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 post season

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.

Tubby's Ski-U-Blah season accepted

Posted by: Darren "Doogie" Wolfson Updated: March 8, 2011 - 11:07 AM

When Gophers coach Tubby Smith told the Star Tribune's Sid Hartman in Sunday's paper, "I'm not going anywhere… I'm going to finish my career here," my first thought was: why would Arkansas, Georgia Tech, or North Carolina State want a soon-to-be 60-year old whose worst professional stretch came this year? My second thought: did Sid hear Tubby correctly? For sake of this blog, I'll assume yes.

Fact: against everyone in the Big Ten except Iowa, Smith is 26-40. He also has yet to do what former coach Dan Monson could: finish a conference season in the top 4.
 
Opinion: the program is in far better shape than when he took it over, and to think that the "U" could do better is foolish (Flip Saunders hasn't recruited since the mid-80's).
 
It's just time to realize that Smith has had a really bad year. Not only did he miss out on top-flight recruit Cory Joseph (Texas), but he also swung-and-missed on Trevor Releford (Alabama), Ricky Kreklow (Missouri), and Alex Kirk (New Mexico). The freshmen he brought in who played – Mo Walker, Austin Hollins, Chip Armelin, and Maverick Ahanmisi - might have promising futures, but did little this season.
 
Center Colton Iverson regressed, while center Ralph Sampson III and forward Rodney Williams Jr. didn't improve.
 
Smith struggled mightily to design plays in clutch situations, failed to find the right balance countless times with his substitution patterns, and couldn't keep Devoe Joseph interested enough to not transfer.
 
If this blog sounds a bit negative, it is. By the end of Smith's fourth year, I expected at least one NCAA tournament win. But I also realize that a) the Gophers were two injuries - Al Nolen and Walker - from likely becoming the first team in program history to make three consecutive NCAA tournaments, and b) Smith is still a capable coach, in spite of what many have suggested in the last few weeks.
 
Maybe this season will rejuvenate Smith. Based on recent recruiting trips to California, Tennessee, and Illinois (more than normal over a two week stretch in-season), maybe the fire still burns; maybe he's not here just to collect large paychecks and allow his son, Saul, to work alongside him.

Maybe he'll eventually win an NCAA tournament game here.
 
I'd like to say next year is make-or-break, but it's really not. By the end of Smith's fifth year, the bar has to be raised at least a little. But I am willing to except this year as a hiccup. But know this: if Smith chooses, he can coach here until he retires. He is beloved by those above him. And would you really expect athletic director Joel Maturi to do anything drastic with his contract up in 15 months?
 
I am just curious if Smith's iconic, Hall of Fame-esque history will ever come to fruition while with the Gophers.

Wherefore art thou, Tubby accepting blame?

Posted by: Darren "Doogie" Wolfson Updated: February 23, 2011 - 12:37 PM

So... let me make sure I have this right: Gophers' center Ralph Sampson III couldn't grab a key rebound with 30 seconds left against Michigan State on Tuesday night because of, what, all the snow this week? Would it be too much to ask him to walk across the street to lift weights with 10+ inches of snow on the ground?

There are rumblings that Gophers' coach Tubby Smith badly wants a practice facility; that he quietly wishes that "The Barn" would be replaced; and that North Carolina State and/or Georgia Tech will call soon. But what about evidence that he's getting better at designing plays; that more guys than not improve under him; or that he has some semblance of an offense?

I am not yet ready to offer Colorado State's Tim Miles his dream job, or to beg Flip Saunders to come back home. Despite a 26-37 Big Ten record against all schools not named "Iowa," I will not be calling for Tubby's head like some misguided souls on Twitter. I am only slightly bothered by Tuesday night's collapse; the worst in Smith's three-plus years here. I just want some accountability.

“I can’t say enough about our lack of ball-handling,” said Smith after their sixth loss in the last eight games. “We’ve been doing ball-handling work in practice, trying to be strong. But I guess we have to do more of it.”

Tubby on forward Trevor Mbakwe: "He's got to learn to post up and hold his seal."

Just once, I would love to hear him say, "I did a poor job of preparing my team, and could've done a better job in-game." Smith was said to be very soft-spoken and short with his responses. Why do you suppose that is? This year is not all his fault, but to suggest that he is blameless is asinine. That's why, just once, I would like to hear him accept some responsibility.

Reality: Tubby is having a bad year coaching. It's hard to remember any key play out of a timeout even appearing as if it had a chance to succeed.

The Gophers have three consecutive single-elimination games. Win them all -- which is possible -- and Smith will likely accomplish what none of his predecessors could: take the Gophers to three straight NCAA tournaments. According to the Big Ten Network, the entire conference has just four non-conference wins vs the RPI Top 25. Two of them belong to the Gophers: North Carolina (11) and West Virginia (21). But slip just once, and a below-.500 Big Ten record will produce a date with the National Invitational Tournament.

Maybe at that point Smith would accept blame for failing in a college basketball season where more teams than ever -- 68 -- make the only tournament that matters.

"Boiler Down" on Wednesday at Williams Arena?

Posted by: Darren "Doogie" Wolfson Updated: February 21, 2010 - 11:18 PM

From my Jan. 26 blog:

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.

