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.

Posts about Gophers players

To extend Tubby, or not, that is the question

Posted by: Darren "Doogie" Wolfson 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.

Web(er) of Intrigue

Posted by: Darren "Doogie" Wolfson Updated: May 18, 2010 - 12:01 PM

My sincere apologies for the lack of movement on this blog over the past few weeks. I have been basking in the glory of my career highlight; a mid-March interview of adult film star Joslyn James on ESPN-1500. James would've fit in perfectly Sunday night alongside Miss Colorado and Miss California during the Miss USA pageant. A sidenote: could you imagine having your fate decided by Johnny Weir and Carmelo Anthony?

But onto the point: alongside hard-hitting questions about the new Arizona immigration law, or whether birth control should be paid for through your health insurance, this little doozy could've been added: what is Adam Weber's legacy? Miss Michigan could've said, "He torched my Spartans last year for 416 yards and five touchdowns; I'd say he's pretty good." Miss South Dakota could've offered this rebuttal: "Did you see him against my Division I-AA Jackrabbits? In the 36th start of his college career, he looked scared to deliver the ball. 94 yards -- are you kidding me?" 

I'll be the first to admit that I'm a Weber apologist. From Jedd Fisch foolishly tweaking his throwing motion last year, to poor offensive line play and the lack of a running game, there are many reasons to explain his below-average 2009 season (13 TDs, 15 INTs). Losing go-to receiver Eric Decker during the season also didn't help. But at some point, if Weber is to be considered one of the best quarterbacks in Gophers' history -- his numbers have him in the conversation -- he has to make more plays and, more importantly, win more games. He is as much of a sports enigma as we have in this town, and those who disagree with the decision to start him in 2010 have lit up the message boards. The vitriolic ill will is intense.

He is 14-24 as the Gophers' starting quarterback. But he also earned second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2008, an indication that he has shown flashes of brilliance.

Weber is onto his fourth offensive coordinator in five years. Everything I've heard about Jeff Horton is positive. One of his colleagues on the Detroit Lions staff last year has nothing but endless praise for him. Now it's on Horton to ensure that Weber reaches his full potential. It's also on assistant coach Tim Davis to do the same with his offensive line and Thomas Hammock with his running backs. Football is the sport with the most moving parts. Weber needs a lot of help. But if he gets that help, he could shatter many school records and save head coach Tim Brewster's job. This is exactly why Weber is Brewster's guy this year; his job is on the line, and Weber gives him the best opportunity to win. Weber's college legacy will be written this year. It's up to him to make it an easier answer at next year's Miss USA pageant.

Welcome to the NIT

Posted by: Darren "Doogie" Wolfson Updated: February 14, 2010 - 10:52 AM

"We haven't really stepped up in big games. That's why you go out and recruit better players. And hopefully, we'll get that in the future."

That was Gophers head coach Tubby Smith, following his team's defeat to a 12-loss Michigan team at "The Barn" on Thursday.

In journalism, a profession in which we often wonder if people are being truthful, Smith’s honesty is welcomed. And he is right. Not even John Wooden could win with the collection of “talent” on this year’s Gophers squad. But whose fault is that? I have yet to hear Smith accept responsibility.

Even without Royce White and Trevor Mbakwe, at the start of the season, the Gophers had their top-nine scorers back from last year’s NCAA tournament team. And this year’s schedule is easier (they don't play Wisconsin or Illinois twice plus the non-conference portion was laughable). Unless they win out – which has about the same chance of happening as Gophers football coach Tim Brewster agreeing to do a radio interview with Patrick Reusse on ESPN 1500  -- they will be NIT bound. There could be a great game at "The Barn" in mid-March: North Carolina, the defending champs, versus the Gophers. 

Al Nolen is clearly missed -- way more than anyone could have guessed -- but aren't Smith and his staff supposed to make sure that Nolen is showing up for class and putting in the necessary effort?

Unfortunately, a better recruiting class is not coming in next year. The Gophers have verbal commitments from guard Austin Hollins and center Elliott Eliason. The experts view both as decent players, but certainly not program-changers. They are in on Devoe Joseph's brother, Cory, a McDonald's All-American, but so are Texas, Villanova, and UConn. Joseph’s best friend is on his way to Texas, so it is difficult envisioning him as a Gopher. Not a surprise because, if you talk to any diehard Kentucky fan, they will tell you that Smith is not known for recruiting.

Any elite high school player can turn on a Gopher game and see that Smith makes far too many substitutions. Great players likely want to be guaranteed at least 33 minutes per game. They also want to see good offensive flow. The Gophers generally score points as a result of their pressure defense. They struggle in half-court sets. Movement is limited compared to most teams. Far too often, there seems to be mass confusion until Lawrence Westbrook tries to beat his guy one-on-one as the shot clock winds down.

As we enter the final seven regular season games of Smith's third-year, player development does not appear to be a real strength. Is he becoming Don Lucia-like? A case can be made that Joseph, Westbrook, Ralph Sampson III, Colton Iverson, Devron Bostick, and Paul Carter all have failed to improve this season. 

As I have previously mentioned, Smith should be in the Hall of Fame right now, but will his iconic touch ever reach the Gophers?

Smith's name came up last offseason for the Virginia and Arizona jobs. Presumably, his name will come up again this year for openings in the ACC (think North Carolina State) and SEC. Will Smith entertain the thought of leaving? Could he view the Wolfpack job as far less of a dire situation than the Gophers' job?

There are far more questions than answers right now surrounding what is at many times the third-most popular team in town.

The big uneasy is still in the news ... with Tubby's team

Posted by: Darren "Doogie" Wolfson Updated: January 26, 2010 - 11:48 PM

There is an unwritten rule in college basketball: When your favorite team beats an opponent that is not in the Top-25, not in the top-five in its conference, has no historical relevance, or is not your bitter rival, you don’t rush the floor.

