Darren "Doogie" Wolfson

Darren "Doogie" Wolfson has a passion for sports, but not a consistent forum in which he's allowed to spew his thoughts. Well, now he has one. Darren spent 12-plus years with KFAN Radio, wearing multiple hats - from producing and technically directing, to reporting and hosting. He spent a majority of his time working with Sid Hartman's son, Chad on the 'Chad Hartman Show.' Read more about Darren Wolfson.

To extend Tubby, or not, that is the question

Posted by: Darren "Doogie" Wolfson under Gophers sports, Gophers players, Tubby Smith, Gophers post season Updated: February 14, 2012 - 1:52 PM

Tubby Smith and other Gophers head coaches were invited to a question-and-answer session with "U" president Dr. Eric Kaler on Saturday. It was their opportunity to talk with the individual who will be solely responsible for hiring their new boss.

That new athletic director will be busy this summer, but perhaps his or her biggest decision will involve what to do with Smith's contract. One way or another, something is expected to happen before next season starts. That's why Smith, I'm sure, had a few suggestions for Dr. Kaler.

Smith, the state's highest paid employee, turns 61 in June and is under contract through the 2013-2014 season. It contains a buyout of $2 million until May 1, 2012, and reduces to $1.5 million until April 30, 2013. In other words, unless Smith retires (doubtful) or leaves for another job (even more doubtful), neither of which would require him paying a termination fee, he isn't going anywhere for the foreseeable future. It's a great contract and another example of an attorney/agent out-negotiating the University. 

The question then becomes what to do when Smith and his attorney, Ricky Lefft, insist that an extension is necessary for recruiting purposes. They've held that stance for nearly two years, and nearly had an agreement last summer.

The case for Smith:

  • The program, in spite of being the only Big Ten school with no other practice options when its arena is occupied, is in better shape than when Smith took it over. He has six wins vs. top-10 teams. He has wins at Wisconsin and Illinois. When he beat No. 6 Indiana earlier this year, it ended a 43-game road losing streak against ranked teams. Sure, some of those losses were with Smith, but it just shows you how low the program had been for some time.
  • For the first time in six years, this looks like the season when a sub-.500 conference record may be good enough for an NCAA Tournament berth. If Smith can get to 8-10 in the No. 1 RPI conference, without star Trevor Mbakwe, this will be his finest season yet.
  • We've seen enough from the core of this team to think they will be competent again next year. This is assuming Williams doesn't go pro or that someone transfers. 
  • Be careful what you wish for: you really believe that the "U" can do markedly better than Smith? Enough passionate Gophers fans would like to see Flip Saunders as coach immediately. Saunders, about to turn 57, hasn't recruited since the mid-'80s when he was an assistant at Tulsa. While Saunders could sell kids on his NBA experience, the running joke about him has always been about his complicated offense. It would be difficult to think college players could easily grasp it. He's tantalizing, but could also be in play in two years. Colorado State’s Tim Miles, another popular name, will also have interest whenever the job opens.
  • It's easy to forget that this team hasn't won an NCAA game since 1997, and has never been to the NCAA Tournament three consecutive years. Heck, even Utah State has done that. Locally, this might be viewed as an elite job, but nationally it's not. With no practice facility, limited resources for visiting recruits, and uncertainty for the time being with who the new athletic director will be, at best, it’s the 8th best job in the conference.

The case against Smith:

  • There's little debate that Smith is a Hall-of-Famer. So, where has that coaching magic been? He's 37-47 in Big Ten games, 16-19 in games decided by six points or less. In addition, he's had four losses by 7, 8, or 9 points that were very winnable with less than four minutes left. Whether it's bad play designs, poor execution, the wrong personnel on the floor, missed free throws, or injuries, the team has disappointed far too often in crunch time.
  • Prior to Purdue’s Matt Painter signing an extension after being wined-and-dined by Missouri last offseason, Smith was the 4th highest paid coach in the conference. At that money, losing 11 of 12 to end last season should never happen. Losing one player shouldn’t hinder an entire year. Smith, stubborn to a fault, struggled for far too long to accept responsibility for falsely moving Blake Hoffarber to point guard. Even after last Thursday’s loss to Wisconsin when I asked him about poor fouling strategy in overtime, he said the players messed up. This is as forgiving a sports market as there is, so it’s ok to occasionally accept blame.
  • I'm sure Smith would like to run more, and some of it is who they're playing and how they can control the tempo, but the Gophers don't play an exciting brand of basketball. Winning trumps everything, but entertaining recruits and the fanbase means something.
  • John Anderson, the baseball coach, almost single-handedly raised $5.8 million for the new stadium. Why isn’t Smith more active in chasing down potential donors for a new practice facility? Surely, many other coaches would be more front-and-center.
  • He was able to beat out big-name schools for recruits Wally Ellenson and Charles Buggs. If he won those guys over with only two years remaining on his contract, why can't he convince others?
  • The Minnesota high school sophomore class with Apple Valley's Tyus Jones, Cooper's Rashad Vaughn, and DeLaSalle's Reid Travis is the best in years. Can Smith recruit at a high enough level to land at least two of those three? Making it more difficult is his uncertain future if any of those players committed. In other words, this idea belongs as much in the former category as this one.

