Furman University’s Head Basketball Coach, Niko Medved, fell in love with the game of basketball at The Barn. His Father has had season tickets for over 40 years, and Medved has been a fan, a manager, an assistant to the Head Coach, and an Assistant Coach for the University of Minnesota. After many years, he’s coming back to The Barn, but will be coaching against his hometown team. Medved is an example of how hard work, determination, constantly learning, finding excellent mentors, and having a very positive attitude can result in becoming a Head Coach at a Division 1 school. He talks about how having mentors like Dan Monson, Jim Molinari, Tim Miles and Larry Eustachy have shaped his career, and where he wants to take this Furman program.
NB: Being from MN you have so many MN ties with the Gophers and in the state. For those who don't know, please tell me about all the roles you've had with the Gophers? You started out as a manager, correct?
NM: I’ll tell you what’s even neater than that, my family, my Dad’s been a season ticket holder for over 40 years, and I really fell in love with basketball here in The Barn. When I was a kid, my Dad took me to the games when I was a little kid and that’s how I fell in love with basketball, I really fell in love with Gopher basketball. I was fortunate enough to start as a manager, and eventually I became an assistant. There are a lot of special memories here. I've spent a lot of time at The Barn watching games, working, coaching games, so it is, it’s a neat place, it’s a special place, it will be fun to come back.
NB: How tough was it to be part of the season where Coach Monson got fired/resigned?
NM: That whole year for me was really surreal, the way that it all worked out. In your journey, you always have goals and it never goes the way you planned, and I’m so blessed to be where I am. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in my life. Working with great people like Jim Molinari, we became very very close, he and I got to work together. It’s funny, two people get put in a place like that, and we had a blast that year, even though the season didn’t go the way we wanted it to. We really had fun. Every day we were blessed to be doing what we were doing and coaching at a place that we loved with kids we enjoyed. I’ll never forget that year, I grew up a lot.
NB: Speaking of Coach Mo, before I had even met you years ago, he had told me that you were going to be a great head coach someday. How does that feel to have someone with his experience and background say that about you before you were even an assistant coach?
NM: Did he really say that? I don’t believe that (joking). That means a lot. He’s a guy that I really really admire. I think a lot of people that don’t follow college basketball closely don’t realize, this guy’s resume, and how terrific of a coach he is. Not only that but what a terrific person he is, he is really a mentor to me, he really helped me in so many ways and still does today. He’s a guy I can lean on and always has great advice, he’s been there and done that, and always knows to say the right thing at the right time.
NB: What emotions do you have coming back to The Barn?
NM: It really hasn’t hit me yet. The game just kind of happened. We needed a game on this day, and MN was available,. I think this is an area that we’ll recruit. I’ve been on this court so many times, I’ve been an assistant, manager, but now to be sitting up there coaching a game...it will be a neat feeling. MN is a terrific team this year, they’re going to be a great challenge for us. I am excited, I get nervous before every game, but I’m sure I’ll have a few extra butterflies before this one tips off.
NB: What do you think you need to do beat the Gophers?
NM: I think the first thing is that they’re 3rd in the country creating turnovers, so they’re turning over their opponents, on almost 24% of their possessions. Really, that’s where it starts. They’re so good defensively, they change their defenses, it’s not just their press, but in their half court. They’re very active, they’re long, they deflect a lot of passes, and they’re so fast, they get out in transition. The first thing you need to do is be able to take care of the ball in order to beat them. They have a lot of guys that can score from the perimeter. A guy like Mo Walker is really coming on for them. They have good balance inside and outside, some of their young players are just starting to play better. They really look like they’re kicking it in gear getting ready for Big 10 play.
NB: What kind of state was the Furman program in when you became HC, where are you now, and where do you want to be?
NM: It’s a major rebuilding process, they had won 6 games the year before. I had been through it, the closest experience was when I went to Colorado State with Tim Miles, our 1st year we went 0-16 in the Mountain West, then we won 9 games the next year, and then went on the best 4 year run in school history. It is a process, for us, last year, it’s about getting the right people on the bus. We’re very very young, we’ve got some guys, I’m playing 4 freshman a lot of minutes and some sophomores a lot of minutes and a couple of juniors. We’re coming. We’re getting better and better. For our league, it’s about us getting better, preparing us for league play. I think really bright days are ahead for Furman Basketball.
NB: Do you think part of that is due to the tough non-conference schedule that you’ve taken on? Do you want to talk about some of your opponents?