In the name of the "Green Man" (where has he been this year?), U of M students have rushing-the-court privileges this Wednesday when the Gophers take on No. 3 Purdue with a chance to knock off a top-five team at "The Barn" for the first time since February 12, 1992. That Clem Haskins-led Gopher team beat Bobby Knight's No. 4 Indiana Hoosiers 71-67. You have to go back to January 26, 1989, when the Gophers beat No. 1 Illinois 69-62 to find a win over a top-three team.

Purdue comes in riding a nine-game winning steak, with Big Ten road wins at Michigan State, Ohio State, and Illinois. They also have non-conference wins over West Virginia, Tennessee, Wake Forest, and at Alabama. They are Final Four-caliber, and are one of the few teams legitimately in the national championship conversation.

On Saturday, they beat a good Illinois team with their two best players -- JaJuan Johnson and Robbie Hummel -- shooting a combined 5-for-23 from the field. They consistently find different ways to win without having any real stars.

Gophers head coach Tubby Smith has done the same in years past, getting his teams to the NCAA tournament in 15 of the last 16 years. He has won at least 20 games in 16 consecutive seasons. Nevertheless, his genius tendencies haven't been on display enough almost three years into his tenure.

It's time for that to change on Wednesday night. A win and they have a chance at an at-large NCAA tournament bid. Right now, they would not be in, even after an impressive week.

The Gophers got their best win of the season last Wednesday versus No. 14 Wisconsin. Against the Badgers, Smith's 3-2 zone worked wonderfully. Then on Saturday night, they got their most decisive Big Ten win in hammering Indiana by 23 points. It is hard to quantify, but however you measure mojo, the Gophers have it at perhaps their highest level of the season. Maybe it’s the shaved heads, but watching the last two games, I can't help but wonder how they lost at Indiana or at home to Michigan.

Smith complained after the Michigan loss that his team didn't do the little things like taking charges, diving for loose balls, etc. Whatever he has said since then has worked. Now, Tubby’s magic is rearing its head.

In the Gophers' favor Wednesday is homecourt advantage -- the Gophers are 13-2 at Williams Arena. There are few places tougher to win at than "The Barn" when it's rockin', and it most assuredly will be on Wednesday. In addition to the menacing crowd, Purdue could possibly be looking ahead to its matchup with Michigan State next Sunday. That game will likely decide the Big Ten title.

In many ways, Wednesday will ultimately decide the Gophers' postseason fate. A loss and the only way they avoid the NIT is to win the Big Ten tournament. Smith, in discussing Purdue to the Big Ten Network, stated "We are trying to get to that level."

A win Wednesday offers significant hope that eventually they will.

 

"Boiler Down" on Wednesday at Williams Arena?

Posted by: Darren "Doogie" Wolfson Updated: February 21, 2010 - 11:18 PM

From my Jan. 26 blog:

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.

In the name of the "Green Man" (where has he been this year?), U of M students have rushing-the-court privileges this Wednesday when the Gophers take on No. 3 Purdue with a chance to knock off a top-five team at "The Barn" for the first time since February 12, 1992. That Clem Haskins-led Gopher team beat Bobby Knight's No. 4 Indiana Hoosiers 71-67. You have to go back to January 26, 1989, when the Gophers beat No. 1 Illinois 69-62 to find a win over a top-three team.

Purdue comes in riding a nine-game winning steak, with Big Ten road wins at Michigan State, Ohio State, and Illinois. They also have non-conference wins over West Virginia, Tennessee, Wake Forest, and at Alabama. They are Final Four-caliber, and are one of the few teams legitimately in the national championship conversation.

On Saturday, they beat a good Illinois team with their two best players -- JaJuan Johnson and Robbie Hummel -- shooting a combined 5-for-23 from the field. They consistently find different ways to win without having any real stars.

Gophers head coach Tubby Smith has done the same in years past, getting his teams to the NCAA tournament in 15 of the last 16 years. He has won at least 20 games in 16 consecutive seasons. Nevertheless, his genius tendencies haven't been on display enough almost three years into his tenure.

It's time for that to change on Wednesday night. A win and they have a chance at an at-large NCAA tournament bid. Right now, they would not be in, even after an impressive week.

The Gophers got their best win of the season last Wednesday versus No. 14 Wisconsin. Against the Badgers, Smith's 3-2 zone worked wonderfully. Then on Saturday night, they got their most decisive Big Ten win in hammering Indiana by 23 points. It is hard to quantify, but however you measure mojo, the Gophers have it at perhaps their highest level of the season. Maybe it’s the shaved heads, but watching the last two games, I can't help but wonder how they lost at Indiana or at home to Michigan.

Smith complained after the Michigan loss that his team didn't do the little things like taking charges, diving for loose balls, etc. Whatever he has said since then has worked. Now, Tubby’s magic is rearing its head.

In the Gophers' favor Wednesday is homecourt advantage -- the Gophers are 13-2 at Williams Arena. There are few places tougher to win at than "The Barn" when it's rockin', and it most assuredly will be on Wednesday. In addition to the menacing crowd, Purdue could possibly be looking ahead to its matchup with Michigan State next Sunday. That game will likely decide the Big Ten title.

In many ways, Wednesday will ultimately decide the Gophers' postseason fate. A loss and the only way they avoid the NIT is to win the Big Ten tournament. Smith, in discussing Purdue to the Big Ten Network, stated "We are trying to get to that level."

A win Wednesday offers significant hope that eventually they will.

 

      

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