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 Tubby Smith

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.

Local sports predictions for 2011

Posted by: Darren "Doogie" Wolfson Updated: December 31, 2010 - 6:46 AM

 To suggest that 2010 was an interesting sports year -- at least locally -- is like calling Milwaukee the drunkest city in America, saying that Hugh Hefner needs to take Viagra, or that Doc Brown never ages in the Back to the Future movies.

In other words, it would be stating the obvious. 

Brett Favre broke hearts. There were coaching changes, postseason failings, and regular-season ineptitude. We saw a beautiful new baseball ballpark open, and the can-do-no-wrong hometown hero sign the fourth-largest contract in baseball history. We even experienced Wolves VP of basketball operations David Kahn get fined $50,000 for talking about Michael Beasley's former love of the wacky tobacco.

With 2010 drawing to a close, I wonder what might 2011 bring.

In no particular order, here are some guesses:

• Bert Blyleven will finally (and rightfully) enter the Hall of Fame. Foolishly, Jack Morris will not.

• The Gophers football team will score a meaningful victory. The more people I talk to, the more I hear about what a great hire Jerry Kill was. With Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nebraska at TCF Bank Stadium, Kill will find a way to win one of those three true rivalry games.

• After saving a ton of money by hiring Kill, Maturi finds a way to get basketball coach Tubby Smith the practice facility he was promised years ago.

• Smith, in his fourth year with the Gophers, finally will win an NCAA tournament game.

• Smith will be wooed by a couple of ACC schools, and at least one NBA team (Charlotte?).

• Former Gophers recruiting coordinator Dan Berezowitz will somehow continue to berate local reporters.

• The Gophers hockey team will unfathomably miss the NCAA tournament for a third consecutive year.

• Leslie Frazier will be named Vikings head coach.

• Ray Edwards, among others, will be a former Viking.

• The Vikings draft a quarterback in the first round -- either Arkansas' Ryan Mallet, Missouri's Blaine Gabbert, or Washington's Jake Locker.

• The VIkings play the 2011 home season -- because there will be no lockout -- at TCF Bank Stadium.

• The Legislature will reach agreement on a new Vikings stadium bill.

• The Twins will not be as bad as many fans think -- still lots of time to make moves this offseason -- but won't win the A.L. Central.

• Wild TV analyst Mike Greenlay will blame the officials for at least one loss.

• Wild coach Todd Richards, whether deserving or not, will be the scapegoat for a non-playoff season.

• Forward Andrew Brunette, among others, will leave during free agency.

• Jonny Flynn, Corey Brewer, and Sebastian Telfair all become ex-Wolves.

• Ricky Rubio won't be with the Wolves -- yet.

• Ted Robinson and Bob Kurtz will do a great job on the Twins radio broadcasts.

• JJ Hardy will have significantly better numbers than Alexi Casilla.

• Pam Borton will struggle mightily, but Maturi won't cut the chord.

• In spite of a horrific performance on Thursday night vs. Stanford, UCONN's Maya Moore will be the Lynx top pick in the WNBA draft.

• A prominent local sports anchor will plagiarize verbatim Jon Krawczynski's work again.

We can look back on these predictions a year from now -- I promise to not hop into Jake Nyberg's DeLorean and travel back in time to ensure 100% accuracy -- so list your local sports prognostications for 2011 below.


The Great Wall of Kentucky or Evan Almighty?

Posted by: Darren "Doogie" Wolfson Updated: March 27, 2010 - 11:44 PM

Back by popular demand; okay, for my Mom and Dad, we have again raided the Star Tribune mail room and dusted off letters sent to former long-time columnist Dan Barreiro:

Dear Dr. Dan: As an original Timberwolves season-ticket holder, I am contemplating not renewing my tickets for the first time. But I want to believe. I recently got a letter in the mail from grand poohbah David Kahn. In it, he says: We're seeing growth in young players such as Kevin Love and Jonny Flynn, both of whom were selected to play in the Rookie/Sophomore game at All-Star Weekend this year. We see validation by Al Jefferson's and Kevin Love's selection to Team USA a few weeks back. We also continue to make decisions that improve our team over the long haul --from the upcoming draft, where we may have up to three first-round picks, to clearing cap space so that we have maximum flexibility in this year's free agency market, to building a coaching staff that has collected 15 championship rings.The bandwagon has put on its left blinker and is leaving the curb. This is our way of demonstrating how much we want you on it. 