NM: Who does the schedule around here (joking)? Maybe some people will say that we scheduled too tough for these guys. I don’t believe that. I think it’s a great challenge. These kids are getting thrown into the fire. We’ve already played at Duke, which was a great experience for our kids. TCU was 9-0 at the time we played them and we had a chance at that game, we just got off the road and played Florida Gulf Coast in a game that we were down 3 with a minute to go. We’ve been in a lot of these games. Hopefully we can just get better and stay aggressive and give ourselves a chance to compete.
NB: You’re on a 4 game road trip, is that tough to be able to keep your guys fired up, knowing that you’re the underdog, and traveling so much?
NM: I guess it’s all about perspective. Is it really tough? These guys are playing Division 1 college basketball, they’re living their dream every day. We just got done with finals, finals is very difficult at Furman, it’s a very rigorous school. But this is the life, this isn’t tough, this is what you’ve dreamed about doing your whole life. I don’t look at it that way. I try to be truthful with these guys about where they’re at, what they need to do, how to get better and tougher and prepare better to win, but I’m also trying to encourage them. They’re young and they’re working hard and I see them getting better. We’ve been in a lot of these games and haven’t been able to get over the hump. For us, It’s all about preparing for league play. These experiences for us are going to be good for us.
NB: How are you adapting to running your own program? What is the biggest surprise?
NM: That’s a great question. You have to wear so many hats, every day something can get thrown at you, and you’re managing so many different things. I learned you can’t assume anything. You really have to be a teacher every day. Learning to manage all those things, manage your time, and that’s been the biggest adjustment for me. But I love it, I love practice, I love teaching these guys, I love being around these guys, and I’m blessed to do what I do every day.
NB: Can you tell me a little about your team, what can we expect to see on Monday?
NM: I don’t know (laughing). Right now we’re young, we’re very aggressive, we’ve got quickness, guys that can attack the basket and spread the floor, and can do some things off the dribble. We’ve got some guys that can make shots and space the floor, we’re undersized right now. Sometimes we struggle to rebound the ball. Sometimes young teams aren't the best decision making teams, we’re steaky that way. We have to get better defensively. We need to get better at consistency. We’re getting better at putting larger stretches together of good basketball, but need to do that to get over the hump. We’ll have to play consistently well for long long periods of time to have a chance on Monday.
NB: You've coached with Dan Monson, Jim Molinari, Tim Miles and Larry Eustachy…what was the key thing you learned with each of them?
NM: Wow, that’s a great question. I thought Dan Monson was really a great manager of the program, he was very organized, he had every facet of his program organized. I thought he was genuine and really really a good person. People wanted to work for Dan, they enjoyed working for him. Being in his corner, I’m really excited to see him doing as well as he is at Long Beach State because I thought he got into a tough situation here at MN. When people look back at his tenure, people will think “Dan did a pretty dang good job.” I’m really happy and not surprised at all that he’s having the success he is at Long Beach State. Coach Mo is just a guy that people in college basketball know, you look at this guy’s resume and the places he’s been , what he’s done, he’s one of the best coaches in our business and even a better person. He’s quiet, he goes under the radar for people that don’t know him. Like I said, he’s just been a real mentor for me and has taught me a lot about working and dealing with people, different situations, he’s taken a lot of tough jobs in adverse situations and found ways to win. Tim Miles may have prepared me more than anybody to be a head coach. When I had an opportunity to work with him he gave me so much responsibility and allowed me to do so many things that a head coach would do, and he put a lot on my plate that really prepared me, and I’m forever grateful for him doing that. I thought that opportunity really prepared me to be a head coach, and going through that process with him starting from ground zero and building it the way he did. Larry Eustachy….I think he was the 1st coach in NCAA history to win 25+ games at 5 different schools. They’re 11-0 this year about to go in the top 25. He’s just a winner. He’s an old school coach, he gets the most out of his players, he’s incredibly smart. Great feel for basketball, he never misses anything. He’s the kind of guy, if he’s watching something at practice or a game, if you watch it on film, it’s exactly the way that he said it. I really learned a lot from him as well. All those guys really played a role in molding me where I am today.
NB: What is it like recruiting to Furman?
NM: Furman is a terrific academic school, it’s one of the best liberal arts schools in the Southeast. Anyone who visits, you will not find a more beautiful campus, it’s an amazing place. The town itself of Greenville has probably doubled in size since I was there as an assistant, it’s grown like crazy. I think we can recruit a lot of areas. We want to recruit up here. It’s not difficult when you get a kid down to visit campus, see what we’re doing and the commitment that the University has made all the way from the top down, it’s a neat place. I love Minnesota, but there’s not been one time when I’m down there, when I left I think it was 62 degrees, I wasn’t wishing it was 10 below in Minnesota (laughing). I think us playing these games in different areas that we want to recruit, kind of getting our name out there a little bit, and getting kids on campus and families on campus, because we can’t just recruit the southeast and be successful.
