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.
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
I was out last night enjoying a lovely dinner and catching up with a friend. When I finally checked my phone when I got home, I was alarmed to see countless texts from Gopher Football fans who were irate about the home opener vs. UNLV on August 29th. I thought to myself, “what could fans be upset about? It's less than a month away and there has been so much excitement surrounding the team. Most of us just wish we could skip the month of August so we could attend our 1st Gopher football game of the year!” But then I read this thread on www.GopherHole.com:
It's not just a rumor, as the 2013 Game Day guide that I received today (and had previously been excited for) included the following information about the UNLV game:
Basically, for this rare and coveted night game, the tailgate lots will not be open until 3pm, leaving only 3 hours for people to tailgate. You typically get 6 hours for Gopher football games after 2:30pm, and 4 hours for 11am games. Aside from the fact that people in parking lots near the stadium who are paying $1000-$2500 for their tailgate spot don’t appreciate being robbed of those extra hours, this also hurts the wider game day atmosphere. We have heard repeatedly that the U is trying to improve the lackluster game day atmosphere. If that’s true, then this is certainly NOT the way to do it.
Additionally, the normal football parking lot near the State Fairground will not be open for UNLV game parking (seemingly due to the State Fair). Anyone with a season pass for this lot will be issued a spot in the Washington Avenue Ramp, which means that they will not be able to tailgate before the game. This decision was not made prior to the season ticket renewal process and season ticket holders in the St. Paul lot purchased their parking thinking they would be able to tailgate for all 7 home games.
Beyond the logistical issues affecting parking and tailgating, this decision impacts Gopher fans on more personal levels as well. For instance, many people took off a full day of work for this game so that they could enjoy an afternoon of tailgating. Had they known the parking lots wouldn’t open until 3pm, they could have just ducked out from work a little early to make it instead. And with the game less than a month away, not everyone will be able to change their schedules to recoup the wasted PTO.
The displeasure extends beyond the Gopher Hole. Here is a small sampling of the upset fans I’ve seen on Twitter:
For those of you who have read my blog, you'll see that 99% of the time when I address a problem like this, I also list a number of solutions. But I’m not going to do that today. The list of options for improving the game day atmosphere for this game is not complex. It would be great if the powers that be at the U could follow through on their words and actually effect a positive change instead of implementing an option that will have the opposite effect.
What’s also maddening is how they quietly included this important detail in the Game Day Guide instead of proactively publicizing it. They could have issued a press release stating the reasoning behind the decision which explained all of the avenues the U had exhausted before coming to this decision. If that had been the case, I think people would be more understanding of the move even if they disagreed with it. Instead, fans are left feeling frustrated and misled as the sweet feeling of receiving their season tickets in the mail turns sour.
Unless you live under a rock, I'm sure you are aware that Tubby Smith was fired today. The news first leaked this morning on GopherHole.com: http://www.forums.gopherhole.com/boards/showthread.php?45533-Tubby-will-be-fired-this-morning . One of the posters, Ozzy&Ray, was the first to mention it, and I was able to receive confirmation that Tubby indeed, was out. Jeff Goodman from CBS reported it a few hours later. Now that you're all caught up, let's get to the good part: debating whether or not it was the right thing to do.
Let's start by looking at some basic fact on how Tubby Smith has done at the University of Minnesota:
6 Seasons as Minnesota Head Coach
124-81 Overall Record
3 NCAA Tournaments, 2 NIT appearances
5 20-win seasons
Wins over 17 ranked teams
Big Ten Record 46-62
Home Record 81-25
Big Ten Records at Minnesota
Postseason Finishes at Minnesota
2007-08 NIT First Round
2008-09 NCAA Round of 64
2009-10 NCAA Round of 64
2011-12 NIT Finalist
2012-13 NCAA Round of 32
2012-13 Season in Review
Recorded first NCAA Tournament win since 1997*
Beat No. 1 team for first time since 1989
5th 20-win season in last 6 years
*First non-vacated NCAA Tournament win since 1990
Big Ten Finishes
2007-08 8-10 6th
2008-09 9-9 7th (tie)
2009-10 9-9 6th
2010-11 6-12 9th
2011-12 6-12 9th (tie)
2012-13 8-10 7th (tie)
ESPN.com had a poll earlier today asking if the University of Minnesota had made the right decision in firing Tubby. Earlier this evening there were 16,000 votes, and 79% said no. I've had a number of people today that aren't Gopher fans say the same thing...why would you fire Tubby after you won your 1st non-vacated NCAA? However, anyone that follows the program closely looks at more than just an overall record, or one win during March Madness. That was something that Norwood Teague focused closely on during his press conference yesterday. He said, "We made this decision based on an evaluation of the overall body of work, and once we did, we decided to move swiftly in order to find the best coach and the best fit for our student athletes and the program in general."
