviously, there are opportunities there for the Gophers to improve their #22 PairWise ranking. However, there are also plenty of opportunities for the Gophers to drop out of the rankings altogether.

There is no shame in losing on the road at Alaska-Anchorage. However, the loss Saturday night was a microcosm of the Gophers' inconsistency this season, which has seen them seemingly incapable of putting together solid efforts on consecutive nights. With the season on the line every game the rest of the way, one would have expected more from the squad Saturday night.

Elsewhere in the League:

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Gopher Pucks Win a Wild One

After dropping both games last weekend against St. Cloud State, the Gopher hockey team desperately needed a win Friday night to keep their flickering NCAA Tournament hopes alive. They did so, defeating Alaska-Anchorage 7-4 in a shootout at the Sullivan Arena in Anchorage.

Jordan Schroeder and Mike Carman each scored twice for Minnesota. Freshman Zach Budish picked up a goal and three assists for a career-high four points. Jacob Cepis notched three assists in the game, and freshman defenseman Nick Leddy set up two Minnesota goals. Patrick White and David Fischer were the other goal-scorers. The Gophers' anemic power play went 3-5 in the game, and Minny threw 36 shots on the UAA goal.

The key portions of this game when Schroeder scored a power play goal with one second remaining in the opening period, giving the Gophers a 2-2 tie into the intermission. In the second period, Fischer's goal just 32 seconds in gave Minnesota a lead it would not relinquish.

Not all was cream cheese for the Gophers in this one. Goaltender Alex Kangas was shaky in the nets, notching just 17 saves in 21 attempts. He saved just two of four UAA shots in the first period, marking the third-consecutive game where he has been less-than-stellar in the first period. The Gophers need to get him going.  

On the plus side, it's obviously good to get a win, but it's especially encouraging to see the team find the back of the net. Carman had been in quite a funk lately, and it's nice to see him get two goals. Budish has really emerged of late and Cepis continues to impress, stretching his points streak to eight consecutive games and has notched 5-6-11 in his nine games in the maroon and gold.

For the Gophers, they aim to do what only St. Cloud State has been able to accomplish this season: sweep UAA on home ice. The Seawolves are now 0-6-0 in Friday night home games, but have only been swept once. In last weekend's series, UAA was hammered by Colorado College 6-1 on Friday night and then defeated CC 2-1 on Saturday. Given the close proximity UAA has to the Gophers in the WCHA standings - three points separate the two teams - the Gophers really cannot afford to have anything other than a victory in Saturday night's game.

A win on Friday night is a good place to start.

Elsewhere in the league:

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hoops Team Puzzled As Season May Be Heading Off The Rails

The Gopher basketball's 2009-10 season started out with such promise. With preseason rankings in the top 25 in both the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls, Minnesota added a top recruiting class to its already experienced rotation of players and looked poised to challenge for a Big Ten championship.

Instead, incoming recruit Trevor Mbakwe was charged in an assault case in Miami and has not participated in any basketball activities this season as he awaits a trial date on the charges. Then, just before the season began, senior Devron Bostick and freshman Royce White were suspended indefinitely by coach Tubby Smith. Bostick's suspension was for unspecified reasons and he eventually returned. White faced legal issues stemming from an assault charge (and later a guilty plea) in November. He had begun practicing with the team before he was charged with three counts of trespassing in a incident which culminated with the theft of a laptop from a U of M dorm.

White was the cornerstone of a strong recruiting class and was expected to be a major contributor to the Gophers this season. His return is obviously questionable.

Despite the off-court distractions, Minny started 4-0 and defeated highly-ranked Butler in the 76 Classic holiday tournament. However, the team lost to Portland the next night, and then to Texas A&M and Miami later in the week. The team righted the ship with five consecutive non-conference wins before starting Big Ten play with a win over Penn State. After losing to Purdue on the road, the Gophers won at Iowa and at home against Ohio State to move to 3-1 in the Big Ten. Facing a 10-day stretch in which they played road games against Michigan State and Indiana, followed by a home game against MSU, the Gophers knew their season faced a crossroads. The Gophers lost all three games, dropping to 3-4 in the Big Ten and facing the reality of a NIT berth unless they get things together.

Now, the Gophers will have to play for a while without their starting point guard, Al Nolen, who was ruled academically ineligible last week by the NCAA. Although the Gophers are appealing the ruling, citing a medical family emergency, they played Saturday's loss against Michigan State without him and missed his defense down the stretch in the 65-64 loss.

The Gophers' schedule this week began with a game at home against Northwestern (also 3-4 in the Big Ten going into Tuesday's matchup), followed by a road game at Ohio State. The Gophers faced an improving Northwestern club on Tuesday and survived some sloppy play to win the game and move to an even 4-4 in the Big Ten.

After OSU, the remaining road games come at Penn State, Northwestern, Illinois, and Michigan, and none of those seems impossible. Of course, the Gophers still have home games remaining with leading teams like Wisconsin and Purdue in order to improve their RPI ranking for NCAA Tournament purposes.

However, with the questionable lineup going forward, the chances of the Gophers making a run this season are lessened. Shooting inconsistency has plagued this team all season long. The Gophers were in all seven games they lost and could easily be in a much better position had they closed games out. Saturday's loss to Michigan State, in which they kicked away a 13-point second half lead, will haunt the team for a while. It was a game they desperately needed to win and should have won. It was a game which would have looked nice to NCAA Tournament evaluators over a league-leading program, but it wasn't meant to be.

The Gophers need to make a run, and a good time to start would be right now.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Gophers End Skid With Win Over Northwestern

The Gopher basketball team absolutely needed a victory over Northwestern Tuesday night if they wanted to keep their diminishing NCAA Tournament hopes alive. For a good chunk of the game, they seemed disinterested in winning the game. Ultimately, the shooting of Blake Hoffarber saved the day, and the Gophers picked up the win, evening their Big Ten mark at 4-4 on the season, and breaking their three-game losing string.

Hoffarber finished with 20 points on the night, including hitting four shots from behind the arc in the game's critical final seven minutes. Lawrence Westbrook added 18 of his own to pace Minnesota.

The first half was a sluggish affair as both teams struggled from the floor. Northwestern shot 40% to the Gophers' 42%, yet Minnesota took an eight-point lead into the dressing room. NU's poor shooting continued into the second half (12-31, but 7-16 from three point territory) while Minny shot a torrid 11-19 from the floor, including 5-9 from three-point land, courtesy of Mr. Hoffarber. The game was in doubt largely because of the Gophers' inability to take care of the basketball. Minnesota kicked it away nine times in the second half and notched 15 for the game, a total which is not totally unexpected against Northwestern's "Princeton-Style" pressure defense, but far too high for a good team.