NB: Any other last thoughts?
NM: It will be interesting on Monday night. Once you’re a Gopher, you’re always a Gopher, right? For me, this is where I got my start, and you come back here, even though you’ve been gone for a while, and it feels like you were just here yesterday. It’s neat to see that the program is doing well, that football is winning, Richard is doing a great job here, they’re building a winner here, women’s basketball and volleyball, the athletic department is doing a great job.
NB: How well do you know Richard Pitino?
NM: I’ve met him, I don’t know him well personally. He’s done a terrific job, he’s got great energy, his kids play really really hard and they play a really really aggressive style. I’m close with Ben Johnson, I know him well. He does a terrific job, and I’ve gotten to know Dan McHale a little bit. I just think he does a great job. He’s innovative, he’s brought a completely different style of play here. You can really see his kids buying into that style. When you watch a team play, I think very quickly, he got those kids to buy into the way he needed them to play. I think they play with great energy and together. They’ve bought in, and that shows he’s really coaching them up.
Yes, I am from Wisconsin. But I also was smart enough to come to an amazing city and attend the University of Minnesota. While I am a Packers fan (for the 1,000 of you on Twitter, that's why, because I'm not from MN) and I grew up a Badgers fan, the second I attended the U, I became a Gophers fan.
I'm not going to lie, all of those Wisconsin Rose Bowls would have been nice to attend, but I wouldn't give up being a Gopher fan for anything, and here are the top 10 reason why...
1. Everyone in Minnesota knows that the first 3 letters in Badgers is "BAD"
2. Our mascot isn't a combination of a skunk and a popcorn box.
3. This guy, nuff said.
4. Goldy > Bucky, times a million.
5. The freshman at Minnesota are by far superior to the freshman at Wisconsin.
6. This is self explanatory and wrong.
7. Even we have more students minutes before kick off than this...
8. Madison is so inferior to Minneapolis that ESPN used our skyline for its broadcast.
9. This guy...again.
10. Jerry >>>>>>>> Gary because he would NEVER make a policy to not have the Axe on the sidelines. Tradition. Tradition. Tradition.
Twitter: @NadineBabu www.twitter.com/nadinebabu
Nadine Babu is the CEO and Social Media Strategist at Babu Social Networks and completed her undergraduate degree and MBA at the Carlson School of Management. She manages and writes for GopherHole.com
It is often said that adversity doesn’t build a person’s character, it reveals it. For Rutgers defensive tackle, Eric LeGrand, it was a life changing moment on the football field in October 2010 that revealed who he was and showed the strength and power of his character. LeGrand was on one of the grandest stages, MetLife Stadium, as he and his Rutgers teammates took on Army on October 16, 2010. LeGrand was on special teams looking to make a tone-setting tackle, and instead, suffered a spinal injury that left him fighting for his life and ultimately confined to a wheelchair. Those are the details of a single moment, but the impact LeGrand is having on thousands of lives is so much more than a single moment, it will last a lifetime.
LeGrand’s attitude, outlook and inner drive have already allowed him to defy odds and touch lives. He isn’t spending his energy and time feeling sorry for himself, instead he’s raising money and awareness and continuing to regain his strength in hopes of one day walking again.
I recently had a unique opportunity to sit down for an in-depth one-on-one interview with LeGrand to talk about how the incident in 2010 changed his life and to learn how one man’s strength and character can change the lives of everyone he meets.
NB: How did you end up doing the speaking engagement tonight for the MAPS Pain conference, and making this trip to Minneapolis?
EL: Well, I partnered with Pfizer, which is why I made the trip out here. I’ve been working with them side by side. Through Pfizer, I got to experience a lot and meet a lot of great people. It’s actually kinda cool meeting people that are working with spinal cord injuries and nerve pain. I’m trying to be the spokesperson for them and share my story along the way and things that I’ve learned and try to give people some hope while I’m out here.
NB: How long have you been working with Pfizer?
EL: I’ve been working with Pfizer for a year. This is our first event together.
NB: Could you walk me through the accident?
EL: I had a double team, two guys coming right at me when they kicked the ball up. I got by them, so I had about a 40-50 yard head start after that. So I’m coming full speed and when I got there I knew I wanted to hit him with my shoulder. That’s why I put my head down. I was gonna be on the side of his ribs. I was going to tackle him with my shoulder, but my teammate got there a half a second before me, and tripped him up and the guy’s body got spun around. And when his body got spun around, my head was down, and his shoulder blade hit right on the crown of my head. It wasn’t on the side of his ribs like I thought it was. And that’s what caused it.
