After a house has burned to the ground, modern fire investigators can sift through the wreckage and find the candle or cigarette that started the blaze.
If this Gophers football season and Tim Brewster's head coaching career are smoldering like Dumpster fires by November, don't be distracted by the smoke. Remember that the cause is buried beneath a layer of soot.
The telltale ember, in this case, will have been Brewster's hiring of offensive coordinators.
If Brewster fails this season, he can blame his hiring of Jedd Fisch. If Brewster succeeds this season, he can credit Fisch's departure.
When Brewster arrived in Dinkytown, he promised us the Rose Bowl. As someone who had never worked as a head coach or coordinator above the high school level, Brewster offered one prominent reason to consider him credible: He hired Mike Dunbar, the gruff spread-offense guru from Cal, as his first offensive coordinator.
The only consolation in Brewster's 1-11 debut season was the work Dunbar did with redshirt freshman quarterback Adam Weber. During Brewster's 7-6 second season, Weber often played like a star.
While Weber was taking advantage of the open running spaces and quick passing options offered in the spread, Brewster was touting his recruiting abilities. His best recruit to date has been a classic spread-offense quarterback, MarQueis Gray.
After the end of the 2008 season, these were Brewster's best building blocks: Two talented spread-offense quarterbacks and a talented offensive coordinator.
Then Brewster dumped Dunbar and hired the remarkably inexperienced Fisch. Instead of having a wise old head like Dunbar to rely on, Brewster suddenly saw his inexperience compounded by the naivete of his new offensive coordinator.
Fisch made Weber throw baseballs, to improve his mechanics. Apparently, Weber was using Pat Neshek as his role model.
Fisch installed a pro-style offense, which limited Weber's ability to improvise on the run. He filled Weber's head with so much jargon that Weber, a third-year starter, had trouble calling plays before the play clock ran down.
With a veteran quarterback and the best receiver in the Big Ten, in Eric Decker, the Gophers finished last in the conference in total offense, while Weber had his worst season.
Fisch left the Gophers to become the quarterbacks coach for the Seattle Seahawks. Brewster replaced him with Jeff Horton.
Horton's job description is simple: Salvage Weber's career and, in doing so, salvage Brewster's career.
Asked about his new-look offense, Brewster said, "I don't think it's going to look a lot different. Hopefully our execution will be better, our ability to run the ball will be better ...
"But I don't think you're going to see a wholesale change in how it looks. It's a pro-style offense.''
Tonight, Brewster begins his fourth season as a head coach. His record is 14-24. His Big Ten record is 6-18. His record against traditional rivals is 0-9. His record against ranked opponents is 0-8. He has employed three offensive and three defensive coordinators in his four seasons.
From the outside, the program seems a mess. Brewster, of course, disagrees.
"What we've tried to do is really build a great base, a great foundation for our program,'' he said. "And we've taken the steps necessary to have the type of program that can legitimately say we've got a chance to compete for a championship as we move forward.
"There's a lot of talented young players in this program right now. It's a much different looking team than the one we inherited.''
Horton will have to do exceptional work this season to make that sentence sound like something other than a punch-line.
Jim Souhan can be heard at 10-noon Sunday on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • firstname.lastname@example.org