The simple solution, especially if they make the NCAA tournament this year, is to extend him

The more complicated stance is to do it, but to make it a Tim Brewster or Don Lucia-like extension with protection for the University.

Would Smith go along with that? Does he really have much of a choice unless he's comfortable with retiring or working part-time for an NBA team?

As fascinating as the rest of the season will be, the offseason will be the same.

Hey, Zygi, hire a General Manager

Posted by: Darren "Doogie" Wolfson under Vikings fans, Vikings management, Vikings off the field, Vikings roster moves Updated: November 15, 2011 - 10:25 PM
Maybe it was the worst loss by the Vikings in their storied rivalry with the Packers.

Maybe it's a second consecutive sweep of the season series by the Packers.

Maybe it was the second-worst regular season loss in Vikings history.

Maybe it was the failings against the Packers' 31st-ranked passing defense.

Maybe it's the Vikings' 2-9 record in their last 11 prime-time games.

Maybe it's just five starters among 26 players drafted from 2007 to 2010.

Maybe it's second round picks Toby Gerhart, Chris Cook, and Phil Loadholt not meeting expectations.
 
Maybe it was the combination of the hatchet job the Packers and Badgers did on the Vikings and Gophers, respectively, on the same weekend.
 
Maybe it's Viktor the Viking.

Maybe it's a combination of all of the above.

But enough is enough.

Vikings owner Zygi Wilf needs to find a full-fledged general manager/president of football operations. Whether it's Packers Director of Pro Personnel Reggie McKenzie, Packers College Scouting Director John Dorsey, or any number of other external candidates, give someone full authority.

All of the model franchises except for New England -- where Bill Belichick is God -- have that singular voice in the front office. When a tough decision has to be made, like whether to trade a draft pick for quarterback Donovan McNabb, someone can tell the coach no. There is no excuse why a strong football brain didn't have a say in the choosing of a head coach after Brad Childress was fired, or even when Childress was hired, for that matter. Or when Mike Tice was hired and fired. Or when Leslie Frazier was hired.

Whether it's Green Bay, or any other successful NFL franchise, the structure is in place where final authority in hiring a head coach, the 53-man roster, trades, and in the draft room belongs to one individual. In other organizations, that person can then spread around different duties. There is no way Ted Thompson has made all those genius mid-round draft choices alone. That's where Dorsey plays a significant role. But the hierarchy with the Packers is clear. With the Vikings, it is not.

Frazier is incredibly likable, but what has he done to earn the right to make the call on the McNabb trade? He thought with a couple tweaks, this team would make the playoffs. While Frazier was the key to the McNabb deal, was it him, vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman, or vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski who finalized the long-term big money deal for linebacker Chad Greenway? Who made the call on signing free-agent defensive tackle Remi Ayodele? That's the problem. We have no idea. The Vikings have too many vice presidents. What they need is a president. It's hard to believe that Frazier, Spielman, and Brzezinski agree on all fronts. So, who gets to overrule the others? Who can be held accountable by a restless fan base?

In terms of players, this offseason the Vikings need to find two cornerbacks, two safeties, two linebackers, possibly a defensive tackle depending on rookie Christian Ballard's maturation, two wide receivers, another tight end if Visanthe Shiancoe leaves as a free agent, a backup/3rd down running back, a left tackle, a center if John Sullivan signs elsewhere in March, a right guard, and maybe a right tackle.

But before finding all of these new players, they first must find a general manager.

Coaching staff cohesiveness not translating on the field for Gophers

Posted by: Darren "Doogie" Wolfson under Gophers sports, Gophers coaches, Gophers Updated: October 11, 2011 - 9:33 AM

The following few paragraphs are from a piece I did for 1500espn.com in February:

 
It's widely believed that Super Bowl-winning coach Mike McCarthy was not the Green Bay Packers' top choice in January 2006. In fact, if Brad Childress had gotten on an airplane to Green Bay for leverage in negotiations with the Vikings, he might not have left without signing a contract. It's a reminder that any team's top choice isn't necessarily the right one.
 
Take "U" athletic director Joel Maturi. When searching last winter for the right guy to take over the Gophers football program, he swung and missed on now-Michigan coach Brady Hoke and, word has it, did the same with now-Maryland coach Randy Edsall.
 
