Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague and former Gophers and North Stars hockey player Lou Nanne, who is the chairman of the $190 million fundraising drive to upgrade the school’s athletic facilities, have refused to comment on the progress of the drive.
But boosters must be contributing, because the Star Tribune has learned that ground will be broken this December on a $70 million football facility that will include not only a modern indoor practice facility but coaching offices and other amenities for the program.
The new facility is expected to be located in an area behind the Bierman Building, and speculation is that the new outdoor track will be moved to somewhere in St. Paul.
The current facility, the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex, was built in 1985 for $5.5 million when Lou Holtz was coach. But the building simply can no longer serve the needs of the team.
This winter and spring, Gophers kickers and punters have been unable to effectively practice because the 55-foot-high ceilings are too low to simulate kicks under game conditions.
The current practice facility is 12,000 square feet and was recently renovated for $1 million. It includes a practice field, along with the football offices, training/treatment areas and student tutor centers.
But compare it to the Nebraska practice facility, which is 81,200 square feet and features a full-length FieldTurf field identical to the Cornhuskers’ Memorial Stadium (and has two adjoining outdoor practice fields, one with FieldTurf and one with grass), and it demonstrates how badly the Gophers need a new practice facility to be competitive in the Big Ten. This $70 million complex will be just that and then some.
The word is there will be a basketball practice facility built in the near future as well, with more facilities to be built as fundraising progresses.
Dakich likes Gophers
Dan Dakich, the former Indiana basketball player and coach who does color commentary for ESPN, worked the Gophers’ 81-73 NIT victory over Southern Mississippi on Tuesday and said he believes Minnesota keeps getting better. He thinks beating the Golden Eagles was a big win for a few reasons.
“No. 1, I think Mo Walker keeps getting better,” said Dakich of the 6-10 junior, who had 12 points and nine rebounds against Southern Miss. “As you go to New York and you go on to next year, he’s going to be really big for Minnesota. Austin Hollins got out of here with a big performance and they beat a good team.
“I thought [Austin Hollins] was the difference in the ballgame. When they were down and struggling, he came in and hit [six] threes and I think he gave everybody in the building a lot of confidence.”
Austin’s big game
How important has Austin Hollins’ offense been?
Minnesota is 8-2 in games in which the senior guard has scored 15 or more points, with the losses coming against Arkansas and Michigan. Hollins scored a career-high 32 points against Southern Miss and moved up to 16th on the Gophers’ career scoring list.
“I just was focused,” he said. “It was my last game in the Barn, the whole team was trying to get to New York and that’s our goal right now, to go win the NIT. That’s really what our focus was going into the game [Tuesday].
“Confidence really builds when you hit that first one and see it go through the net. You see that second one go through the net, the rim just gets bigger and bigger and your confidence is as high as it can be.”
Hollins was asked how the Gophers bounced back to win three NIT games after losing to Wisconsin 83-57 in the Big Ten tournament.
“Everybody was upset about that and you know, we just had to come back and work extremely hard,” he said. “That was a tough game for us, especially against our rival in a must-win game. We blew an opportunity, but we know that playing in the NIT is a great opportunity for us to not end on a bad note and for this program to move forward in the future.”
This will be Hollins’ second opportunity to play in the NIT semifinals in Madison Square Garden, having gone to the finals in 2012 under Tubby Smith before losing 75-51 in the final to Stanford.
“It’s a great experience going to New York and being able to see the big city,” he said. “I know my memory from the last NIT didn’t end too well, so we want to go out there and end our season on a win.”
• An indication there is increased interest in Gophers football is that more than 1,300 coaches will attend the Minnesota Football Clinic held at the DoubleTree Hotel in St. Louis Park this weekend, the largest attendance ever for the clinic. Featured speakers include former Vikings and Ravens center Matt Birk and Gophers coach Jerry Kill, among others.
• Kill is convinced the Gophers will face one of the toughest schedules in the country when they face Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin in the final four games of the 2014 season.
• Peter Westerhaus was one of the Gophers’ prized recruits when the Holy Family linebacker/tight end and Minnesota’s Mr. Football for 2010 signed with Kill. Unfortunately, Westerhaus suffered a skull fracture after being hit by a boulder in a rockslide on a Grand Canyon hike in 2011 and also has had a debilitating illness. But recently, he had surgery and is recovering well. Even though Westerhaus had to leave the team, Kill remains in close contact with him.
• The Gophers golf team took second at the Duck Invitational in Creswell, Ore., this week, with freshman Jose Mendez tying for first overall after shooting a 3-under-par 213 over three rounds. Mendez became the first Gophers medalist since Clayton Rask won the Windon Memorial Classic in 2007. … Some of the Gophers had a chance to play with Minnesota native Tom Lehman recently in Arizona.
• Former Gophers basketball coach Jim Dutcher, talking about how Kentucky — victors over undefeated Wichita State in the NCAA tournament Sunday — have excelled in postseason play: “You’re mentioning one of the traditional great teams in Kentucky. Joe B. Hall won a national championship, Rick Pitino won a national championship, Tubby Smith won a national championship, John Calipari won a national championship, all at Kentucky. So they’ve changed the way they do things with the one-and-done [players], but certainly they have great basketball tradition.” The Wildcats also won four national titles under Adolph Rupp in 1948, ’49, ’51 and ’58.
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