NB: Obviously, it all happened so fast. What were you thinking?
EL: I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t move. But I wasn’t scared I couldn’t move, I was more scared I couldn’t catch my breath. I thought I was gonna die. Like, is this it? Is it over? I had all these doctors and the training staff coming out to me asking, “Is it your head or your neck?” I’m just like, “I can’t breathe!”
Coach Schiano came over, and just told me to pray. And that’s all I did. Somehow when they got me out on the cart and lifted me up, I caught a gasp of air for a second. I took one deep breath and I went to take more and nothing happened. I went to give a thumbs up to the crowd to let them know I was gonna be okay and nothing happened. Then I saw my mom in the corner end zone, and I just started crying. They put an oxygen mask on my face and I was thinking it was going to let me breathe. It didn’t and I just passed out. I really don’t remember too much then until Wednesday. It happened on a Saturday.
EL: What happened when you came to and couldn’t move? What were your thoughts?
NB: Well, when I came to I was still pinned to the bed. I had a neck brace on. I was just trying to tilt my head to the right or left. But then I saw all these posters and stuff around my room. Everybody was wishing me well. There was so many different posters from colleges, NFL coaches, NFL teams and all the Rutgers athletes. I saw all these posters and was just like, “Wow look at all this support I have.”
The biggest thing I found out two months later was my mom would not let anybody in my room with a negative attitude or who was upset or crying. So everyone who came into my room was so upbeat. So I’m thinking everything is going to be okay. I found out later that as soon as my friends would leave they would be balling their eyes out. Crying outside of the room. But that’s what got me going. That’s what motivated me right away.
NB: Do you think what your mom did set the standard right away to be positive?
EL: Yes, I think honestly that’s what it was. They had two visiting rooms at that hospital. And they said one day I had 80 people in there at once. We kinda took over the hospital.
NB: You’ve already overcome a lot of things doctors said you wouldn’t. What are those things?
EL: 1. Coming off of a ventilator: They told me I would be on that the rest of my life. I came off of that in five weeks.
2. Keeping a tube in my stomach: They told me I would never eat solid foods, and I’m eating plenty of them.
3. I would never live a normal life: You see me! I’m traveling all over the place. I travel more now that I ever did playing the game of football.
4. They told me I had 0-5% chance of getting any neurological function back: A few weeks later I was able to move my shoulders. Like this (shimmies)
NB: You look like you can dance!
EL: Shoot. Don’t catch me at the Jersey Shore!
NB: Right now, what do they say are the odds of you walking again? What do you think?
EL: They have no idea. They’ve seen all the progress I’ve made. I’m doing as much therapy as possible, because I’ve already come so far.
In my mind, I know I’m going to walk again. I wish I could tell you it’s gonna be tomorrow. I wish I could say it was yesterday. I just know that one day it’s going to happen one day in my lifetime.
NB: In the beginning, before the doctors got to know you, what did they tell you?
EL: In the beginning, they would tell my mom I might not make it through a surgery. They didn’t know about my sheer will power. They didn’t know how stubborn I am.
It was tough in the beginning, especially for my mom. That’s why I always say, the people around me had to deal with it more than I did because I really don’t remember much of anything from those first few days. My mom, my family and my friends had to hear everything the doctors were saying - I didn’t.
NB: What’s the most frustrated you’ve ever been? And have you ever felt like you wanted to give up?
EL: I never felt like I wanted to give up, but I have been frustrated. Especially when it’s late and my mom and I are arguing. I get in my modes where I’m like, “I need this, I need this, and I need this.” And she’s like, “I just want to go to sleep.” I wish I could just do it myself, you know? That’s the most frustrating.
NB: How has this affected your personal life?
EL: I’ve actually gained more of my childhood friends. They’ve really stepped up to the plate. I’ve always had friends everywhere I went. None of them have disappeared.
NB: Financially, does the NCAA help take care of you?
EL: Yep. That’s a big thing. I was very fortunate. I got hurt playing college football so I have lifetime NCAA insurance. They bought my van. They can buy certain equipment that my mom’s insurance turns down. It’s very unfortunate that somebody whose cleaning their gutters and falls down in their backyard won’t get that same insurance that I have.
NB: Tell me a little bit about your foundation, Team LeGrand.
EL: The main goal is to find a cure for paralysis. In the meantime, we can help people with their quality of life. Help them get more rehab centers.