Nevertheless, when the Indiana Hoosiers beat the Gophers two Sundays ago, we saw the Hoosiers faithful storm the court. Such debauchery should be reserved for a special win. Beating the Gophers does not qualify. 

So when will beating the Gophers matter?

Head coach Tubby Smith will deservedly enter the Hall of Fame one day. He won a national championship in his first year at Kentucky. He is one of just six coaches who have guided four schools to the NCAA tournament. Eight more wins this season and he'll have his 17th consecutive 20-win season, which is the longest active streak. Smith also had three Sweet 16 appearances in four seasons at Tulsa and Georgia.

Smith has been so good at what he does that I can’t help but wonder when his iconic touch will translate to my alma mater.

Losing Royce White and Trevor Mbakwe to suspension hurts. White is a natural scorer and a gifted rebounder, two areas in which the Gophers need help. And the way Ralph Sampson and Colton Iverson are playing, Mbakwe would play 25-30 minutes per game and likely lead the team in rebounding.

Mbakwe, who is sidelined until his felony assault case in Miami is resolved, will very likely redshirt this year. In November, athletic director Joel Maturi told the Star Tribune "I'd be surprised" if Mbakwe were found guilty. I wonder, if Maturi has done his homework in this matter and truly feels this way, why not let him play now?

Of the Gophers currently playing, have Sampson III, Iverson, Paul Carter, or Devron Bostick shown any improvement? Has Carter been given a fair shot?

Lawrence Westbrook on a good team would be featured as a spark-plug sixth man, but on the Gophers he has to be "The Man."

I have questions about Tubby’s ability to coach a productive half-court offense. After blowing a double-digit lead, the last possession against Michigan State on Saturday was a failure. They were down one, yet the final shot appeared to be for Blake Hoffarber from 23-feet. When that broke down, Westbrook went one-on-one, something that floundered for a seventh time in that game. An option might have been Sampson III on the low block, but Westbrook had no thoughts of giving that ball up. 

Tuesday night against Northwestern, Hoffarber, like he has so many previous times this season at "The Barn," delivered. Oh by the way, he was a Dan Monson recruit.

Yes, the Gophers are second in the Big Ten in scoring, but that is a misleading statistic when you consider their soft non-conference schedule and propensity to score off defensive pressure.

Landing top-10 recruit Cory Joseph -- Devoe's brother -- would help immensely, but he might end up at Villanova or Texas. The two commitments Tubby has garnered -- guard Austin Hollins and center Elliot Eliason -- are not considered to be significant.

Further, two of the team's three most important players -- Damian Johnson and Westbrook -- are seniors. If the team does not make a deep run this year, when will they? 

The big uneasy is still in the news ... with Tubby's team

Posted by: Darren "Doogie" Wolfson Updated: January 26, 2010 - 11:48 PM

There is an unwritten rule in college basketball: When your favorite team beats an opponent that is not in the Top-25, not in the top-five in its conference, has no historical relevance, or is not your bitter rival, you don’t rush the floor.

Nevertheless, when the Indiana Hoosiers beat the Gophers two Sundays ago, we saw the Hoosiers faithful storm the court. Such debauchery should be reserved for a special win. Beating the Gophers does not qualify. 

So when will beating the Gophers matter?

Head coach Tubby Smith will deservedly enter the Hall of Fame one day. He won a national championship in his first year at Kentucky. He is one of just six coaches who have guided four schools to the NCAA tournament. Eight more wins this season and he'll have his 17th consecutive 20-win season, which is the longest active streak. Smith also had three Sweet 16 appearances in four seasons at Tulsa and Georgia.

Smith has been so good at what he does that I can’t help but wonder when his iconic touch will translate to my alma mater.

Losing Royce White and Trevor Mbakwe to suspension hurts. White is a natural scorer and a gifted rebounder, two areas in which the Gophers need help. And the way Ralph Sampson and Colton Iverson are playing, Mbakwe would play 25-30 minutes per game and likely lead the team in rebounding.

Mbakwe, who is sidelined until his felony assault case in Miami is resolved, will very likely redshirt this year. In November, athletic director Joel Maturi told the Star Tribune "I'd be surprised" if Mbakwe were found guilty. I wonder, if Maturi has done his homework in this matter and truly feels this way, why not let him play now?

Of the Gophers currently playing, have Sampson III, Iverson, Paul Carter, or Devron Bostick shown any improvement? Has Carter been given a fair shot?

Lawrence Westbrook on a good team would be featured as a spark-plug sixth man, but on the Gophers he has to be "The Man."

I have questions about Tubby’s ability to coach a productive half-court offense. After blowing a double-digit lead, the last possession against Michigan State on Saturday was a failure. They were down one, yet the final shot appeared to be for Blake Hoffarber from 23-feet. When that broke down, Westbrook went one-on-one, something that floundered for a seventh time in that game. An option might have been Sampson III on the low block, but Westbrook had no thoughts of giving that ball up. 

Tuesday night against Northwestern, Hoffarber, like he has so many previous times this season at "The Barn," delivered. Oh by the way, he was a Dan Monson recruit.

Yes, the Gophers are second in the Big Ten in scoring, but that is a misleading statistic when you consider their soft non-conference schedule and propensity to score off defensive pressure.

Landing top-10 recruit Cory Joseph -- Devoe's brother -- would help immensely, but he might end up at Villanova or Texas. The two commitments Tubby has garnered -- guard Austin Hollins and center Elliot Eliason -- are not considered to be significant.

Further, two of the team's three most important players -- Damian Johnson and Westbrook -- are seniors. If the team does not make a deep run this year, when will they? 

      

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