The complicated coaching situation in which Gophers football finds itself after the midseason retirement of Jerry Kill led to reflection on Lou Holtz’s departure three decades ago.
The 1985 Gophers had gone 6-5 and were invited to a bowl game (Independence in Shreveport, La.), largely because of Holtz’s appeal. Four days after the season ended, Holtz was announced as the new coach at Notre Dame, leaving defensive coordinator John Gutekunst as the interim coach.
Gutekunst and the Gophers beat Clemson 20-13 in the Independence Bowl. Gutekunst became the coach. The same reasons — continuity, incoming recruits, popularity with players — were given for hiring Gutekunst full-time as are now being used to support Tracy Claeys as Kill’s replacement.
Gutekunst’s record in six seasons was 18-28-2 in the Big Ten and 29-36-2 overall. He had two 5-3 seasons in the Big Ten and four 6-5 teams, three of which didn’t receive bowl invitations.
History has not judged Gutekunst as an effective Gophers coach, but there are several factors that worked against Gutey that would make the job easier in today’s college football for Claeys. (Note: Proposed football facilities for the Gophers are not included on this list.)
The Big Ten was a 10-team league (how novel) during Gutekunst’s run from the 1985 Independence Bowl through 1991. The only way to win the Big Ten was to be the best of 10, not the best of seven in the West, the conference’s junior varsity division.
Gutekunst’s Gophers faced both Michigan and Ohio State every year and went 1-11. After this year, the Gophers will play two games total (one apiece) vs. Michigan and Ohio State from 2016 to ’19.
There were three nonconference games annually from 1986 to 1991, and Gutekunst’s Gophers played four of those against the powerhouses of that Big Eight era: Colorado, Nebraska and Oklahoma (three on the road).
Also, there were 18 bowl games in Gutey’s last season of 1991, and there will be 40 after this season. In 1991, 6-5 teams were long shots for a bowl game; in 2015, provisions have been made for 5-7 teams to fill bowl slots if needed.
PLUS THREE FROM PATRICK
Gutey’s agonizing Big Eight journeys (1986-91):
• Sept. 20, 1986: Oklahoma 63, Gophers 0 in Norman. The defending national champions had the Jamelle Holieway-led wishbone and ran for 458 yards on 70 carries.
• Sept. 23, 1990: Nebraska 56, Gophers 0 in Lincoln. Tom Osborne had QB kneel down deep in Gophers territory when it was 42-0 late in first half.
• Sept. 21, 1991: Colorado 58, Gophers 0 in Boulder. Don’t confuse these Buffs with today’s Colorado football. They were the AP defending national champions.