This special tredmill I walk on everyday, it costs $90,000 to get those installed into centers! I want to raise money to get more of those into centers. You always see the Jimmy V Foundation and Dickie V Foundation. I’m hoping one day it can get to that top level.
NB: How much have you raised so far?
EL: We soft launched it in the spring. But when my jersey got retired at Rutgers in September that’s when I really announced it to the world. We’re close to $200,000 now.
NB: How did the ESPYS impact you? (Eric won the 2012 Jimmy V Perseverance Award during the ESPYS)
EL: I wish I had my foundation then! I wish when I got to speak at the ESPY’S I could’ve brought that up because that would have been huge! It was good to raise awareness about everything I’m fighting for.
It was hard for me to get to the after party because professional athletes were coming up to me. It wasn’t about them anymore. It was a pretty cool scene.
NB: Who was the athlete that you met that you have the most respect for?
EL: I can’t really pick just one. Justin Tucker, Eli Manning, Jeremy Linn and Tim Tebow. Greg Jennings even came running up to me to make sure he got my right Twitter handle. He came up to me three times. It was great!
NB: What do you think has to be done to eliminate some of these injuries in football?
EL: This speed is a high speed, collision game. It’s going to be tough to eliminate all the injuries. It even says on the helmet you put on, “WARNING.”
I would let my son play football and I’m here sitting in this wheelchair.
I believe football is the best teacher of life for you. 365 days of the year you’re busting your butt. You’re running those sprints after a two hour practice, and asking yourself, ‘Why am I doing this? ‘ But it’s those tough times that get you ready for life.
If you just lost your job. What are you gonna do? You fight through it. The life lessons of team work and when your down you gotta pick yourself up. Some people take these lessons for granted.
If you wanna keep the game of football, it’s hard to take out certain things. Too many people running all over the place at full speed. This is football. It was made this way. Everyone that’s playing knows the risk.
NB: How do you feel about Rutgers joining the Big Ten?
EL: Yeah! I can’t wait! I feel great about it! Looking at the schedule next year, it’s gonna be a tough one! Finally Rutgers stepped up to that level where they can compete. Every game is a going to be a tough game. I’m ready for them to crash some parties!
I wish I was still playing! Thinking of me coming out of the tunnel at Penn State or Michigan? Oh it would’ve been over! I would’ve gotten a penalty for too much celebration.
NB: What do you think of the Gophers?
EL: First eight win season since like 1968? That’s amazing. I’ve been following you guys. I hope Coach Kill gets better. Seizures are no joke. I’ve seen them up close. I don’t know exactly what he’s going through, but his prayers are with me.
NB: How are you able to say every day, “This is my life. And I’m going to deal with it.”
EL: How can you not? I can’t change it. I can’t sit in my room and pout all day. Things don’t get done like that. I’ve been very blessed to be able to go pretty much anywhere and meet so many great people. It’s really been an honor. There are so many people I see on a daily basis that are in ten times worse situation than I am. They would love to be sitting where I am. I always say, “What do I have to complain about?”
NB: What are your short and long term goals?
EL: My short-term goal is to finish school in December. (LeGrand announced he earned his degree on January 22, 2014) My long-term goal is to be able to walk up on my feet. This will also be my third year working with Rutgers Radio. When I graduate, I want to get more into broadcasting. I also want to become a better motivational speaker. I want to be able to deliver my story even better.
NB: What kind of legacy do you hope to leave?
EL: I want to be known as someone who never gave up. I want people to know I faced adversity and handled it. I learned a new game - the game of patience. This is something I have to do. I want people to look at me and say, “Wow. If that guy can do it, why can’t I?”
Nadine Babu is the CEO and Social Media Strategist at Babu Social Networks and completed her undergraduate degree and MBA at the Carlson School of Management. She manages and writes for GopherHole.com
A four-game Big Ten winning streak, national media attention and an inspirational story has the Gophers in the hunt for a January 1 bowl game. What seemed like a dream five weeks ago, Minnesota’s 8-2 record has them smack dab in the middle of a New Year's Day bowl talk, and for the first time in years, the prestigious Capital One Bowl has the Gophers as one of three teams they are focusing in on in the Big Ten’s final weeks. Along with Michigan State and Wisconsin, Minnesota can make a strong statement to Capital One Bowl officials by winning out and putting together an impressive 10-2 season, with wins over Nebraska, Michigan State and Wisconsin, the other teams likely in contention for the Bowl.
Nadine Babu went in-depth with Steve Hogan, CEO of the Capital One Bowl, to learn about the bowl selection process, his view of Minnesota, and why the Bowl is narrowing in on Minnesota, Michigan State and Wisconsin as the likely three contenders for the Orlando-based bowl.
