Chip Scoggins is a Star Tribune sports columnist. He previously covered the Minnesota Vikings for four years, starting in 2008. In addition, he covered college football for five years. Chip has been with the Star Tribune since January 2000. He can be followed on twitter at @chipscoggins.

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Catching up with Greg Eslinger

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: September 20, 2012 - 12:45 PM

I had a chance to catchup with former Gophers center Greg Eslinger, a three-time All-American who won the Outland Trophy and Rimington Trophy during his terrific college career.

Eslinger spent three seasons in the NFL with Denver/Cleveland before retiring from football. He now lives in Fargo with his wife and three young sons, ages 4, 3 and six months.

"You miss a lot of the stuff [about football]," Eslinger said. "You mostly miss the locker room, especially this time of year. You obviously miss the sport, but it’s a little easier on my body what I’m doing now than what I was doing."
 
Eslinger works for a medical company that sells knee and hip replacements. He's present during surgery in case doctors have questions.
 
"I spend a lot of my days in cold OR rooms," he said.
 
Eslinger was one of the most competitive athletes I've ever covered and he's found an outlet for that post-football. He's lost about 70 pounds (he's down to 230) and competes in marathons and mini-triathlons. He's considering competing in a half triathlon next year.

Eslinger also will be inducted into his high school's Hall of Fame in Bismarck in a few weeks. His reaction was typical Eslinger, who always tried to avoid the spotlight as a player.

"I don’t know why they picked me," he said. "They had plenty of good choices from that school. They must have drew me from a hat or something."

Eslinger still watches most Gophers games on TV and tries to attend at least one game each season.
 
"Looks like Jerry Kill has them going in the right direction," he said.
 
Eslinger toured TCF Bank Stadium when he lived in Chaska a few years ago.
 
"Boy, it would have been really nice to play in that," he said. "Nothing against the Metrodome, but wow, that place is nice."
 
 
 
 

Gophers football coaches seek, share information

Posted by: Chip Scoggins under Gophers sports Updated: July 31, 2012 - 11:42 AM
The Gophers football team will hold its kickoff press conference on Thursday, followed by its first practice of fall camp on Saturday.
 
As part of preparation for the 2012 season, coach Jerry Kill and his staff visited with several schools around the country this offseason to gain some insight into how other programs operate in certain areas.
 
This is nothing new, of course. College coaches traditionally visit other programs during the spring to talk shop and see if they can glean anything that can be incorporated into their own program.
 
A steady stream of coaches used to visit former Gophers coach Glen Mason each offseason to see how his staff taught their zone blocking and running schemes.
 
“I think in any profession that you’re involved in, if you want to be the best at what you do, you better figure out how to be the best,” Kill said. “We try and study the best programs in the country every year, or some program that’s very similar to us or fits what we’re trying to do. Every year we’re going to visit a couple of college teams, a professional team. I’m going to reach out to a couple of different head coaches.”
 
As Phil Miller wrote this winter, several Gophers offensive coaches visited Baylor to see how that program used Robert Griffin III last season, looking for any wrinkle or idea that might work for MarQueis Gray and the offense as a whole. Quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski and wide receivers coach Pat Poore made that trip.
 
The defensive staff visited TCU and Mississippi State. The Gophers director of recruiting and director of player personnel visited Oklahoma State. In addition, Kill invited former Colorado State coach Sonny Lubick to spend a few days at the Gophers complex.
 
“At Colorado State, he won a whole lot of football games with not all the resources and did a great job,” Kill said. “I got a chance to spend time with him. He’s a very defensive minded football coach.”
 
A number of programs also visited the Gophers complex, including Toledo, Northern Illinois and Mississippi State.
 
“It’s like going to clinics,” Kill said. “You may listen for three hours and get one idea that may help your program, but it’s worth it at the end of the day.”
 
Kill has coached long enough that he has his own system, his own philosophy on how to run a program. He’s not going to rewrite his manual after visiting a particular school or coach. But he likes to see how his peers handle certain situations or larger program issues.
 
“You are who you are,” he said. “It’s like anything, you look at something that maybe can fit in to what you do. You don’t want to get a bunch of hodgepodge things that don’t fit into your [system].
 
“One of my questions when I visit with head coaches is, ‘Tell me about your academics, tell me how many people you have in academics, how many tutors do you have? What are you doing with your strength program? What are you doing in recruiting? Social networking, how do you utilize that to help you? How are you dealing with player discipline?’ Those are a lot of things you ask.”
 

Wild brass show commitment to winning

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: July 4, 2012 - 12:18 PM

Wild owner Craig Leipold, general manager Chuck Fletcher and the rest of the Wild decision-makers deserve a ton of praise today for winning the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter free-agent sweepstakes.

Leipold was determined to make bold moves this offseason and he's accomplished that in a big way. He committed nearly $200 million today to sign Parise and Suter. For Wild fans -- or any team's fans -- that's all you can ask of your owner.

Do whatever it takes to try and build a winner. Go after top free-agent targets. Don't be afraid to compete with the big boys in your sport.

Leipold is a diehard fan. I watched a preseason game in his suite last season and I can tell you he lives and dies with each shift. He wants to win badly and today's news demonstrates that.

