The rumors about quarterback Matt Cassel testing the free-agent market before re-signing with the Vikings were totally false.
Cassel never did. He was content to stay with the Vikings and wanted to come back in the worst way.
“The fact of the matter was the Vikings had come to me with a deal a few days prior to free agency, but I thought, after talking it over with my wife and my family, that we really enjoyed our time there in Minnesota,” said Cassel, who signed a two-year contract calling for $5 million per year.
“We loved the team and my familiarity with it, and I think the direction that [General Manager] Rick Spielman and the Wilf family have gone with hiring Coach [Mike] Zimmer and now with Coach [Norv] Turner on the offensive side of the ball, I was really excited to be back. I think that we have a lot of potential to do great things this year.”
Cassel said he hasn’t played under Turner but does have some familiarity with him.
“I played against him when I was in Kansas City a lot, and the one thing that I know is that every time we played against him, you had to be ready to score a lot of points, because their teams would always put up a lot of points,” Cassel said. “I’ve always had a great deal of respect for Coach Turner just because he does such a tremendous job of creating mismatches, taking what they give you, and bringing out the best in his players.”
Cassel said that after watching Turner with other teams for so long, he’s excited to work for him.
“There’s no doubt,” Cassel said. “I’m excited to get to work with him. We start April 7th and get going, and that’s one of those things where it will be fun to get started and see where we can go.”
Cassel posted an 81.6 quarterback rating last year, throwing for 1,807 yards, 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions in nine games (six starts). He said he believes he can do better this season.
“I mean, you’ve got Greg Jennings back, Cordarrelle Patterson, we just re-signed Jerome Simpson, we’ve got Jarius Wright, all these guys are tremendously talented receivers,” he said. “Then you take into account our tight end position with Kyle Rudolph, Rhett Ellison, even Chase [Ford] came in there last year in the last game and made some big plays, then right behind you, you put [running back] Adrian Peterson. That’s a good combination.
“For any quarterback to come into this type of situation, you get excited about it and from there it’s about continuing to work with those guys.”
Building on first year
While the Vikings will be under a completely new coaching staff, Cassel believes there will be a big benefit in having continuity at quarterback with him playing his second season in Minnesota, just because of his familiarity with the players.
“I’m just excited because last year, any time you come into a new environment, the first thing you want to do is get familiar with your guys and build some relationships and show them you’re going to be accountable,” said Cassel, who will have to battle for Christian Ponder and, possibly, a young quarterback the team takes in the NFL draft, for the starting spot.
“From that standpoint, I don’t think I’ll be coming in brand-new again. I have great relationships with players on both sides of the ball. They understand my work ethic and what I want to try to get accomplished, so hopefully that will be an easier transition than it was last year.”
Rubio, Wolves surging
The Timberwolves are five games back in the loss column behind Dallas for the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoffs (Phoenix is between the two teams, 1½ games behind the Mavericks) with only 15 games to go following Thursday’s 129-106 loss at Houston, but their 123-122 overtime victory over the Mavs on Wednesday certainly kept them in the picture.
Since Feb. 10, when the Wolves dropped to 24-28, the team have won 10 of 15 games to move back into contention. That record is the fourth best in the NBA over that stretch.
Perhaps most impressive in beating Dallas was the play of point guard Ricky Rubio, who recorded his third career triple-double with 22 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds.
While Rubio’s shooting has been harped on a lot, he has really turned a corner lately, going 8-for-12 from the field Wednesday and 20-for-44 (45 percent) over the past six games. Rubio also is leading the NBA in steals at 2.45 per game, and is fourth in assists at 8.6 per game.
• Timberwolves President Flip Saunders talking about former Wolves player/executive Fred Hoiberg coaching Iowa State to the Big 12 tournament title. “He has had great success because he’s a college coach that basically runs a lot of pro stuff. Players are very attuned and he has players that want to go there and play in that kind of system, hoping that it’ll maybe help them get to the next level, and Freddie has a very good demeanor. It was nice to see him [at the Big 12 tournament last weekend]. They have a great following. I was at that game prior to them playing Kansas, but they had 6,000 people travel to Kansas City for the tournament. They have a great following in that state.” Hoiberg and the Cyclones face North Carolina Central in the NCAA tournament Friday.
• Former Gophers basketball coach Tubby Smith was at the boys’ basketball state tournament at Target Center on Saturday, looking for players to recruit for Texas Tech. Smith still is bitter about being fired by Minnesota after he won a 2013 NCAA tournament game. He claims he recruited a good class and that the Red Raiders will be better next year.
• Wheeler Baker, a member of the Star Tribune All-Metro basketball team from Osseo, is a recruit of Albany, a smaller Division I program that gave No. 1 overall seed Florida a tough contest before losing 67-55 in the NCAA tournament Thursday.
• Amir Coffey, the son of former Gophers center Richard Coffey, is already a four-star recruit being courted by all the top colleges as a Hopkins sophomore. But it’s good news for Gophers basketball coach Richard Pitino that Amir is being quoted as saying he wants to play at Minnesota like his father did. Coffey’s 60-foot shot at the end of the fourth overtime lifted Hopkins over Shakopee 49-46 in the Class 4A semifinals last week.
• University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler is a great basketball fan and attended the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40, 8:40 and 9:20 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org