A telling statistic about the Gophers' fate of late concerns Hoffarber. It is clear that when the junior gets good looks at the basket, the Gophers have a good chance to win. He was lights-out in the win over Ohio State two weeks ago, in which he hit seven three-pointers. During the previous three games before Tuesday night - all losses - Hoffarber was a combined 2-11 from downtown.

On a positive note, the Gophers dominated the glass, out-rebounding Northwestern 35-26 for the game and managed to block 11 Wildcat shots.

A matchup against Ohio State looms for the Gophers this weekend in Columbus. It is the game which the Gophers need to impress the Tournament Selection Committee. Think of it as an "RPI game," similar to several the Gophers need to pick up the rest of the way to avoid an NIT berth.

A pedestrian win over Northwestern is a good way to start the drive to the March Madness.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A New Year, Another OC For Gopher Football

As expected, the Gophers lost offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch to the NFL last week. Unexpectedly, the team moved quickly to fill the position and will continue the offensive schemes put forward by Fisch last season which led to much pain and consternation among the Gopher faithful.

Fisch took off to be the QBs coach for the Seattle Seahawks last week, joining Pete Carroll's all-star staff in the Pacific Northwest. Gopher coach Tim Brewster moved quickly and hired Detroit Lions' QBs coach Jeff Horton to fill Fisch's position in Minnesota. Horton had a wealth of experience in the pro and collegiate ranks, serving in the NFL the last four seasons with the St. Louis Rams (2006-2008) and last season in Detroit. He spent six seasons as a Division I head coach at Nevada (1993) and UNLV (1994-1998), compiling a 20-48 mark over that span. Joining Barry Alvarez's staff at Wisconsin, Horton spent seven seasons as a QB coach in Madison, enjoying much success, and gaining familiarity with several current Gopher assistants.

In the StarTribune piece linked above, Brewster is quoted as saying that Horton will be expected to learn Fisch's complicated multi-formation pro-style offense instead of installing his own for the sake of continuity. Of course, continuity is a strange phrase for a program which has hired its fourth offensive coordinator in five seasons. Fisch's schemes were extremely complicated and the team clearly struggled with the system, having been shut out twice and went without an offensive touchdown during the season's final two games - one of which was against BCS subdivision team South Dakota State. Then, there was the business of changing QB Adam Weber's release point. The three-year starter severely regressed last season. Many blamed the coordinator for the struggles. Few Gopher supporters believe that Fisch's system deserves any continuity whatsoever.

Brewster is obviously trying to prevent a situation where everything is changed overnight, creating more chaos in a program which is used to it but starving for continuity. The spotty offensive line play last season prevents Brewster from instituting a power running attack many are clamoring for in Gopher Nation; a system which proved successful for Brewster's predecessor, Glen Mason. However, the O-Line play was absolutely brutal last season and the lack of protection was one of the main reasons for Weber's struggles. 

For now, expect more of the same from the Gophers on offense, with some play action schemes sprinkled in among the cutesy formations instituted by Fisch's charges last season. It will also be very interesting to see how Horton views the team's QB situation and if he and Brewster will truly create an open competition for the spot next spring between senior Weber and sophomore Mar'Queis Gray. If the offensive line does not improve next season, any new wrinkles will be moot and the team will struggle. Of course, if those situations manifest themselves, Brewster will be gone, and the program will hire yet another offensive coordinator.  

Monday, January 25, 2010

Gopher Hockey: The Hard Facts

After this past weekend's sweep by St. Cloud State - the Huskies first over the 'U' since 2000, the Gopher hockey team finds itself in quite a predicament as it faces the WCHA's stretch run. With five series remaining in the regular season, this is the Gophers' reality:
  • With 16 points, the Gophers find themselves mired in seventh place in the WCHA
  • The team is much closer to ninth place (+5 points) than fifth (-7 points), which would qualify them for home ice advantage in the WCHA's first round playoffs
  • The weekend sweep dropped the Gophers to 24th in the PairWise rankings
  • Any wins this coming weekend at Alaska-Anchorage will not help the team's PairWise much, given UAA is not in the top 25
  • The UAA series is crucial, given the Seawolves are one point behind the Gophers in the standings
Now, for some positives:
  • Minnesota has played 18 conference games this season and has two games in hand over Colorado College and UAA, who have each played 20
  • After UAA, the Gophers have a week off, which gives banged-up players (aka Mike Hoeffel) an opportunity to rest up and heal before the stretch drive
  • After the week off, the season's final four weekends feature matchups against teams not only ahead of the Gophers in the standings, but ahead of them in the PairWise rankings
Cognizant of the fact that I am reaching a bit for my silver linings after last weekend's reality, it's too early to write off the Gophers' season because of the third bullet point above. Not to look past Anchorage, but the Gophers still have a schedule which is favorable in that it provides opportunities to improve their position in the PairWise rankings by beating teams ahead of them in the standings. The strength of schedule rankings show that the Gophers have played the nation's 18th-toughest schedule to date, but with matchups against Denver (1st), Colorado College (14th), UMD (7th), and Wisconsin (3rd) ahead, the Gophers have opportunities to defeat teams ranked very high in the PairWise. The strength of schedule ranking will improve once the Gophers hit the ice against the highly-ranked opponents, and the PairWise will improve with every win. 

Of course, the Gophers need to win these games in order to move up in the rankings, and with last weekend's sweep, have put plenty of pressure on themselves to do just that. 

Tem games remain in the regular season. A sweep at Anchorage is almost vital at this point, and three out of four points is a bare minimum haul for the long trek north. UAA is no pushover, however, with victories in three out of their last four outings. After getting throttled by Colorado College 6-1 last Friday night, the Seawolves came back to beat the Tigers 2-1 the next night. To give the Gophers further motivation to take care of business this weekend, UAA is one point behind the Gophers in the league standings.

With 20 points still up for grabs in the league, the Gophers have put themselves into a position where they realistically need at least 14 to put them in position to qualify for the tournament. The schedule helps them in that they have opportunities to make up some ground in the league and nationally.

However, they need to win games in order to move up, and not many Gopher fans are willing to bet on that happening, especially after last weekend. 

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Terrible Weekend for Gopher Fans

If you're a Gopher sports' fan, Friday and Saturday were about as bad as things could get. The Gopher hockey team outplayed St. Cloud Friday night in St. Cloud and lost, and then played Saturday like they were punched in the gut all night long. The weekend sweep - SCSU's first over Minnesota since 2000 - puts the Gophers in a serious hole as the stretch run now has only five series remaining and the team is mired in seventh place.