Expectations for this team suddenly change now. This team has a core of Parise, Suter, Koivu, Heatley, Backstrom, Setoguchi and a crop of talented youngsters coming in. Fans will look at this team differently now.

Fletcher has put together a talented roster and it will be interesting to see how Mike Yeo makes it all fit when the Wild comes together in training camp.  

The Wild has some life and energy again. It has some buzz. They still have to prove that they can win on the ice, but their moves Wednesday show this team is determined to make that happen.  

 

 

Spielman plays it perfectly

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: April 26, 2012 - 9:24 PM

Rick Spielman is presiding over his first NFL Draft as Vikings general manager and the final authority on personnel decisions, and it's hard to imagine him having a better start.

Spielman played the information misdirection game perfectly leading up to Thursday's first round, which resulted in three extra draft picks and the guy the Vikings wanted all along, USC left tackle Matt Kalil.

All those rumors and speculation about their interest in LSU cornerback Mo Claiborne and Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon created the desired effect: Cleveland gave the Vikings three picks to trade spots, with the Vikings moving down to No. 4.

The Vikings made the most sensible choice in taking Kalil, who gives them a long-term answer at a critically important position.

Don't get me wrong, Claiborne is a tremendous talent, but all that speculation never made sense to me. Yes, the Vikings secondary was a mess last season and they desperately need to address that area in this draft, sooner than later. They absolutely must upgrade their talent at corner and safety.

But elite left tackles are harder to find that elite cornerbacks, and they had to make sure they surround second-year quarterback Christian Ponder with enough pieces to be successful. Kalil does that.

The scouting report on Kalil is that he's extremely athletic, has great feet and long arms.

"He's just a premier pass protector who will play for a long time," USC coach Lane Kiffin said.

Ultimately, Kalil was too talented to pass up. Yes, left tackles are not exactly a glamorous position but who cares? Kalil was a safe choice and the best choice.

The Vikings likely will shift their attention to cornerback and wide receiver now. Spielman set off enough smokescreens to keep everyone guessing the past week, but in the end, he made the right call. 

Nobody should have been surprised. It was a pretty easy decision. 

 

  

Summitt was one of a kind

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: April 18, 2012 - 3:29 PM

I knew all about Pat Summitt before I first met the legendary University of Tennessee women's basketball coach as a student reporter in 1990.

By then, her program was a national power and she had become a powerful presence in my home state. My high school gym teacher Zandra Morris played for Summitt so I heard many stories about how tough and demanding she was on her players.

I witnessed that firsthand on one of my first assignments at the UT student paper. I was working on a feature on a player, I can't even remember who now, but I do remember that Pat didn't like the tempo or energy at practice so she kicked her team off the floor early. She was not happy. I sat in the stands nervously wondering if I would get my interview or what kind of mood she would be in even if I did.

Summitt pointed at me, asked me to follow her and we went to her office. She proceeded to give me a wonderful interview. She was engaging and funny and insightful. It was, in essence, classic Summitt.

I recalled that story today after hearing news that Summitt has stepped down as coach after being diagnosed with early onset dementia last August. The news was not unexpected but it comes with great sadness for anyone who loves college basketball, or, like me, understands the impact Summitt has had on the Volunteer state.

Too often in sports we use the terms legend and icon loosely, but in Summitt's case it absolutely applies. She served as UT's head coach for 38 years. Think about that for a second -- 38 years.

She won eight national championships and 1,098 games. She led her team to 18 Final Four appearances and, according to the AP story, every player who completed her eligibility left UT with a diploma.

Pat -- that's what her players call her even -- made women's basketball popular inside my home state at a time when the sport received little support or fanfare elsewhere. She always conducted herself with class and her teams reflected her personality: they played incredibly hard, were tough and defense came first.

She is a straight shooter who expects a lot and gives even more. She cares deeply about UT and our state. She's a winner in every sense.

We always said that Pat could run for governor in Tennessee and win in a landslide because people admire everything that she stands for. Case in point: my mom isn't much of a sports fan, but she loves Summitt, Lady Vols basketball and tries to watch any game that's on national TV. 

I always enjoyed watching her coach. She'd pace the sidelines with that look on her face, an intense stare that could burn a hole through you. Sometimes it was hard to tell if the Lady Vols were winning or losing. But her players love her. That's evident and it shows that coaches can be both incredibly demanding and caring if they're fair.

Summitt also has a playful side. She once dressed up in a cheerleader outfit, grabbed a microphone and sang Rocky Top at center court during timeout of a men's game. Can you imagine another coach doing that, much less a Hall of Famer?

People always have wondered whether Summitt could have coached men's basketball. Why stop there? In my opinion, she could have coached other sports too because leaders are leaders and the great ones know how to get the most out of their players. That's what Summitt did.

I haven't seen or talked to Summitt since I left UT, but I've remained a big fan over the years. Her presence in Tennessee remains larger than life and I'm certain there's a great deal of sadness back home today.

It's sad that her career ends like this, but the impact she's had on so many people and the pride she brought my state will last forever. For that, we're grateful.

 

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