NB: What makes the Capital One Bowl unique?
SH: I like to think it's a combination of things. It's one of the older bowl games in the country, so it has a lot of history and a lot of tradition, has a very long standing relationship with the Big 10 at the highest level and that, partnered with the SEC at the highest level has created some very memorable match-ups from arguably two of the more well-known, established conferences. So I think that those things kind of come together and create some magic and a destination that we think is a special one in Orlando that people enjoy visiting. Leading in at 1pm into the Rose Bowl has really built a brand for the Capital One Bowl, it just all works. 1pm Eastern Time on New Year's Day turns out to be a heck of a ballgame, and so we'd be happy to have Minnesota if it worked out that way.
NB: What are the main factors that a bowl takes into consideration when deciding on a team? Is it merely number of fans who will travel?
SH: It's a combination of things, really. Often times what happens is how you close the season, how you finish, did you just play a championship game; there are a lot of considerations that fill in a lot of gray areas. When was the last time you were here? Was there a repeat match-up? Who would you possibly be playing in the bowl games, a lot of those things.
Primarily, you look to have the most successful teams you can have. So, if they earn it on the field, how are the other teams in that conference in relation to how they played head to head; who won that game, what were other games that they had in common? Where were they ranked in the final poll? Those are the important things. If you have two 10-2 teams and one beat the other, that's a big thing, that's important in our mind. Certainly where they're ranked in the polls matters.
In the end, that national broadcast and the attention for the game is important too, but I'd say the most important thing is the fact that you honor the student athlete. The student athlete is the one who works so hard, and plays the season, and you see the wins they achieve, so they need to be rewarded fairly. You want to be able to look them in the eye, and say ‘this is the decision we made and why we made it,’ and have it be one that they would agree with. That would be the biggest factor, honoring the kids that play in the game.
NB: One of the factors you mentioned was how you close the season. Would you look more favorably toward a team that may have started slow but finished strong?
SH: Yes, there's no question that that matters. You love it if you can, if all of those other important factors—rankings, win-losses—work out, you love to have a team that's hot and excited. All those things are fun to be a part of; they're fun for the school, [and] the fans here in town. All of us want to sell tickets, but for us, it's never been the dominant thing. It's never been the reason we've made a selection—because of tickets. It helps, you obviously have bills to pay (laughing), but in the end, it's not about us making money, it's about honoring the kids that play the game and the school that deserves to be here, you want to give them that chance. Having a hot team is fun, that's definitely one of the things to look at.
NB: How familiar are you with the Gophers' season and Jerry Kill's story?
SH: Well certainly the country has followed Jerry Kill's story and it's one that was heartening, and from a far, because I don't know Jerry very well, it seems like the kids just really responded and rallied around the whole program and the leadership.
We started to pay attention to the team with the Northwestern victory, that was a very good football team, Northwestern, and to follow that up with Nebraska, ranked and still very much in the picture, those are two very big wins, back to back. Of course Penn State—another good one—at home. The last several weeks, starting with NU, you really start paying attention. The early part of their season, there really wasn't any team to measure up against on the schedule. Not that they aren't hard won victories, but they aren't necessarily wins that you put up there as a measure of a team. But the last 4 weeks have certainly been a measure of the team, and they answered the bell.
NB: When you're promoting the Capital One Bowl, how important is it to have that star player, or that star story?
SH: Those are nice things, they're definitely nice story lines, and you want people around the country to care and say I can't wait to see this kid or that kid play. Those are important things, they aren't "the" thing, that can't be "the" decision maker, but they certainly add layers that add teams. If it's really close, and you're making a decision between two teams, and it's hard to break the tie, those are things—the hot run, marketable teams and players, a great story—all those things add up to breaking ties.
NB: Nebraska has been there 2 years in a row, is it important for you is it to have different teams come every year or at least every few years?
SH: With all due respect to Nebraska, because they are a great fan base and a fine team, I think that the conference you've seen in 2014 and beyond, everyone is focused on how you can create an atmosphere and a sprit that's good for everyone—that's good for the fans and the market. It keeps things fresh and competitive. It's a delicate balance; you want to put quality team against quality team, but you also need to create the experience that these kids have and keep that fresh and new.
There's no question, that that's a big factor, not only now or moving forward. I'm not sure that Nebraska, and every team at this point in the season, is focused on bigger things. They're trying to get to a championship—potentially win a championship. When that's all done, I'm not sure the team would love to come to Orlando 3 or 4 years in a row.
