Patience, not firing, needed by Gophers

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 30, 2010 - 9:19 AM

Tim Brewster has struggled, but so did Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz early on.

It's been 43 years since the Gophers won a Big Ten football championship. They shared the 1967 title with Indiana and Purdue, and because the Gophers and Boilermakers had been in the Rose Bowl more recently, the Hoosiers went to Pasadena.

From 1967 to 2006, the Gophers have had seven head football coaches -- Murray Warmath, Cal Stoll, Joe Salem, Lou Holtz, John Gutekunst, Jim Wacker and Glen Mason.

Every one of these coaches had done a good job at his previous school. I happen to know each of them was sought by other schools, and each apparently made a mistake when he took the Gophers job.

Yes, and every one of them except for Holtz, who left Minnesota to go to Notre Dame, was fired because he didn't consistently field winning teams.

Now you hear some fans yelling "Fire Brewster!" at last Saturday's game with Northern Illinois.

No doubt, Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi and university President Robert Bruininks have fans chanting for a coaching change because Tim Brewster is 1-3 after the Gophers suffered two embarrassing losses to Northern Illinois and South Dakota.

But continuity is important, and if you look back at the early records of two great football coaches in neighboring states -- former Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz -- you will learn their bosses had patience and it paid off.

Like Brewster, who is in his fourth year, they didn't start very well.

Alvarez, now the Badgers' athletic director, went 11-22 overall and 5-19 in the Big Ten in his first three years. Wisconsin finished in 10th place in 1990, tied for eighth in 1991 and tied for sixth in 1992. In his fourth year, Alvarez was 10-1-1, tied for first in the Big Ten with a 6-1-1 record and then won the Rose Bowl with a 21-16 victory over UCLA.

Maturi was at Wisconsin from 1987 to 1996, including a stint as associate director of athletics from 1992 to 1996, so he saw the improvement of Alvarez's teams firsthand.

One of the defensive coaches on that Rose Bowl team was Gophers defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove. Cosgrove, who was at Wisconsin from 1990 to 2003, was part of three Big Ten championship teams and nine bowl appearances with the Badgers.

Also on the Wisconsin staff when the Badgers went to the 1999 Rose Bowl was Gophers offensive coordinator Jeff Horton. He was at Wisconsin as quarterbacks coach from 1999 to 2005. A third current Gophers coach -- offensive line coach Tim Davis -- was on the Badgers staff from 1997 to 2001, coaching tackles and tight ends.

As for Ferentz, he was 11-24 overall and 7-17 in his first three years in the Big Ten. He was 1-10 overall and 0-8 in the Big Ten in his first year at Iowa in 1999 and 3-9 overall and 3-5 in the Big Ten in his second year. In his third year, the Hawkeyes were 7-5 (4-4 Big Ten), went to the Alamo Bowl and beat Texas Tech 19-16.

In his fourth year, Ferentz coached the Hawkeyes to a 11-2 overall record and tied for the Big Ten title with an 8-0 mark. Iowa went to the Orange Bowl, losing to USC 38-17, and has had only one sub-.500 season (6-7 in 2006) since 2001.

I'm not saying Brewster is going to take the Gophers to the Rose Bowl this year or next. But I believe they have young talent, and once they get some experience, they can be much better next year.

Yes they are 1-3 now, but they are 0-0 in the Big Ten. Nobody knows what the rest of the season will bring.

What I am saying is that firing coaches at Minnesota hasn't produced any success, so let's not be firing a coach after only four games this season.

Likes plan

Brian Robison, who got a lot of playing time against the Lions last Sunday, likes how the Vikings are rotating their defensive linemen.

"We finally did the rotation the way it should be done, and I was able to get some playing time, and that's all I ask for," Robison said. "I did play three positions. I played a little bit of [tackle] and I played left end and right end. So it's a good thing that I got out there to do it. It shows a little bit of my versatility, and I'm just thankful for the playing time that I'm getting."

Robison said he expected to play more than usual.

"I did get a lot of work during the week ... and I always get a lot of work during the week on the scout team," said the former Texas player. "So that's where I come and try to hone my pass rushing skills. Well, I mean up until this game, I haven't played much. In the first two games, I only had nine total plays. So I beat the season total basically today, so hopefully it keeps going that way for me."

Jottings

Former Vikings center Matt Birk, now with the Baltimore Ravens, was named The Sporting News' sixth-smartest athlete last week. An economics major at Harvard, the former Cretin-Derham Hall standout scored 34 out of a possible 36 on his ACT college entrance exam. Asked to name the smartest teammate he ever had, Birk told the magazine, "Robert Smith was pretty smart, and Pete Bercich with the Vikings. He and Robert used to have crazy discussions about physics, the fourth dimension. They might as well have been speaking another language." The No. 1 smartest athlete was former Twins reliever Craig Breslow, now with the Oakland Athletics. Breslow double-majored in molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale, graduating with a 3.5 grade-point average, and was accepted at New York University Medical School. He's also had a pretty good year with the A's, with a 4-4 record, 2.99 ERA and three saves. He is tied for third in the AL with the Twins' Matt Guerrier with 73 appearances.

How do you figure this one out? Last Saturday, North Dakota State crushed South Dakota 38-16 at the Fargodome, two weeks after the Coyotes edged the Gophers 41-38 at TCF Bank Stadium.

Xcel Energy Center will celebrate its 10th birthday when the Wild hosts the Blue Jackets on Thursday. The first event at the arena was a 3-1 Wild victory over the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim on Sept. 29, 2000.

Walter Jocketty, a member of the great athletic Jocketty family led by former Minneapolis Marshall High School coach Joe Jocketty, had a very successful career as general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals from 1994 to 2007, winning a World Series in 2006. He has transferred his magic to the Cincinnati Reds, who clinched the NL Central Division title Tuesday and will go to the playoffs for the first time since 1995. Jocketty became Reds GM in April 2008, replacing former Twins assistant GM Wayne Krivsky.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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