The Gopher basketball team was poised to break its seven-game losing streak against Michigan State at home on Saturday and carried a 13-point lead in the second half. MSU led for the first time in the game's final two minutes and held on to win 65-64. The Gophers look poised for an NIT bid absent an unexpected run.

I'm calling a "snow day" for Sunday. DP will be back with some analysis and scenarios for both teams early next week.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Red-Hot Huskies Offer Gophers Formidable Challenge

It has been well-documented that the Gopher hockey team was 6-0-0 against St. Cloud State during the 2008-09 season. Two of those victories came at the National Hockey Center in St. Cloud; two more came in the first round of the WCHA Playoffs. For a Gopher team which won 17 games all season, the Huskies accounted for a very significant amount of Minnesota's victories last season. Simply put, the Gophers ruined St. Cloud's season.

Fast forward one year, and the stakes couldn't be much higher for the Gophers coming into this weekend's home-and-home matchup against the Huskies. Minny is a disappointing 7-7-2 in WCHA play this season, good for seventh place in the league, but playing much better as of late and coming off a three-points-out-of-four weekend against North Dakota. The Gophers have six regular season series remaining this season, and all but one of those matchups pits them against teams ahead of them in the standings. Although in seventh place, Minnesota is five points out of third place with two games in hand over three teams ahead of them. It's crunch time for the maroon and gold.

St. Cloud, on the other hand, has played very well in what many believed to be a transition year. The team's only experienced goaltender, Jase Weslosky, was booted from the squad because of academic issues over the summer, leaving the inexperienced junior Dan Dunn and incoming freshman Mike Lee to handle the action between the pipes. Both Dunn and Lee have responded well to the rigors of WCHA play. Dunn leads the league in save percentage (.929) and is third in goals against average (2.17). Lee is seventh in save percentage (.908), eighth in goals against average (2.67), and recently led the US Junior Team to gold in the World Junior Championships.

Goal-scoring was not thought to be an issue for St. Cloud going into the season, with returnees Ryan Lasch and Garrett Roe leading the way. Roe (6-16-22) and Lasch (11-9-20) have delivered this season as promised, and have been joined atop the scoring leaders by junior Tony Mosey (9-9-18) and freshman forward Ben Hanowski (6-7-13).

St. Cloud is hot right now, winning six consecutive games, including a road sweep over a ranked Quinnipiac team last weekend. At 14-7-3 overall and 9-5-2 (tied for fourth place, one back of Colorado College for third), the Huskies find themselves ranked #12 in the poll and are sixth in the all-important PairWise rankings. Coach Bob Motzko has done a wonderful job of retooling this squad, and a healthy Gopher/SCSU rivalry is good for the league. Remember, this rivalry was as good as it got in the late-90s and early 2000s.

The Gophers also come into the weekend series hot, with a 7-1-1 mark in their last nine games. They have inched their way back into the PairWise rankings and are definitely in the hunt in the WCHA thanks to their solid play of late. They absolutely need things to continue in a positive direction this weekend. The Gophers are in a position of having to take at least three of four points a weekend for the foreseeable future, and need things to start properly this weekend.

It'll be hostile in the old barn in the Granite City Friday night, and one hopes Mariucci will be hopping again on Saturday. The rush for the NCAA Tournament continues this weekend.

Rivalry Gets Short-Changed:  Why the hell are the Gophers and St. Cloud playing only one series this season? They are 50 miles apart for crying out loud! This is a great rivalry which needs to feature four games each season - and I'm not just saying this because the Gophers went 6-0 against them last season!

I understand the "natural rival" concept and the unbalanced schedule, but exceptions need to be made. It's ludicrous that the Gophers face off for two series against Alaska-Anchorage this season and only play St. Cloud (and North Dakota, for that matter) for one series.

The Gophers' traditional rival for purposes of scheduling is Wisconsin, meaning the two teams are guaranteed to play two series in the regular season each year. Geographically, this makes sense, as the Minneapolis campus is closest to Madison. St. Cloud's rivals are Minnesota State, which make sense geographically as well (although the Minnesota campus is closest to each of those schools). With Bemidji State and Nebraska-Omaha coming into the fold next season, scheduling will have to be re-visited, and one hopes Minnesota and St. Cloud will come out playing twice each season.

Of course, that would make sense, making it less likely that the WCHA will adopt this sensible position.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

WCHA Red Hot Right Now

The calendar has turned to 2010 and the race for the MacNaughton Cup in the WCHA is very tight right now. Surging UMD leads the pack, but Denver trails by only two points, and the Pioneers have two games in hand. Five points separate third and seventh places, and we still have seven weeks remaining in the regular season.

Looking at the latest weekly poll, four of the top five teams play in the WCHA. Denver leads the way at #1. The CCHA's Miami follows at #2, but then Wisconsin, UMD, and North Dakota appear to round out the top five. Colorado College checks in at #7, and St. Cloud State is #12. With six teams in this week's top 20, the WCHA as a conference has managed to place the most teams.

Of course, we're at the point of the season where the polls are meaningless and all attention is paid to the PairWise rankings. The latest here shows Miami and Denver in a virtual tie for the top spot. UMD is third, Wisconsin fourth, St. Cloud State checks in at #6, Colorado College tenth, and North Dakota at #12. Looking outside the top 16, you'll find Minnesota at #23. So, if the NCAA Tournament began today, the WCHA would be represented by six teams.

As far as streaks go, the league's top teams are hitting on all cylinders right now. Take the following into consideration:
  • UMD: Four-game winning streak; 7-2-0 since December 5
  • Denver: 5-1-2 record since December 4
  • Wisconsin: 6-1-2 mark since December 4; eight-game unbeaten string was snapped in their last game
  • St. Cloud State: Six-game winning streak; 9-1-1 record since November 28
  • Minnesota: 8-2-1 mark since November 28 to get back into the race
  • North Dakota: 3-1-2 record in 2010; the Sioux are notorious for their second-half runs, so keep an eye on them
Of the league's top seven teams, only Colorado College is truly scuffling right now. The Tigers had lost four games in a row before beating Wisconsin last Saturday to snap the string. The streak saw the Tigers drop a few spots in the league standings and erased a fine start - at least temporarily.