There's too much football to be played to think about that kind of decision. Minnesota, we're all excited about, and you see they have two of the biggest games of the season to end the season with Wisconsin and Michigan State—these are the teams. Wisconsin, Michigan State, Minnesota, these are the teams that are in the picture. You're probably going to get a team from these three. How do those games go, how does this play out? The stakes couldn't be any bigger than these last weeks.
NB: I know there is a lot of football left to play, but what would the Gophers have to do to be selected by you, or be in serious consideration?
SH: I think they're doing what they need to do to be in serious consideration, they are in serious consideration. Now they just have to win, they have to play it out. The win over Nebraska is a big one, when you look at teams that are tied head-to-head, they have that win on the field. You make a strong argument, they deserve to be the team. If it came down to those two schools, they won on the field and that's important, and you want to honor that, and we've always tried to honor that in Orlando.
If you look back at our history, it's been more about who had the most successful season, and sometimes that's created some repeat scenarios. That will be a nuance that everybody works on. A head to head victory—and they got one against Nebraska. Now they have Wisconsin and Michigan State, if it comes down to it, that's going to be an important factor.
NB: How do you forecast the number of fans who could potentially travel to a bowl game? For example, we have not been to a New Year's Day bowl game in my lifetime, it's tough to compare attendance with other bowl games.
SH: We really wouldn't have any idea. I don't have a basis for comparison. You try to talk to other bowls and other places that the team has appeared and get some information from them. You start to do that in the next 2 weeks, and the final week you're really calling around to see what their experience was, what they encountered. You’ve certainly talked to the school and have some advance visits from operational people and they'll give you a feel for what the fanbase will do. You'd love the whole state of Minnesota to come down, but it's more about those kids being supported with a good solid showing, because they deserve that too, and they want to see their fans, and have a good piece of the stadium be Gopher-ed up. We'll start to figure that out in the next couple weeks. Having no history, we'll have to get that from places that have had an experience with Minnesota.
NB: How much influence does an athletic departments campaign play into a selection?
SH: You know, not a ton. They help, it helps, you get a lot of information, you learn about the city and community and what the media points are. Many of these things are well known, but it's just more about the operation, working together; the athletic department, the ticket office, the alumni, the association of affairs groups, and our team operationally.
You really build a relationship and understanding of how easy it will be to work together, that's not a deciding factor. It's not about who "out-sold" another school, is this AD a better sales person or politician than another one (laughing) - it's not about that, we have respect for all of them.
I remember when we had Northwestern come play Tennessee back in 1997, and it was Peyton Manning, and Northwestern had a great run that year, they played in the Rose Bowl the year before, and nobody expected Northwestern to travel well or so any of those things. It's a smaller school, and they knocked it out of the park. They did great, they had a great crowd. It was more about the fact that it was a great experience.
Everybody was so excited, they achieved this level, and that would be my same expectation for Minnesota. If they were our team, I think fans would be very excited and want to support the kids, and I think it just all works out. I would have every expectation that Minnesota would be everything that everyone would hope it would for us.
NB: What is the ticket allotted per school?
NB: If you have a 10 win team or a 9 win team, aside from playing head to head, what other factors would play into your choice if that 9 win team could leap from the 10 win team?
SH: I think it depends on a lot of things, maybe they didn't play each other in the regular season—you want to take into account if they did, how they finished the season, were they hot, how did they close it out, did they finish with a win? Were they ranked in the polls? Those are the things that are important because you want people nationally to care too.
A ranked team, oftentimes, is a representation of the fact that the country is paying attention and that they've had a lot of success. Those are the things. A 9 win team could jump, and those are the things that could make it happen.
NB: Will you be having representatives at our last two games?
SH: I have to go back and look, but yes is the answer for that. I'm pretty sure we'll have someone at home for Wisconsin, and I'm pretty sure they're on the road against Michigan State. I think we'll want to be there either way. We should have people at both.
Nadine Babu is the CEO and Social Media Strategist at Babu Social Networks and completed her undergraduate degree and MBA at the Carlson School of Management. She manages and writes for GopherHole.com
One of the reasons for the Gophers big win over Nebraska last Saturday was the physical play of its offense and its creative execution. Minnesota mixed in a hard-nose running attack with a combination of shifts at the line of scrimmage which kept the Huskers defense guessing and on the field. From Cobb’s monster game to Phillip Nelson lining up as a wide receiver only to take the snap for a quarterback sneak, Minnesota’s offense was a big difference maker. GopherHole's Nadine Babu caught up with Minnesota running backs coach Brian Anderson who detailed the effective line shifts, maturation of the running game and the team’s improved conditioning.
