Stricter team policy led Smith out door

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 21, 2008 - 10:18 PM

The Vikings have shown they are less tolerant of off-field embarrassments, but they will be hard-pressed to fill the void left at free safety.

One thing you can be sure of: Under previous Vikings owners, a player who was as effective as Dwight Smith was last season wouldn't have been released.

The Wilf family won't interfere in any way with the coaching or the hiring of personnel -- but they won't keep players who have problems off the field.

And Smith, the safety who was released on Wednesday, had both off-the-field problems and some internal issues as well.

Coach Brad Childress agrees with that theory about the current owners, and while the Vikings -- under the present administration -- never have revealed which players they didn't draft because they weren't good citizens, they have passed up some good prospects for that reason.

Smith surely will be missed. He made 51 tackles last season, returned an interception for a 93-yard touchdown and was graded one of the team's best safeties. The Vikings will have a hard time finding a replacement as good as Smith.

After the "Love Boat" situation two years ago, owner Zygi Wilf, much embarrassed by the incident, talked about how he wasn't going to allow any negative things to occur with the Vikings that he wouldn't allow in his other businesses.

Rest assured, one thing Vikings coaches are doing at the NFL combine in Indianapolis this week is not only checking the athletic ability of the future draft choices, but also their character.

Wolves make one deal

Glen Taylor, owner of the Timberwolves, said the team had plenty of interest in some of their younger players before dealing Gerald Green to Houston for Kirk Snyder.

"We had many teams call interested in Sebastian Telfair and Ryan Gomes," Taylor said. "But we weren't going to, under any circumstance, trade these young players.

"We are building with youth, and the reason we traded Gerald Green was that he wasn't happy here and he was a free agent at the end of the year. He wasn't going to play here in the future."

Other than the Snyder deal, Taylor said, the Wolves didn't come close to making any trades as the deadline passed on Thursday.

Nathan tough to sign?

It will be a surprise if the Twins sign relief pitcher Joe Nathan, who can demand a contract in the area of the $15 million-per-season contract signed by Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. The Twins have made an offer, but the word is that it is not close to what Nathan can earn once he is a free agent at the end of the season. Rivera raised the bar after coming off a season in which he earned 30 saves with a 3.15 ERA in 71.1 innings. In 71.2 innings, Nathan recorded 37 saves with a 1.88 ERA.

Jottings

With Oakland third baseman Eric Chavez recovering from three shoulder operations, former Gopher Jack Hannahan has a good chance to open the season as his replacement. Hannahan played in 41 games for the A's last year after being acquired from the Tigers and hit .278 with three home runs and 24 RBI.

One reason there was little doubt that outstanding Bloomington Jefferson quarterback Moses Alipate would commit to Minnesota was the fact that his dad, Tuineau, and Ronnie Lee, Gophers defensive backs coach, played together at Washington State from 1984-1988. Lee can't discuss the recruiting. But in his drawer he has a newspaper clipping with a photo of him and Tuineau Alipate tackling a Fresno State running back. Moses Alipate is one of the top-rated 2009-eligible recruits in the state and he had more than 10 offers from top Division I schools.

Pete Thamel, a sportswriter for the New York Times, was allowed to spend 48 hours on the Cornell University men's basketball bus as the 16-5 Ivy League team won games at Harvard and Dartmouth to extend its conference mark to 8-0. One of the players Thamel wrote about was Ryan Witt- man, son of Timberwolves coach Randy Wittman, who has a good chance of leading the Big Red to an automatic NCAA basketball tournament bid. Only Princeton or Penn has done that since Cornell made it in 1988. Ryan Wittman, a sophomore who is the team's leading scorer, is the favorite to be named the Ivy League's player of the year.

Players traded or bought out by the Wolves have not done too much with their new teams. Mike James, who was traded to Houston, is averaging 6.5 points and 1.6 assists per game. Juwan Howard, now with the Mavericks after his contract was bought out, is averaging 0.8 points per game, and Troy Hudson, also bought out, signed with the Warriors but was waived.

Former Gopher Bobby Jackson, who had a great early career with the Kings, was averaging 7.1 points and 1.7 assists for the outstanding Hornets team before he was traded to Houston -- for James and Bonzi Wells -- on Thursday.

North Dakota State and South Dakota State will be on the 2008-2009 Gophers basketball schedule, with St. Cloud State expected to be an exhibition opponent. Northern State of Aberdeen, S.D., where Don Meyer has built a 24-2 record and No. 4 Division II ranking this season, is also expected to be on the schedule. There will be a four-team round-robin tournament Nov. 13-15 at Williams Arena, but none of the other teams has been scheduled yet.

The Gophers didn't offer a scholarship to Sibley basketball player Mike Bruesewitz, who committed to Wisconsin this week. The Gophers have one scholarship they could use for this season, and if they don't use it, they'll have two for the 2008-2009 recruiting class. Rest assured, the Gophers will not use these scholarships unless it is for somebody they are sure can play.

Marty Morgan, top assistant on coach J Robinson's Gophers wrestling team, said that when the Gophers play host to Ohio State on Sunday, it will be the first time all season the Gophers will have their top talent available in each weight class. The Big Ten wrestling championships will be March 8-9 at Williams Arena, and Morgan is confident that a healthy Gophers team will not only win the conference meet, but repeat as NCAA champions.

Former Gophers basketball players Michael Bauer and Vincent Grier are playing with different teams in the Ligue Nationale de Basket in France. Bauer is playing for Stade Lorrain Université Club Nancy, and Grier is with Maritime Gravelines-Dunkerque. They faced each other once this year, with Bauer's team winning 89-86. Bauer, who is averaging 11 points for the season, scored only five points in that game while Grier, who is averaging 13 points, scored 12 in the loss.

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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