Should I leave the curb with them?

B. Beise, Minneapolis

Dear Mr. Beise: Dr. Dan is enjoying a quiet weekend with his wonderful wife and a big bowl of Bruegger's Chicken Spaetzle Soup, so Dr. Darren is filling in.

Even though we've seen enough of the Kahn commercials, and he uses too many big words for our liking, he has a chance to make the Wolves a playoff contender in two seasons. We're not sure that citing Flynn in his letter was the right move given Flynn's plus-minus rating of minus 572, the worst on the team by over 100 points. He is miscast in the triangle offense, even though he can clearly do some good things with the ball. Even more troubling, though, is his defense. Kahn said last summer that Flynn had all-defensive team skills. That is certainly not the case.

If the Wolves get lucky in the draft lottery and land the first or second overall pick, the plan will become more clear. Kentucky's John Wall reminds me of Dwyane Wade and Ohio State's Evan Turner reminds me of Brandon Roy. Of the two, Wall will be the better pro, but, like Flynn, is not made for the Triangle offense.

The $13 million of cap space is intriguing, but will any meaningful free agent have an interest in coming here? It may be used in a trade. One way or another, it has to be used somehow to bring in someone uber-talented (Rudy Gay?). So go ahead and leave the curb with them for now, but re-evaluate post-July.

Dear Dr. Dan: My wife would rather be somewhere else, the practice facility that I so richly deserve, and was promised to me, is at best two years from becoming a reality, and Nike head-honcho Phil Knight is willing to give me a Brinks truck to come to Oregon. Should I go? And while we have your attention, should I allow Royce White back onto the team if he wants to play?

O. Smith, Minneapolis

Dear Mr. Smith: At 58-years-old, your next landing spot will likely be your last job. Even with a brand-new arena, do you want that to be in Eugene, Oregon? Really, we see you at North Carolina State a year from now after former Timberwolves coach Sidney Lowe is dismissed. Between you and your wife, you have family in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina.  With your dream job, Maryland, not opening anytime soon, the Wolfpack makes the most sense to us.

As for White, do you really want to welcome back someone who quit on you? That being said, you lack a go-to scorer and a good individual rebounder, two areas where White could excel. Our society constantly grants second chances (heck, even Elin appears to be giving Tiger a second chance) so, yes, for the sake of winning an NCAA tournament game before you leave, take him back.

Dear Dr. Dan: Not that I can relate, but how much equity did Gophers hockey coach Don Lucia build from winning those back-to-back national titles?

D. Woog, South St. Paul

Dear Mr. Woog: Next year, the Frozen Four is in St. Paul. The pressure will be immense to not miss the NCAA tournament for a third straight year. If Lucia does, even with one year remaining on his contract, athletic director Joel Maturi will be forced to make a move. At that point, former Gophers player and assistant Dean Blais can take over.

Dear Dr. Dan: I was given a contract extension but, after looking it over, it means nothing. My job is on the line this season. Spring practice is underway. Who should be my starting quarterback?

T. Brewster, Shorewood

Dear Mr. Brewster: You were last in the Big Ten in yards, points per game, and touchdowns last year, but we are advising you to stick with the incumbent, Adam Weber. Last fall, Weber had almost as many incompletions as completions, and threw more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (13), but new offensive coordinator Jeff Horton, with a good track record of developing quarterbacks, should help. The first move for Horton should be to allow Weber to go back to his old throwing motion. If Weber doesn't play well early, the job is wide open.

Dear Dr. Dan: Deep-down, I still bleed New York Giant blue, so I can't eventually allow a former Philadelphia Eagle onto my team, can I?

Z. Wilf, Short Hills, N.J.

Dear Mr. Wilf: It seems that it is a matter of when, not if, quarterback Brett Favre will announce that he is coming back for one more season. But then what? You don't believe that your in quarterback in 2011 (assuming there isn't a lockout) is currently on your roster, do you? 

Donovan McNabb will be traded somewhere in the next few weeks; maybe to Oakland, who apparently is willing to take him without a contract extension in place. McNabb is a free agent after the season. He plays for the Raiders and, like all superstar players, will then control his own situation. He wants to play for you, coach Brad Childress and quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers, so why not let it happen? You can sign him as a free agent, or trade a middle-round pick if the Raiders attempt to use the franchise tag, and have your quarterback for at least three seasons. 


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