NB: You went from 165 to 430 total yards, and 30 to 271 rushing in a month since Iowa, what has changed?
BA: Finishing plays, and guys understanding what we're trying to get done. Not changing what we're doing, talking about finishing a good understanding of the blocking schemes and attention to detail.
NB: What happened during that Iowa game?
BA: Back then we had some success in the first four games, running the ball, and fine tuning things. After having four non-conference games, people are going to study that, and have an answer to that. We didn't have great vision on things, didn't have do a good job of finishing plays, and the result is not a lot of rushing yards when you don't do those things. Our tailbacks were doing a good job of pressing the line of scrimmage, and not varying off course to help the offensive line out, that's what we talked about as a running back group.
NB: How did you stay the course?
BA: Because we've been together so long as a group, as coaches. You go back to the basics, the fundamentals. You tell the kids to do that, and see what happens. We looked back and saw when we were having success, what did we do? It always goes back to the basics and fundamentals. Having that bye week was perfect timing, we were able to have a week to prepare. Coach Limegrover and Nate Griffin did a great job breaking it down, and cleaning it up.
NB: There were lots of shifts in offense this past game vs. Nebraska, what's the thought behind that?
BA: That's what we've always done, since we were at Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois, we need to get back to that. Kids have fun with that, that's a big part of that. We just wanted to get back into being us, and that's helped our offense tremendously, when you have that personnel to do those things with.
NB: What is different regarding the personnel from when you first began?
BA: A lot of them are the same kids, they are just maturing a lot more now. They understand what we're doing and trying to accomplish. We're still a young football team. That's the great thing about coaching this game, you have different guys coming together.
NB: Does Limegrover have more freedom to make less conservative calls with Kill out?
BA: Nothing has changed. It's according to what the game plan is. When you're not having success, it's hard, you are trying to stay the course. It's all about getting positive yards on the first down, if you're getting yards on the first down, it makes it easier. Nothing has really changed at all.
NB: How much audible flexibility do the quarterbacks have?
BA: They have some, not a lot, we are able to control a lot of it in how we call the game. We want guys out there playing, not thinking so much. There's just a little to keep everything honest and not in harm's way.
NB: Which QB helps the running game the most?
BA: They're both effective. You don't miss a beat with either one of them. Mitch bring mores of an inside presence, Phillip brings more of an outside presence, but they're both really good at running the ball.
NB: What has been the biggest change with the O-line the past few weeks?
BA: I think they're coming together as a unit, when you've got five guys up there they need to be on the same page and talk the same language. It's not just them in the previous weeks that had improvements to be made. You can see it come together up front and their communication is such a key, and that's made the big difference.
NB: Which redshirt freshman in offense has improved the most?
BA: Ben Lauer - he's come along really well. He brings a different toughness to our team. He's athletic for a big man, he's a smart football player, he's just really grown over the last year and is playing really well for us right now.
NB: Can you speak to the emergence of David Cobb, what changed? How did he step up?
BA: His apple was still green, and his apple is starting to turn red, it goes to the maturity part and paying attention to detail. He's athletic, strong, good vision, good hands, good patience, and it's just all coming together for him. He's always had that capability, it's been his work ethic, and it’s coming together. It's not completely red. I think he can be really good. He has a combination of a lot of different tailbacks I've been around. Showing him video from Saturday's game, if you don't have good footwork, that's a little thing, that can turn into a big thing, and trusting the guys up front. The sky is the limit for him, if he's a student of the game and continues to study the game.
NB: Is Donnell Kirkwood 100 percent now? How does it look like he'll finish the season?
BA: He's 100 percent. Last year with him, when he got hot, it was hard not to play him. Kirkwood has been great, he was on the sideline cheering "Cobb, finish the game, finish it off!" He's very valuable to us as a football player. They prepare themselves like they're all starters.
NB: How much of the off-season conditioning played a part in your recent success?
BA: Coach (Eric) Klein is one of the best strength coaches in the country. Our kids sometimes don't know how good of shape they're in. They bought into his system, and believe it in. We've been a good second half football team because of that. I give all the credit to Coach Kline and his staff.
NB: What built the confidence in the players in the past few games?
BA: A lot of it has to do with them trusting us. I show them video of former running backs running the same plays that we do not, showing them to trust me. Show that you care about them not just as football players, finding out about their families, football, etc. They gain confidence when you show confidence I them.
NB: Word on the street is Berkley Edwards bring a new dimension to the team - what does he bring?
BA: He does, he's fast. He's super fast. I'm looking forward to working with him this spring and get him in there, and see what he can do. He's a different back than the rest of them, a get it over back - he can hit the home run at any point in time.