He ultimately landed Jerry Kill. And the decision reeked of cheapness after hearing about the contract Kill got -- just $1.1 million plus incentives in his first year, the same as new and first-time Indiana coach Kevin Wilson's deal. But after talking to numerous individuals since mid-December -- Kill's college roommate, Gerald Young; high school coaches; reporters who covered Kill at Northern Illinois; and college assistant coaches who have competed against him -- it has become clear Maturi made a good call.
 
-----------------------------------------------------------
 
If you don't believe me on the above, talk to Gophers' defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys who has been with Kill for 16 years. Or, if you need an unbiased view, reach out to any number of journalists from his previous stops. When talking with Claeys in the offseason, I asked him if there's something that would surprise us about Kill.
 
His response: "When we went to Southern Illinois (in 2001), we all lived in the same apartment, including him. Four in one, four in the other. He wants to be one of the guys. That's why our staff is close. He's never separated himself from the assistants. When we got here, he asked for a locker down in the coaches locker room. He likes being one of the guys. He got a big raise after our first winning season at Southern (Illinois). After our second winning season, another school offered him a job, so Southern offered him more money. He said he wouldn't take another dime until the assistants were taken care of. Sure enough, he got us a really nice raise." That is  one of many examples of the cohesion that exists inside the team's facility. Kill's staff will do anything for him. They genuinely enjoy working for him, and more so, with him.
 
This is why I can't figure out how from the final points three weeks ago against North Dakota State through Purdue's 31-0 lead on Saturday, the Gophers were outscored 95-0. Over their last 11 quarters, they have a point differential of minus-106. 
 
There was an assumption, maybe foolishly, that this staff's experience would equal a level of respectability this year. That among the time with the players in January-March for conditioning, spring practices, instructions given for captain's workouts, and now August, September, and October practices and games, some sort of translation would show on the field.
 
I get that many inexperienced players are getting snaps, which they should at this point. I get that the fifth-year and sixth-year seniors have been through multiple systems and coaches. I get that many academic issues exist. I get that ex-coach Tim Brewster left a mess. But at what point can those justifications stop being used?
 
When Kill says, "this is not a one, two, or three-year fix," it's hard to disagree. But after paying good money for parking, tickets, and concessions, it is not unreasonable for the fanbase to expect at least minimal return. 
 
Halfway through the season, the team is regressing, not progressing, with a tougher schedule forthcoming. Homecoming is next vs. 5-1 Nebraska, and all I can hope for is that it doesn't resemble the bloodbath of 1983, when Nebraska won 84-13. Thankfully, it shouldn't mostly because the '83 Nebraska team is one of the best in the last 30 years of college football. 
 
But that's what this year has turned into for passionate Gophers' observers: optimism that it doesn't turn into the most memorable collection of inefficiency in program history.

One of many ideas for the Twins this offseason: call Pat Gillick

Posted by: Darren "Doogie" Wolfson under Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Twins management, Twins offense, Twins pitching, Twins rumors Updated: August 29, 2011 - 6:38 PM
This past Wednesday, a letter from the Minnesota Twins arrived. It was a heads-up about renewing our 20-game season-ticket package for 2012. As far as I am concerned, as long as Dippin' Dots -- the most underrated dessert on the planet -- continue to be sold at Target Field, they have our money. I am also a sucker for outdoor baseball after growing up going to games in the Metrodome. 
 
But that doesn't mean that the status quo works. When you're the first team in franchise history to not exceed .500 at any point during the season, and have the potential to become only the second team in MLB history to lose 100 games with a $100M payroll, everyone needs to be evaluated, including TC the Bear. OK, not him, but the medical personnel, training staff, front office, coaches, and players all need serious year-end reviews.
 
Suggestions:
 
  • In an offseason where they need to be pro-active, at least call new Hall of Fame GM Pat Gillick. If he says no to a special-assistant position, so be it, but they should try.
 
  • Offer Paul Molitor a full-time coaching position. I have no idea if he is interested, but since he's already a minor-league instructor in the organization, it should be an easy one to gauge.
 
  • Instead of adding three extra days of fundamentals work in February, start that process now. The Twins allow far too many ground balls to get through the infield, fail to throw runners out on balls in the infield regularly, strand runners at third base with less than two outs, commit errors, don't go first to third enough, don't get runners from second to third enough, don't steal enough bases, or draw enough walks.
 
  • Hire the Orioles' trainer. It took him minutes to solve J.J. Hardy's aching wrist that the Twins struggled to fix all of last year. Hardy told 1500 ESPN's Phil Mackey: "In spring training I started to feel it and got a little bit nervous, going, 'Oh (expletive), here we go again.' But the trainers worked on it, got rid of it in about a week, and I haven't dealt with it since." Hardy added that the treatment he received from Orioles' trainers was different than what had been tried in Minnesota, but he added, "I don't want to get into that too much and make people look bad, but yeah. It definitely was a little bit different."
 
