U in need of stability for top defensive job

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 21, 2008 - 12:17 AM

The Gophers are looking for their sixth defensive coordinator since 2000, and keeping their next hire around a few years could make a big difference.

Kevin Cosgrove won't be the next Gophers defensive coordinator, as some had speculated, because coach Tim Brewster has refused to give the former Wisconsin and Nebraska defensive coordinator an interview, according a person who knows.

The favorite to replace Everett Withers is Ted Roof, the former head coach at Duke. Roof spent two days this week around the Gophers football complex and apparently impressed everybody.

It would be nice if Brewster could keep this hire around a few years, so that this group of Gophers defensive players will have the same coordinator for some time.

The Gophers' outgoing senior defensive players, such as John Shevlin, Mike Sherels and Dominique Barber, played for three defensive coordinators: Greg Hudson (2003-04), David Lockwood (2005-06) and Withers, who is headed for North Carolina after one season on the job with the Gophers defense, a unit that ranked as the worst in the country, giving up an average of 518.7 yards per game.

"You always are going to get better the longer you are with the same defensive coordinator," said Shevlin, a linebacker. "You will improve more the longer you are with the same system. I'm sure the Gophers defensive players would have done better under Withers the second year. Now they have to start all over with a new guy."

Glen Mason had four defensive coordinators during his 10 years with the Gophers: David Gibbs (1997-2000), Moe Ankney (2001-02), Hudson and Lockwood. Mason typically had poor defenses as well, and he tried to compensate by keeping his offense on the field longer with its power running game.

Gibbs had three good years to start out before the Gophers defense slumped, then he left for the Denver Broncos and is now with the Kansas City Chiefs. Ankney took on a lesser role with the Gophers for three years before retiring, Hudson became defensive coordinator at East Carolina and Lockwood, getting fired along with all of Mason's staff after the 2006 season, will coach cornerbacks at West Virginia this year after working at Kentucky last year.

It's interesting to note that even though Mason and his assistants produced one of the country's great running attacks every year, only one Mason offensive assistant fired in 2006 got a college job for '07, Tony Petersen at Iowa State. Mitch Browning, Mason's offensive coordinator, was hired at Syracuse this year after sitting out the 2007 season.

While Withers left because of the chance to go back home, believe me, he was a very discouraged defensive coordinator here last year because the group he was coaching couldn't do the job.

It's been a long time since the Gophers football team had a defense that could stand up through an entire season and stop the good teams. No doubt the constant change in defensive coordinators has had something to do with that weakness.

Ratliff ready

As good as Al Jefferson has been for the Timberwolves, coach Randy Wittman is convinced the team's leading scorer could be even more effective now that veteran shot blocker Theo Raliff is ready to return from injury. Ratliff might play as early as tonight against San Antonio.

"He's been practicing and running. Theo has done a lot of 1-on-1 work after practice," Wittman said. "He's got to get his conditioning down and with the surgery he had on his knee ... that's a wear-and-tear type thing.

"Can you go six, seven, eight, nine, 10 days hard in a row without that knee flaring up? So, he's still got to do that but he's been looking like a real basket protector. He was one of the top shot blockers in our league for years, so having Theo back does give us another element, which would be nice to have."

Wittman said there are no plans to trade Ratliff, who is a free agent at the end of this year. "We are going to hold on to Theo and see what he can do," Wittman said.

The coach said the Wolves' schedule in the weeks ahead will be a test for his young players, who are trying to prove they can compete in the NBA.

"We are going to be playing a lot of Western Conference teams that are fighting for their lives in the playoffs," Wittman said. "They are going to come in here thinking, 'Hey, this is a game we have to have.' So we will get a lot of team's best efforts."

Jottings

Gophers men's basketball coach Tubby Smith will get two distinguished honors in the next few months. On April 6 in San Antonio, Smith will be introduced as the new president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. Then on May 4, he will receive an honorary degree from Kentucky for his contributions during his 10 seasons at the university. The Lexington Herald-Leader reported Smith was nominated by music professor Everett McCorvey and Kentucky administrator Chester Grundy, who called Smith a "great humanitarian with a consistent commitment to young people. He's generous almost to a fault."

Paul Molitor is on this year's ballot for the College Baseball Hall of Fame. Fellow former Gophers standout Dave Winfield and former Gophers coach Dick Siebert were elected the past two years. The new inductees will be announced later this month or early March.

The Carolina Hurricanes had five former St. Cloud State players play for them this week: Matt Cullen, Casey Borer, Tim Conboy, Bret Hedican and Joe Jensen, all Minnesota natives. Jensen, a center made his NHL debut in Monday's 5-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils, a game Hedican didn't play because of a "lower body" injury. Hedican returned to the lineup Tuesday, and Jensen was sent back to Albany of the American Hockey League.

With the announcement this week that junior forward Mike Bruesewitz of Henry Sibley High School would play basketball at Wisconsin, the Badgers are lined up to have four Minnesotans on their roster in 2009-10. Jon Leuer of Orono is a freshman this season, and Jared Berggren of Princeton and Jordan Taylor of Benilde-St. Margaret's will be in Madison this fall. On Bruesewitz, Sibley coach Tom Dasovich told the Wisconsin State Journal on Wednesday: "He's a real versatile player, and he's a real hard worker. ... He's a lot like [Badgers junior forward] Joe Krabbenhoft. Similar build, looks like him, similar style of game."

Trenton Hassell, the former Wolves player who went from Dallas to New Jersey in the Jason Kidd trade, saw very limited service with the Mavericks, averaging 2.1 points and 1.2 rebounds per game.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on his Podcast twice a week at www.startribune.com/sidcast. shartman@startribune.com

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