We've often point out here and in other sites that the WCHA is the most competitive league outside the NHL. I still believe this to be true. The talent on the rosters of the league's top seven teams is unmatched and the competitiveness of each weekend's series is tremendous. With so much on the line each weekend, the intensity levels are unbelievable. With seven weeks remaining in the regular season, the intensity level will be dialed-up even further as teams are jockeying for first round home ice.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Kiffin Departed For Better Job; Get Over It

When Lane Kiffin resigned as coach of the Tennessee Volunteers' football team for the head coaching position at USC, reaction from the normal media channels has been electric. Never mind that Kiffin left Knoxville for unquestionably a better job. The sin was that he left Tennessee after just one season. For that, he's a traitor.

When Brian Kelly left Cincinnati for Notre Dame, there was some initial negative reaction of a coach leaving his team on the eve of a big bowl game, but most media elites agreed that he left for a better job. Never mind that Cincy had a BCS date ahead of them and a chance to finish the season with a perfect record. Instead, Kelly departed after the team's emotional come-from-behind victory over Pittsburgh to reach the BCS, leaving an interim coach to lead the team in the Sugar Bowl against Florida. Predictably, Cincy lost 51-24 in the biggest game of their season, while their coach rolled around in his new money in South Bend.

ESPN college football analyst and UT grad Gene Wojciechowski issued a classis slash-and-burn essay about betrayal, BS, and egotism which, he would lead us to believe, was unique to Kiffin. Newsflash - ALL COLLEGE COACHES ARE THE SAME! They are snake oil salesmen. They have loyalties to themselves and only themselves. Guys like Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno may be the exception to the rule, although both are likely to have egos the size of Mall of America Field. Most coaches are always on the lookout for the next job; the next challenge. Look at Nick Saban. He bailed out on Michigan State, LSU, and the Miami Dolphins all within an eight-year span. The exits were abrupt and almost legendary:
  • Michigan State - After leading the Spartans to a 9-2 mark, Saban resigned after the final regular season game and left for LSU after six seasons in East Lansing, leading interim coach Bobby Williams to coach the bowl game.
  • LSU - Saban spent five largely successful seasons in Baton Rouge, culminating in splitting the 2003 NCAA National Championship. After the 2004 season, he resigned to take over as the head coach of the NFL's Miami Dolphins.
  • Miami Dolphins - The Dolphins were searching for stability after Don Shula's tenure ended in 1995, and thought they had found it with Saban's hiring. He had an NFL pedigree and said all the right things. His tenure in Miami lasted a whopping two seasons, and Saban bolted for Alabama with an NFL coaching record of 15-17. Despite saying he wouldn't take the job, he did it anyway, leaving years on his contract and stunned players.
The Saban situation is but one example of coaches jumping around like a fart in a bottle. Of course, you could list many others, such as Rich Rodriguez, who bolted West Virginia for Michigan after the 2007 season and left his Mountaineers to play in a BCS game under an interim coach. It's not unique to college football, either. Bobby Petrino bolted the NFL's Atlanta Falcons for the University of Arkansas after only 13 games, after leaving Louisville the season prior. He had signed a 10-year extension at Louisville one season before leaving for the Falcons. College basketball coaches are beginning to be recycled as frequently as NBA and NHL bosses. There is no such thing as loyalty in sports; college or pro.

Of course, the big issue here is Kiffin himself. He was highly-successful at a very young age under Pete Carroll at USC. He coached the receivers and was later offensive coordinator, spending seven seasons under Carroll. In the final few years on the SC staff, Kiffin was recruiting coordinator and helped attract top-five recruiting classes. He left SC for the Oakland Raiders and spent one season-plus laboring under Al Davis. He was 5-15 there and was fired "with cause." He ended up at Tennessee in a big hire for the Volunteers, a program which had had only two coaches in 30 years prior to Kiffin. He said all the right things in Knoxville, attracted a strong recruiting class for 2009 and had another good one in the works for 2010, and played Alabama and Florida tough on the road. Still, the Vols finished a mediocre 7-6 and was crushed in its bowl game. There were plenty of off-the-field issues in Knoxville, involving Kiffin (accusing Florida coach Urban Meyer of cheating) and his players (robbery charges, guns, etc.). Still, it is undeniable that Kiffin had roots with SC and is leaving Knoxville for a much better job.

Nobody knows whether or not Kiffin can coach. He is 12-21 in his two seasons-plus as a head coach and is only 34 years old. He was handed the keys to college football's marquee program with somewhat suspect credentials, but you cannot fault him for taking the job.

He preached loyalty to his players, recruits, and fans in Tennessee and bailed out after one season amid allegations of recruiting violations by "hostesses." The program is in no better shape than the one he inherited, and Tennessee will now have to find itself a new coach 14 months after it thought it had hired a good young one for a long time. One can understand the Volunteers' frustration to a point, but Kiffin saved the school from a lot of problems by walking away after just one season. It is one of the nation's premier football universities with a great stadium, active booster club, and almost unlimited resources. They'll find a good coach soon, hopefully one who is able to save the 2010 recruiting class and get the program on the right track. There aren't many Gopher football fans who wouldn't trade their program's current state for Tennessee's, despite the uncertainty.

Remember, Gopher fans, he was apparently in the mix for the vacancy here after Glen Mason's firing after the 2006 season, but ultimately lost out to Tim Brewster. If Kiffin had taken the Gopher job, they likely would not have finished 1-11 in 2007, but would still be looking for a new coach today. See, it could always be worse.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Entertaining Affair Goes The Other Way For Gopher Hoops

Despite Devoe Joseph's Herculean efforts in regulation's final minute and the first two minutes of overtime, the Gopher basketball team allowed Indiana to escape Assembly Hall with an 81-78 victory on Sunday afternoon. Even though the Gophers looked positively atrocious in the first half, they had plenty of chances to win, but let an undermanned Indiana team win.

Joseph scored 19 points on the day - 17 in the second half and overtime, including two huge field goals in regulation's final minute. The sophomore also scored the team's first six points of the overtime session, where the Gophers quickly took a five point lead before going ice cold. The Hoosiers scored OT's final eight points and had their second Big Ten victory in the bag.

Things started very slowly for Minny in this one. They managed just one point in the game's first four minutes and were in single-digits nine minutes in. The Hoosiers led by as many as 15 in the game and the Gophers clawed their way back into contention. Shooting 58% in the second half, Minnesota rode Joseph's hot shooting and got back into the game. The Gophers shut Indiana down in regulation's final minutes, holding Indiana without a field goal for the final 6:37, while Minnesota closed with field goals on their last four possessions to force OT.

