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.
While they were busy firing Brad Childress on Monday morning, I wonder if the Wilfs were aware that local broadcasting legend -- just ask him -- Don Shelby was signing off on Monday night. How DARE they upstage Shelby's big day?
Breaking news: this entry will not fawn over Don Shelby. Although, since he's an expert on everything -- just ask him -- I bet he has some ideas on why the Vikings are underperforming beyond anyone's expectations this year.
The answer is pretty simple: many players are performing way below expectations.
If you believe that this team would be 6-3, instead of 3-6, with a different head coach, then I would like to sell you some left-handed microphones.
That doesn't mean that coach Brad Childress is blameless. But I get the sense that many fans would rather go through the body scanner at the airport and have those images posted on YouTube than watch another game with Childress in charge.
The Vikings had 10 legitimate Pro-Bowl players last year. Of those, only two, running back Adrian Peterson and wide receiver Percy Harvin, are anywhere near a repeat performance. And even Peterson has failed in some key situations, most notably against Miami and New England at the goal-line.
A few different play calls or personnel groups do not make up for the Vikings trailing for long periods in eight of their nine games. Only against Detroit in Week 3 have the Vikings led for an extended stretch . Because of that, the pass rush has been non-existent. They are last in the NFL in turnover margin at minus-11. Their 23 turnovers to date are five more than all of 2009. Quarterback Brett Favre's interception rate of 5.5% is on pace to be the highest of his career.
The Vikings have the 25th-ranked red zone offense. Their special teams have shown warts. The defense can't come up with third-down stops. Linebacker E.J. Henderson should win Comeback Player of the Year, but clearly isn't the same player he was before his injury. Linebacker Chad Greenway is the only starter among the front-seven playing better than his 2009 form.
At what point can we say that the execution is just as bad as the coaching? On Sunday, Chicago won easily despite committing 11 penalties for 116 yards, throwing a red-zone interception, and missing an easy field goal. How is any of that Childress' fault? Childress is the same coach who won 12 games last year, and was one Favre interception from the Super Bowl.
No reason to pick Shelby's brain on this one. The reality is that the Vikings just aren't that good, and the players are to blame too.
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.
"I did want to retire as a Viking." -- Randy Moss in Jan. '08
The happiest member of the Vikings' organization this morning might not be quarterback Brett Favre or wide receiver Percy Harvin. It could be No. 84, Logan Payne, who's stuck on the practice squad. If Randy Moss wants his old number back, Payne will make a lot of money. But what if Moss wants No. 81? Will Vistanthe Shiancoe give-in?
This trade is a fan's dream. It's also a reporter's dream. Judd Zulgad may not take off his Chicago Blackhawks hoodie until February. He won't have time.
Only the acquisition of Moss could shift my wife's Vikings' tentacles away from wondering if Kendra has officially moved to Eden Prairie to be closer to her husband, Hank Baskett.
Any move that upsets Packers and Bears fans is a good one. This is a "wow" trade. There are no guarantees attached. But this is monumentally impressive. Moss will have a chance to have a big-time impact starting Monday night against the Jets. He really only has to run a few routes.
We can now add Moss to a long list of Vikings' free agents after this season. Favre, Sidney Rice, Chad Greenway, Ben Leber, Ray Edwards, Pat Williams, Ryan Longwell, and Husain Abdullah are among the players only signed through this season.
The Vikings are all-in on this year, which is fine. The NFC appears to be the weaker of the two conferences. In other words, it's eminently winnable.
To quote Moss from years ago, "Super Bowl, homeboy!" It's a better possibility now. This much is known: the Vikings are a lot better on-the-field today.
Do the Wild really start their season on Thursday? Are we really just days before the 120th meeting between the Gophers and Badgers? Oh, by the way, the Twins are good enough to win the World Series. But does anything else matter on the local sports landscape today?