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When Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi replaced Glen Mason with the tight ends coach of the Denver Broncos, Tim Brewster imparted the impression that he would become a public relations whirlwind who would need to learn how to run a football program.
Brewster never had worked as a coordinator or head coach above the high school level. He talked a good game. There existed no evidence that he knew how to coach a good game.
With the Gophers at 7-1 and facing Northwestern this weekend, and with a New Year's Day bowl a possibility, what is most remarkable about Brewster's reign as the Gophers' football coach is that he has proved far better at running the program than promoting it.
Brewster arrived in town eager to appear on every TV and radio show in town, eager to repeat his favorite mottos and talking points. When he proved unwilling to answer any questions with candor, and followed a summer of relentless promotion with a 1-11 season, he lost credibility faster than Alan Greenspan.
These days, Brewster spends games barking at officials, spends his postgame news conferences -- even after victories -- seething at perceived and sometimes nonexistent slights.
While he has become less likeable as a promoter, he has become more credible as a head coach.
Look past the bluster, and you find a football boss who has proved adept at making big decisions, and that's how bosses in every business should be judged -- by the efficacy of their most important decisions.
While the Gophers haven't beaten an impressive team this season, they are 7-for-7 in winnable games, a far higher percentage than we're accustomed to from this program. Their seven victories can be attributed to Brewster's decisions, including:
• Hiring the right offensive coordinator. Mike Dunbar not only brought the newly popular spread offense to Minnesota, he has made it work without the element that made his Cal team dangerous -- raw speed.
Adam Weber, Eric Decker and DeLeon Eskridge don't melt stopwatches, yet Dunbar has helped Weber and Decker develop into two of the best offensive players in the Big Ten, and has helped Eskridge diminish the loss of the faster, more explosive Duane Bennett.
Brewster demonstrated maturity unseen in his public appearances by taking a lower salary than he could have negotiated to ensure that he could afford to pay a quality offensive coordinator. That has proved to be a good career move.
• Hiring the right defensive coordinator. The Gophers have searched the nation for years for a defensive coach who could cause opponents to at least break stride on their way to the end zone.
Coordinators such as Greg Hudson, David Lockwood and Everett Withers were nobody's fools, yet they failed to fix the defense. Brewster, given a second chance to hire a defensive coordinator after Withers left for North Carolina, picked former Duke coach Ted Roof.
Roof has done exceptional work at Minnesota, and the Gophers' road victories in the Big Ten -- at Illinois and Purdue -- were the result of the defense suppressing offenses that in previous years were slowed only by fatigue.
• Emphasizing his perceived strength, national recruiting. Brewster revamped his secondary with junior college players, and Brewster stole Chicago prep receiver Brandon Green, who helped beat Purdue, away from a handful of other Big Ten teams.
• Identifying in-house talent. Under Brewster, Lee Campbell and Deon Hightower have become dynamic linebackers, Marcus Sherels has become a valued cornerback, Jack Simmons has become a go-to tight end, and Weber and Decker have thrived.
Coaching is the art of getting the most out of your team. Through eight games this season, Brewster has done that.
What he should be discovering this year is that when you make good decisions, your program promotes itself.
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. firstname.lastname@example.org