Despite Joseph's hot early shooting, Indiana would not quit and eventually stopped Joseph cold on Minnesota's final two possessions to seal the victory.

The Gophers were simply out-played on the glass 43-31 by the Hoosiers, but forced 14 Indiana turnovers while limiting their turnovers to just 11. The Gophers shot nearly 50% from the floor after recovering from their horrendous start.

Ralph Sampson III added 17 points in this game, including 11-15 from the free throw line. Paul Carter scored 9 points but grabbed 10 rebounds as well off the bench.

The two-game road trip came to a disappointing end in Bloomington after the Gophers had lost earlier in the week at Michigan State. They have the balance of the week off until Michigan State comes to Williams Arena for a rematch. The 5-0 Spartans sit atop the Big Ten standings, and it's a must-have for the 3-3 Gophers.

If Minnesota wants to have any shot at contending for the Big Ten title, Saturday's game is a must-win. The schedule gets no easier, with one more home game against Northwestern and a trip to Ohio State looming after the home game against the highly-ranked Spartans.

Note: How about that broadcast on the Big Ten Network? Gus Johnson and Greg Kelser were outstanding. These guys are two of the most exciting in the business and combine solid analysis with genuine enthusiasm. Part of the "new school" of broadcasters, Johnson is one of the few whose excitement does not come across as contrived. He's not a yeller and a screamer for the sake of being and does not offer kitschy phrases to cheapen things. He (and Kelser) simply loves basketball.

Although Johnson's labeling of the game as "an instant classic" may be somewhat hyperbolic, the duo's broadcast captured the sheer intensity and excitement of the game, and made it fun to watch - despite the result. Kudos. 

Best Performance of Season Gives Gopher Pucks Hope for Stretch

The Gopher hockey team passed its first test this weekend with flying colors.

Beginning a stretch run which sees the seventh-place Gophers matching up against all six teams in front of them in the WCHA standings - along with a series at Alaska-Anchorage - in the regular season's final seven weeks, the Gophers followed up a competitive Friday night tie with an emphatic 5-1 victory over #6 North Dakota on Saturday night.

Five different Gophers found the back of the net in Saturday's affair, but the story of the night was Alex Kangas. The junior stopped 34 North Dakota shots in route to the victory. He was especially impressive in the second period, in which he turned aside all 12 UND shots, many of which from shallow range, and was able to propel the Gophers into an offensive explosion in the second period.

Things started out well for Minny. Nico Sacchetti's shot off the crossbar was knocked home by Josh Birkholz to give the Gophers a 1-0 lead, which they carried into the intermission. Kangas's strong play kept things constant in the second, and the Gophers launched into an offensive powerhouse in late in the second, scoring three times in just over three minutes to take a 4-0 lead. Zach Budish got things going with the eventual game-winner with 5:09 remaining in the frame. Tony Lucia scored on a nice breakaway, and Jacob Cepis added his own tally just seven seconds later. Mike Hoeffel's power play goal 55 seconds into the third period capped the scoring for Minnesota, and marked the eighth straight game the Gophers have tallied on the power play. The Gophers dominated the game Saturday and also managed to kill off all ten UND power plays this weekend.

Minnesota is now 7-1-1 in their last nine games and has evened its conference record at 7-7-2 on the season. They have gone over the .500 mark at home (7-6-1) and are also 12-10-2 on the season.

Not all was cream cheese in Saturday's game. Freshman defenseman Nick Leddy banged his head against the end wall in a collision with a UND player, but later returned. Cepis also took a high hit in the second period and did not return as a precaution.

A home-and-home series against St. Cloud State awaits the Gophers next weekend. The Friday night tilt will be in the Granite City, while the series shifts to Mariucci Arena for Saturday. Remember, the Gophers defeated the Huskies all six times the two teams met last season, and SCSU will be up for this series. Cloud is currently riding a six-game winning streak and swept a non-conference series against Quinnipiac on the road this weekend. The Huskies are four points ahead of the Gophers in the standings, so you do the math.

One thing is certain: the Gophers are playing well right now and one has to believe this weekend is a series upon which to build. Three out of four against the Sioux definitely helped the PairWise this weekend. Six series await the Gophers to prove they belong in the NCAA Tournament in 2009-10.

Elsewhere in the League:

Saturday, January 16, 2010

"March to Xcel" Begins With Tie

The Gopher hockey team began its stretch drive Friday night with a competitive 3-3 tie at home against North Dakota. Jacob Cepis's goal with 2:04 remaining in the third period gave Minny one point.

The Gophers came out with good energy against the Sioux and the pace of the first period was very fast. Freshman Danny Kristo's goal nearly 16 minutes into the contest gave the Siouxies a 1-0 lead, and UND held this margin through the first intermission.

In the second period, Jordan Schroeder fired a missile past goaltender Brad Eidsness to give the Gophers a share of the lead. The power play tally kept the Gophers' streak of goals with the man advantage alive at seven. Patrick White knocked home a rebound less than two minutes later and Minnesota had a 2-1 lead, some momentum, and had the Sioux back on their heels a bit. However, UND settled the game down and really controlled play for the rest of the second period. Kristo's second goal of the night gave UND a 2-2 tie into the second intermission.

Brad Malone gave the Sioux the lead with a goal in traffic six-and-a-half minutes into the third, and it looked like North Dakota would escape with two points. Cepis's goal prevented this and the two teams earned a well-deserved tie.

Alex Kangas stopped 30 shots for the Gophers while Eidsness turned aside 24 for UND.

The same two teams meet Saturday night at Mariucci. A victory would give the Gophers a split of the series' eight points.

All and all, it was a positive game for Minnesota. They came out with plenty of energy and sustained the pressure for most of the game. UND controlled the play for large stretches of the second and third periods, but Kangas kept them in the game. It was exactly the kind of effort the Gophers needed as the team's brutal stretch drive began. Before one gets too positive about the tie, keep in mind that UND was missing three key components of their lineup Friday night due to injury: reigning WCHA Defensive Player of the Year Chay Genoway, solid sophomore forward Brett Hextall, and fine freshman forward Corban Knight. The Gophers need a victory Saturday night to take three of four points and get things moving in the right direction.

Hat Tips: Zach Budish (two assists); Cade Fairchild (two assists); Jacob Cepis (goal and assist)
Thumbs Down: David Fischer (too many defensive lapses); Aaron Ness, Fairchild, Mike Hoeffel (each -2 on the night); Mike Carman, Tony Lucia (largely invisible)

Note:  I have posted a "March to Xcel" game tracker on the left panel to document the Gophers' final 14 regular season games. As indicated several times, Minnesota needs to make a run through all six teams ahead of them in the WCHA standings to have a shot of hosting an NCAA Tournament Regional at Mariucci Arena the Xcel Energy Center (HT, Mathemetician) in March. The panel will mark the progress.

