The following few paragraphs are from a piece I did for 1500espn.com in February:
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.
Before we have even had a chance to turn our calendars, 1500 ESPN host Patrick Reusse's 2011 "Turkey of the Year" award already has a winner. With all due respect to James Sheppard, Adam Kelly, Don Lucia, Devoe Joseph, Zygi Wilf, Scott Ullger, and KFAN (what happened to that Paul Chryst hiring?), the winner is a no-brainer.
It's Joel Maturi.
Sunday night, while referencing his latest football hire, Maturi said "We cast a wide net in this search, but the name we kept coming back to was Jerry Kill." Really?? This from the same guy who said "We're out here to find a Tubby Smith . . . We're out here to find somebody that people can recognize, people have confidence in, and are going to bring instant credibility and notoriety to the football program." Why can't Maturi just keep it real? San Diego State's Brady Hoke said no, and so did others. The question then becomes, how far down the list was Kill?
On Monday morning at 7 a.m., when Maturi addressed the team, he said, "If you've done your homework, you'll know that this guy has won at every place he's been." Please, not the homework line again, especially after the Tim Brewster fiasco. Maturi didn't do his homework then, so what makes us believe he did his homework this time?
This is not an indictment on Kill, who did the exact same thing anyone in his position would have done. Although, he'll have to deal with constant comparisons of "What would Mike Leach have done with this team?" Kill's resume is good despite a 2-12 record vs. FBS teams that finished above .500 in the last three years (2-13 if Illinois wins its bowl game). Also, he is 0-2 in bowl games and, while with FCS Southern Illinois, went 4-5 in playoff appearances -- never making it to the championship game. He also lost on Friday night as a 17-point favorite in the Mid-American Conference championship game to Miami (Ohio). For a chance to triple his salary and coach in the Big 10, it's easy to see why he said yes. Heck, he didn't have an indoor practice facility at Northern Illinois.
Northern Illinois improved in many areas under Kill's watch. Their penalty numbers went down in each of his three years, and this year finished in the top-10 in the FBS. That is good discipline. They have a plus-10 in turnover margin this year, 18th in the FBS, second in the MAC. Those who know him love him. He's the opposite of Tim Brewster. In other words, there won't be any Rose Bowl turf in the football complex, and he'll limit his use of "tremendous." He's a hard-nosed football guy, who relies on out-scheming the opponent.
I do worry about his health, though, especially when he'll have to deal with Sid Hartman on a regular basis. In 2005, he was treated for kidney cancer (best win of his career), and in September he collapsed at his home following complications from gall bladder surgery. According to the Chicago Sun Times, his father passed away at age 66 from pancreatic cancer.
But Kill deserves a shot. With home games against Iowa, Wisconsin, and Nebraska next year, he has a chance of winning over a negative fan base immediately.
Maturi? He's had his chance. In some ways, the harsh treatment of him may not be fair. It's the Kevin McHale syndrome. Once you screw up long enough, nothing can be accepted. But that's big-time athletics. In October, a high-profile booster destroyed Maturi in a phone conversation. At the time, I thought it was a bit harsh, but maybe he was right. I'll give Maturi one thing: on the day he fired Brewster, he was right when he said, "You're not following Vince Lombardi here."
The same will be said when Maturi's successor is hired.
It is safe to assume that the only person having a worse week than Gopher athletic director Joel Maturi is Charlie Sheen.
The calls for Maturi's head on Saturday night at TCF Bank Stadium were minimal, but that is likely because there were 15,000 Gopher fans dressed as empty seats, and about 4,000 of those who were present were Buckeye fans.
Let's be realistic: neither Georgia's Mark Richt, Stanford's Jim Harbaugh, TCU's Gary Patterson, or Boise State's Chris Petersen are coming here. Maturi should try, but it is likely that none would leave their current position for Minnesota.
Air Force's Troy Calhoun probably would.
Few in Colorado Springs believe that he's there for the long-term. A recent Denver Post story on Colorado's eventual search for a new coach stated: Air Force knows that he won't be there forever. Yes, he's an alum, but he can feel good about leaving the program in better shape than when he got there. You have to believe that he wants a chance to compete at the highest possible collegiate level. His buyout is approximately $750,000. Steep, but doable. A 6-year/$15 million offer would probably be enough. That would give him a more than 300-percent raise. Would he really say no to that offer?
Calhoun makes sense for a number of reasons:
Is Calhoun the perfect candidate? No. He has struggled against the Mountain West's big-3 of TCU, Utah, and BYU. Remember, though, that many BCS-schools have struggled against those schools. Also, he has a loss to Tim Brewster on his resume.
If Calhoun rejects the Gophers' overtures, option No. 2 should be Houston's Kevin Sumlin. His wife is from here. He has Minnesota ties -- was an assistant coach here for four years in the mid-90's -- and could put together a solid staff. His current assistant head coach, Tony Levine, has a stellar background and is a former Gophers player. He could bring back Minnesota's best defensive coordinator in the last 20 years, David Gibbs. He could also bring back Minnesota's best in-state recruiter in the last 20 years, Gordy Shaw. Most importantly, he has already won in a not-so-easy environment. If you're worried that he would run the spread offense, don't be. He coordinated a pro-style offense while at Oklahoma. He could blend together elements of both with the Gophers and succeed.
Is there any chance the "U" can land the perfect guy? No. We have to be modest with our expectations.
Both Calhoun or Sumlin would need at least two years to clean-up Brewster's mess (and the Rose Bowl grass clippings in the football complex). There are reasons why arch-rivals Iowa and Wisconsin continually dominate the Gophers: they are bigger, stronger, faster, and better coached.
In the event that both say no, just don't hire Marc Trestman. If he does, Maturi might be worse off than Sheen.
What size battery does it take to beat Tim Brewster's team? Answer: I-AA