There is a body of work to look at…
Transfers - When you look at the players that have transferred (for one reason or another from the program) you look at a group of very talented players that have flourished at others schools. Colton Iverson (Colorado State), Justin Cobbs (Cal), Devoe Joseph (Oregon), Royce White (Iowa State), Paul Carter (Illinois-Chicago), and Chip Armelin (Southern Miss). You can debate why some of them transferred, but the theme here is that they've all done extremely well at their schools (aside from Armelin who is sitting out due to his redshirt transfer year) and have developed in ways we hadn't seen them under Tubby. Iverson languished for years behind Ralph Sampson III but averaged nearly a double-double this season for Larry Eustachy, leading the Rams to the NCAA Third Round.
When you look at the talent Tubby has developed, he went to 2 out of the 3 NCAA appearances with Dan Monson's players. Blake Hoffarber, Damian Johnson, and Al Nolen were three of the best players in Tubby's tenure. I make it a rule to not single out college players as much as possible, but let's just say that Tubby has not sufficiently developed many high potential guys.
Revnue/Ticket sales - When you have a big time Coach like Tubby Smith, you pay the big bucks because they are suppose to draw in a lot of revenue. However, as I wrote about in an earlier blog (http://www.startribune.com/sports/gophers/176987511.html), after the spike in ticket sales when Tubby was first hired, they have steadily declined. Public basketball ticket sales have dropped 20.68% and student season ticket sales are down 37.45% since 2007. What's almost as bothersome as ticket sale dropping, is the fact that Tubby never really seemed to connect with the fans and the student body to get people to games. You look at Jerry Kill, in a short time, he's already bought the student section lunch and gone around every Friday before games handing out tickets, asking students to come to games, and connecting with fans. Tubby almost seemed to have that big school mentality that he developed at Kentucky, but Minnesota is much different. College basketball isn't the only show in town, and if people are spending good money and their time, they need a good product on the floor. I doubt Tubby ever had to sell a ticket at Kentucky, it would have helped if he had at Minnesota.
Conference play, and particularly, play in February. In the past 3 years we've gone 5-17 in the Big 10 in February...that's not exactly the kind of results you want when you're competing to get into the NCAA tournament or contend for the Big Ten title. Tubby also never finished above 6th in the Big 10 in 6 seasons. These are just a few key elements, not even digging deep into the play calling, recruiting, and subbing patterns.
We're at a crossroads, either you reward mediocrity (and I'm using that term generously) or you move on. Norwood Teague made the well thought out decision to move on, and take the basketball program in a new direction. If you were not able to listen to his press conference yesterday, you can see the full transcript here: http://www.forums.gopherhole.com/boards/showthread.php?45551-Notes-from-Teague-s-press-conference-regarding-Tubby-Smith-firing&p=684688#post684688
I was extremely impressed hearing Teague talk about the rationale behind his decision as he framed his long term vision for the program. He doesn't make excuses, he doesn't apologize. I have come to the conclusion that he made the correct decision to let Tubby go...the bigger decision he will have to make is who to hire. The wrong hire can take a decent program into a black hole. However, I do have faith in Teague and know that he knows basketball and knows how to create a successful program. He will not hire a Brewster...at least we hope not. There are some good options out there, and Rob Litt from GopherHole did a great job of putting a top 10 (realistic) list here: http://www.gopherhole.com/news_article/show/240405?referrer_id=331171
With this being said, I thank Tubby Smith for the 6 seasons he gave to the University of Minnesota. He ran a clean program with class, he brought national recognition to it, and left it in good shape. Like Dan Monson, I hope he finds a good fit and look forward to following his career.
Twitter: @NadineBabu www.twitter.com/nadinebabu