Elsewhere Around the League:

Friday, January 15, 2010

Three Up, Four Down For Gopher Puck

The Gopher hockey squad begins a stretch Friday night in which they will play seven conference series over the following eight weeks. Six of those series are against teams ahead of them not only in the league standings but in the all-important PairWise rankings. The seventh series is a road trip to Anchorage, Alaska - hardly a gimme.

To say it is crunch time for the Gophers is an understatement. Minnesota made its initial appearance in the PairWise this week at #25. Since the PairWise mirrors the NCAA Tournament, the Gophers' appearance is encouraging, although the team needed a 6-1-0 stretch just to break into the top 25. However, the team realistically needs to finish in the 10-12 range in order to receive an NCAA Tournament bid. Therefore, the Gophers' two options are to either win the WCHA Final Five tournament or go on a serious second half run.

If a run is in the cards, it must start this weekend at home against North Dakota. UND will likely be without three key players due to injuries: Senior defenseman Chay Genoway (concussion), sophomore forward Brett Hextall (lower body), and freshman forward Corban Knight (lower body). Still, the Siouxies are notorious for second half runs, and started 2010 with a home sweep against Minnesota State last weekend. Plus, the Sioux pounded Minnesota up in Grand Forks earlier in the season, which should give the Gophers all the motivation they need.

So, to set the stage for this weekend, let's look at three positives and three negatives of the Gopher team at the season's midpoint.

  1. Jacob Cepis; The junior transfer (pictured right) from Bowling Green joined the Gophers for the Dodge Holiday Classic and has provided a much-needed shot in the arm. In four games, Cepis has managed 2-1-3 and has provided tremendous energy. Best yet, the Gophers are 3-1-0 since his arrival. Coach Don Lucia plans to have Cepis playing on Jordan Schroeder's line for the time being, but his initial line in the DHC with Mike Hoeffel and Mike Carman seemed to really create a buzz. For a team lacking in scoring right now, Cepis's arrival came at the right time.
  2. Goaltending: Junior Alex Kangas has been solid the majority of the season. Despite posting some scary numbers early on, mostly due to defensive mishaps, Kangas has righted the ship. In 17 games, he has posted a 2.59 goals against average to go with a save percentage of .910. Sophomore Kent Patterson has won his last two starts and his numbers are also good (2.57 GAA.918 Sv%). Coach Lucia's mantra is to have his goaltenders play to a 90% save percentage in order to give his team a chance to win on a given night. The goalies have done their part.
  3. Momentum?: The Gophers have won seven of their past nine games and six of their last seven. Here's hoping that momentum carries forward in the toughest part of their schedule. 
  1. Goal-Scoring: This has been perhaps the biggest disappointment in a lackluster start to the 2009-10 season. The Gophers are averaging 2.64 goals per game, good for 40th in the nation. There are 58 teams playing Division I hockey, and only Alaska-Anchorage and Michigan Tech rank behind Minnesota among WCHA teams. With a solid and experienced senior class, goal-scoring was not expected to be a problem with this team. However, the Gophers started out slowly and then lost Jay Barriball to season-ending knee surgery early on, and it seems like the team has never recovered. Only Mike Hoeffel has managed double-digits in goals through 22 games and the next-closest teammates have managed just five (Tony Lucia, Patrick White, and Jake Hansen). Scoring from the blueline has been virtually non-existent, which leads us into our second point.....
  2. Defensive Point Production: With such puck-moving defensemen as Cade Fairchild, Aaron Ness, and Nick Leddy, it was expected that the Gophers would be able to generate a ton of points from the blueline. However, Fairchild has started relatively slow (1-9-10 in 22 games), Ness has struggled (1-5-6), and Leddy missed several weeks with a broken jaw. Junior Kevin Wehrs is the only defenseman who has notched more than one goal on the season, and the team's struggles on the power play (15.7% overall; 11.5% in WCHA play) suggest that the lack of defensive production leads directly to unacceptable power play figures.
  3. Home Record: This is just puzzling. The Gophers have won three of their last four at home, but still have only a 6-7-0 mark at Mariucci Arena this season. In conference play, Minnesota's home record is just 2-5-0. This is an area which must improve.
  4. Power Play: The 15.7% overall mark is maddening, but the 11.5% success rate in WCHA play is simply unacceptable. The WCHA mark ranks ahead of only Alaska-Anchorage among WCHA teams. With the scoring talent Minnesota has on its roster, these figures should be much, much higher.
So there you have it. The Gophers have a lot of ground to make up over the regular season's final eight weekends. I'm not sure this team has a run in it, but I've been wrong before, and hopefully am wrong about this team. One thing is certain; few have figured out the 2009-10 Gophers, who have battled inconsistency all season long.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Spartans Outlast Gopher Hoopsters

The Gopher basketball team simply ran out of time on Wednesday, losing on the road to #7 Michigan State 60-53 in East Lansing.

Senior guard Lawrence Westbrook did all he could to keep the Gophers in the game in the second half, scoring ten straight Minnesota points and helping the Gophs bite into an 11-point MSU lead. However, the Spartans closed things out and picked up the victory.

Westbrook led all scorers with 15 points, including 12 in the second half. Fellow senior Damian Johnson added 14 and four key blocks. No other Minnesota player reached double-figures. Kalin Lucas had 14 points for Sparty, and Durrell Summers added 13 points off the bench.

It was a half-court defensive struggle between the two teams who much preferred to run the floor. Both teams took relatively good care of the basketball, with the Spartans turning the ball over just eight times against Minny's 14. Michigan State out-rebounded the Gophers just 33-32, which was an area which MSU held a significant advantage going into the game. However, the difference was shooting, with the Gophers hitting just 41% from the floor and just 4-12 from three-point territory. Long-range sharpshooter Blake Hoffarber was 0-3 from long range in this game.