  • Small-ball is fine, but they still need multiple guys who can occasionally deliver the ultimate equalizer: the home run. It was thrown out by multiple people via Twitter on Sunday that the middle infield next year should be Trevor Plouffe (SS) and Luke Hughes (2B). Plouffe is out of options, so he should be on the opening day roster. But his throwing from that position is too suspect. I'd ask Plouffe to take 500 grounders per day Monday-Friday in Fort Myers from mid-November until spring training and see if he is capable of being the starting second baseman. I get it: finding home run power is no easy task. That's where the front office needs to get creative.
 
  • The ultimate equalizer for a pitcher is the strikeout. With a minimum of two starters needed -- Brian Duensing, who can be trusted in high-leverage situations in small doses, and Nick Blackburn should be moved to the bullpen -- they should look at signing free-agent Edwin Jackson and explore trade scenarios. With Hughes potentially capable of handling third-base duties, use Danny Valencia as a trade chip.

 

  • Find a Kyle Farnsworth (Rays), Al Alburquerque (Tigers), or Octavio Dotel (Blue Jays) on a one-year deal. In fact, sign multiple. Relievers are always available on one-year deals in free agency. It's on the front office to locate the right ones this winter. To a lesser degree, the same can be said about corner outfielders -- Johnny Damon (Rays), Jeff Francoeur (Royals), etc. In other words, if free agents Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel are asking for too much money, it's not curl-up-in-the-fetal-position time. Pitching is the bigger priority.
 
  • Ask shortstop Tsuyohshi Nishioka if he really wants to be here, or if he has an interest in returning to Japan, where he remains a hero. If there's a way to get out from the remaining $6M on his contract, they need to do it.
 
I had three fans ask me at Saturday's game if this is the beginning of a three or four year down-cycle. It doesn't have to be, but shrewdness needs to be demonstrated.
 
This much is guaranteed: it'll be a fascinating offseason.

Time for Twins to think about 2012

Posted by: Darren "Doogie" Wolfson under Twins, Twins Players, Twins offense, Twins pitching, Twins rumors Updated: August 9, 2011 - 2:23 PM

It's time for 1500-ESPN, the Twins' flagship radio station, to put their "#itshappening" t-shirts on clearance, or they could do a massive reprint with the Twitter hashtag, "#**itshappening."

Outfielder Delmon Young quit on a play against Toronto in May, and gave minimal effort on a home run by Chicago's Brent Lillibridge on Saturday, yet those two moments are easily forgotten when looking at his offensive statistics. Through arbitration, is he really worth $7.5 million next year? But can the Twins just non-tender him? It's one of many layered decisions for the front office.

Pitcher Nick Blackburn was mistakenly given a long-term contract when the team could have gone year-to-year and, predictably, he has struggled.

Catcher Joe Mauer has about the same slugging percentage as White Sox speedster Juan Pierre, and is lower than Texas' Elvis Andrus. However, if you are clamoring for a Mauer trade, he has a full no-trade clause. He still is a great player having a not-so-great year.

Danny Valencia comes at a very reasonable cost, but still has us wondering if he's the long-term answer at third base.

There is no wondering if Tsuyoshi Nishioka is the long-term answer at shortstop. He's not.

We have no idea if first baseman Justin Morneau will ever mash like he did in 2006, or the first three months of last season.

Outfielder/infielder Michael Cuddyer, the team's MVP this year, will command an eight-figure-per-year salary in free agency, making his return, and rightfully so, doubtful.

Soon-to-be free agent outfielder Jason Kubel should have no problem getting an offer that will trump anything the Twins present.

Except for lefty Glen Perkins, the bullpen has to be rebuilt. That could include current starter Brian Duensing, who has struggled mightily to contain right-handed hitters.

A shrewd move by the front office was not signing Francisco Liriano to a long-term deal. But for $5 million, he should be tendered this off-season and given one more chance in 2012. If he disappoints again, he'll still have trade value next July.

Another shrewd move will be to explore if a No. 1 bulldog-esque ace is available. The issue: do the Twins have enough ammo to pull off such a move?

This is a monstrous off-season for the Twins' front office. They can't botch it like they did the non-waiver trade deadline. It was a seller's market, and they didn't sell.

A lot will be forgiven if the right moves are made this winter. But the convenient excuse of injuries this year shouldn't be accepted. It partially explains this year's downfall, but not nearly all of it. What this year mostly has become is a reminder about how many guys had career years in 2010: Morneau pre-injury, Valencia, Young, Carl Pavano, Liriano, and Duensing, and a dominating bullpen.

An infusion of talent is necessary on many fronts.

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