Minnesota drops to 12-5 on the season and 3-2 in the Big Ten. Another road contest looms this Saturday in Bloomington, IN against the Indiana Hoosiers, which is obviously a game the Gophers should win. However, Indiana played the Gophs tough in Bloomington last season and is much improved over last season's squad which won only once in Big Ten play. Second-year coach Tom Crean has the ball rolling in the right direction for the Hoosiers and they will be no pushover. Still, the Gophers have the edge in talent and should win.
One interesting stat on the season for the Gophers: Minnesota has scored 70 points or more 12 times in the season's first 17 games. They are 12-0 in those contests. In the occasions in which the Gophers have failed to reach 70 points, the team is 0-5. That pretty much says it all. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Friday Rant (Special Tuesday Edition): "Rooney Rule" Offensive to All

The Seattle Seahawks fired head coach Jim Mora last week. One day later, they agreed as an organization that they wanted to hire Pete Carroll away from USC to take over for Mora. There was just one problem: the Seahawks hadn't interviewed a minority candidate to comply with the "Rooney Rule," and set themselves off into scramble mode to find a minority candidate to interview.

The organization reached out to Minnesota Vikings' defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, apparently before even settling on Carroll, and Frazier apparently initially said no. However, after receiving assurances from the Seahawks that Carroll had not yet been guaranteed full control of the Seahawks, Frazier changed his mind and agreed to meet with Seattle officials last Saturday. It was also reported that the Seahawks had already promised full control to Carroll before the Frazier interview, and the Seahawks hired Carroll anyway.

The "Rooney Rule" is the namesake of Pittsburgh Steelers' owner Dan Rooney, who realized that minorities were under-represented in the NFL coaching ranks. The rule was instituted league-wide in 2003 and requires NFL teams to interview at least one minority candidate for all head coaching and senior football operations positions.

While there are exceptions (i.e. assistants with successor language in their contracts to take over for a head coach; minority assistants elevated to head coaching positions), the rule is often times no more than a "dog-and-pony-show" to parade in a minority candidate just to make things look good.

In the Seahawks' case, it's offensive to Frazier to have him come in for an interview and, despite assurances that a candidate has not already been hired, go through the motions with him. Frazier is an up-and-coming assistant who is currently running a successful defense for a playoff team. He will get plenty of head coaching consideration on his own merits - as he rightly should. There is little doubt in many football evaluators' minds that Frazier will be a head coach very soon. However, it won't be in Seattle in 2010, and everyone knows it.

On the other hand, the Seahawks made a coaching change because they clearly wanted to go another direction. They wanted to hire Carroll from the outset. They pursued him, negotiated with him, and ultimately hired him - outside the "Rooney Rule" standards. It's not like Carroll is devoid of qualifications for the job. He was an NFL head coach for four seasons in the 1990s before launching on a supremely-successful tenure with the USC Trojans in 2001. While at USC, Carroll won 97 of 116 games, captured two national championships, and won seven of nine bowl games. The Seahawks determined Carroll was the best man for their job, as it was their prerogative.

I don't want this to turn into an anti-affirmative action rant. The Rooney Rule was adopted to give more opportunities to minority coaching candidates, and the spirit of this is fine. However, bringing in someone to comply with the rule when an organization has absolutely no intention of hiring the minority candidate undermines the spirit of the rule and is nothing but offensive to all. It's another example of an initiative with good intentions which ends up being nothing more than window-dressing.

Frazier certainly deserved better, and the Seahawks deserved to hire whomever they wanted without going into an act.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sweep for Gopher Six Sets Up Conference Play

The Gopher hockey team defeated Harvard 3-1 on Saturday night, sweeping the weekend set and putting themselves over the .500 mark for the first time all season.

Sophomore forward Nick Larson scored his first two goals of the season to give the Gophers the victory. After spotting Harvard the game's first goal, Cade Fairchild scored his first of the season on the power play to tie the score. After the first intermission, Larson notched his first of the game midway through the second, and added his second tally just eleven seconds into the third period. That was all the offensive production Minnesota would need on the night.

Kent Patterson stopped 21 Harvard shots and picked up his second-consecutive victory in as many starts. The goaltending duo of Alex Kangas and Patterson each picked up wins this weekend over struggling Harvard.

Next up for Minny is North Dakota. The Sioux come into Mariucci Arena fresh off a home sweep of Minnesota State, and have opened up a five-point margin over the Gophers in the WCHA standings. Beginning with the Nodak series, the Gophers will play seven series within the WCHA, all but one of which comes against teams ahead of the Gophers in the league standings. With the Gophers buried in the PairWise rankings, any run toward the NCAA Tournament must begin and end with strong league play. With the non-conference portion of the schedule now complete, the Gophers have no choice but to make a run within the WCHA.

As winners of six of seven, the Gophers have some momentum going into the North Dakota series. They'll need all the luck and effort they can muster the rest of the way. Consider it tournament hockey the rest of the way for the maroon and gold.

Around the WCHA:

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Second Half Shooting Propels U to Hoops Win

The Gophers shot a paltry 39% from the floor in the first half, yet trailed Ohio State by only one point, due primarily to points off turnovers and fine foul shooting. In the second half, the Gophers heated up from the floor, led by Blake Hoffarber's three-point shooting, to lead the Gophers to a 73-62 win over visiting Ohio State.
Minnesota shot 52% from the floor in the second half, including 7-12 from three-point territory. The Gophers used a 23-4, seven-minute run in the second half to pull away from Ohio State, which had kept the game close for the entire game up until the run.

Hoffarber led all scorers with 27 points, including 7-9 shooting from beyond the arc. He was 6 of 7 in the second half from three-point territory, which paced Minnesota. Lawrence Westbrook added 15 points, and Al Nolen had a great all-around game with 11 points, 7 assists, and 4 steals.

Overall, Minnesota shot 45% from the floor, forced 19 Ohio State turnovers, stole the ball 12 times, and out-rebounded OSU 31-30. On the negative side, the Gophers kicked the ball away 17 times of their own and lacked consistency in shooting outside of Hoffarber.

Minnesota is now 3-1 in Big Ten play and moves to 12-4 overall. They are also a perfect 10-0 at Williams Arena this season.

Things do not get easier for the Gophers, as they travel to East Lansing to take on Michigan State on Wednesday night. After a trip to Indiana next weekend, the Gophers will host Michigan State the following weekend. With two games against the Spartans in ten days, fans will get a good opportunity to see what this team is made of. If nothing else, the Gophers will play to avenge last season's 76-47 loss at Michigan State last season.

Good Start to Weekend for Gopher Hockey

The Gophers started quickly and finally picked up a Friday home victory in the team's 5-2 non-conference victory over Harvard. The win was the Gophers' first home win on a Friday night since they defeated Alaska-Anchorage on October 30.

The Gophers fired 45 shots on the Harvard net and have now notched 95 shots in their last two games. They applied constant pressure on Crimson goaltender Kyle Richter all night long.

Jake Hansen scored 2:05 into the game, his fifth goal of the season. His emergence has been a positive for a Gopher team searching for scoring talent. Hansen had scored two goals in part-time duty last season as a freshman. After Harvard's Chad Morin tied the score late in the second period, the Gophers found themselves in a familiar spot: dominating play, but not leading after two periods.

In the third, it was all Minnesota. Jacob Cepis scored his second goal in as many games to break the tie. Nico Sacchetti and Zach Budish - two guys desperately in need of goals - scored consecutive goals midway through the third to put the Gophers into an insurmountable position. Morin picked up his second goal from a nearly impossible angle late in the period, but Tony Lucia found the back of an empty net with one tick left to give the Gophers a three-goal margin in their victory.

Alex Kangas made 20 saves in the game to pick up his ninth win of the season. Richter made 40 saves on a busy night for the Crimson.

Lucia and Sacchetti each picked up a goal and an assist on the night, and Jordan Schroeder added two assists in his first game back since winning the gold at the World Junior Championships.

The Gophers go for the sweep against Harvard Saturday night at 7pm. The team is playing better of late, winning five of their last six, but hasn't recorded a home sweep since the Alaska-Anchorage series in late October. A win Saturday sets the table nicely for the North Dakota home series next weekend.

Notes: Defenseman Seth Helgeson returned to the lineup after missing a few games with an injury, and Brian Schack returned to the press box; Schroeder replaced Joe Miller in the lineup at the forward position; Taylor Matson will miss a few weeks with a high ankle sprain. He just cannot seem to catch a break. Last year, his knee injury cost him the season's final four months.

Elsewhere in the WCHA:

Friday, January 8, 2010

Friday Rant: Shanahan Latest of Recycled Coaches to Re-Surface

The Washington Redskins', um, eccentric, owner Daniel Snyder has made a big splash with his seventh head coaching hire in 11 seasons as owner. Of course, he made splashes with his third (Marty Schottenheimer), fourth (Steve Spurrier), and fifth (Joe Gibbs) coaches as well, so hiring Mike Shanahan is really nothing new for Mr. Snyder, as I like to call him.

Just days after firing his sixth head coach in 11 seasons (Jim Zorn), Snyder brought in Shanahan to run things on the field and also gave him the title of VP of Football Operations. This is interesting because Snyder had previously brought in former Raiders and Buccaneers' football guru, Bruce Allen, to be the Redskins' GM. Now, Shanahan has ultimate say over personnel matters. Yeah, THAT'S going to work!

You have three strong personalities running football operations here: Shanahan, Allen, and Snyder. There is a decent chance that Allen and Shanahan will work well together. There is a 100% chance that Snyder will mettle, undermine one or both of them, and that things will end badly. However, that's a topic for another day.

The issue here is that Shanahan was hired at all. Yes, he is a two-time Super Bowl champion, winning his last title the season before Snyder bought the Redskins (the 1998 season). Shanahan's Denver Broncos also won the title the year prior, and his team qualified for the playoffs seven times in 14 seasons )I won't even mention Shanahan's one season-plus coaching the Los Angeles Raiders for the crazy Al Davis back in the late 80's). He has a reputation for success, built on his two Super Bowl titles in Denver, but his teams were a combined 24-24 in his final three seasons as head coach, missing the playoffs all three times, and he was fired by Broncos' owner Pat Bowlen after the 2008 season.

Shanahan also has a reputation for being the smartest man he knows. He has clashed with players over the years and his run-first style seems to be out of favor with today's NFL. Still, Snyder handed him a five-year, $35M contract to coach his Redskins.

Of course, the last time Snyder brought in a control freak as his coach was in 2001, when Marty Schottenheimer was brought in, and that ended after one season. Few expect Shanahan to last much longer.

Just why Shanahan was hired is debatable, but should be no surprise. Teams are always searching for the "secret sauce" and bring in retreads who have had previous success in the hopes they can turn franchises around quickly. Take Bill Parcells. He is also a two-time Super Bowl champion, last winning in 1990 with the Giants. He has also coached in New England (1993-1996), New York Jets (1997-1999), and Dallas (2003-2006). After retiring in Dallas, he sat idle for one season and then went to the Miami Dolphins as EVP of Football Operations after the team's disastrous 1-15 2007 campaign, and helped orchestrate a turnaround to 11-5 the next season. Despite being 67 and in poor health, the Dolphins gave him a four-year deal to hopefully provide a quick fix. For now, it has worked well, and there are no rumors of him returning to the sidelines, but stay tuned.

Cleveland recently brought in Mike Holmgren to run their football operations. Since being re-established in 1999, the Browns have employed four coaches, have made the playoffs once, and are a complete mess. The hope is that Holmgren, despite having rather limited success in Seattle (where he had ultimate authority) will be able to capitalize on his three Super Bowl appearances (and one title - 1996) and give the Brownies a quick fix. Good luck there.

It doesn't stop with the NFL. In the NBA, the recycling of coaches - both successful and less - is almost legendary. Two coaches have been fired this season (Byron Scott by New Orleans and Lawrence Frank in New Jersey), and one is hanging by a thread (Vinny Del Negro in Chicago). Once Del Negro gets axed in Chicago, look for Scott and Frank to get a look.

The NHL has become just as "green" when it comes to coaching recycling. St. Louis fired Andy Murray last weekend after a disappointing start to the season, and the coach is expected to take a few months off. Of course, Anaheim is struggling as well, and coach Randy Carlyle is on a bit of a hot seat (despite winning the Stanley Cup in 2007). It is rumored that Murray would be a good fit with the Ducks, and he has experience in Southern California, coaching the Kings for a number of years last decade - of course.

None of the NBA and NHL coaches described in the examples above have the track record of Shanahan, Parcells, or Holmgren, but the examples display the coaching carousel in action.

We'll have to take the long view (defied in Snyder terms as one season) to evaluate whether or not Shanahan will work with the Redskins. At first blush, it seems like the Skins have managed to muck things up again and crowd themselves with strong personalities, the strongest of which is Snyder himself. If Snyder chooses not to intervene often, maybe it will work. Shanahan's monstrous ego is matched only by Snyder's narcissism, and it likely spells impending doom for one of the NFL's most storied franchises. It will certainly be fun to watch - unless you're a Redskins' fan. In that case, you're probably used to front office drama. Previous owner Jack Kent Cooke was one of sports' most colorful and eccentric characters, and Snyder's actions make him look almost milquetoast.

Of course, why Shanahan was hired in the first place, given his poor record during the final three years of his tenure, is debatable.