Joe Christensen covered Major League Baseball for 15 years, including three seasons at the Baltimore Sun and eight at the Star Tribune, before switching to the college football beat. He’s a Faribault, Minn., native who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He covered Jim Wacker’s Gophers for the Minnesota Daily and also wrote about USC, UCLA and the Rose Bowl for the Riverside Press-Enterprise before getting this chance to cover football again.
Email Joe to talk about the Gophers.
Among the many tapes he analyzed Sunday, coach Jerry Kill watched the recording of his team's sideline, in order to evaluate body language of the players, coaches and staff members not on the field. And what was his opinion?
"We did a little extra running" because of it, Kill said.
The Gophers are learning quickly that their coach watches everything, and he saw some activity that he wants corrected, Kill said Tuesday.
"I thought there was a group that did a great job, and we had a group that could have done better," Kill said. "You can tell when players come off frustrated. It doesn't mean you get on them, but if you've got a kid that's frustrated, sometimes you don't se that as a coach. So then you can talk to him on Sunday, or even after the game, say, 'Hey, we understand you're a competitor, but you've got to play with great composure."
Kill said he even judged his own performance. "I did an OK job for awhile, and there were a few times I didn't do so good, either, didn't hold my composure. So we all need to be evaluated sometimes and held accountable."
Kill chased an official onto the field after USC cornerback Torin Harris intercepted Max Shortell's pass on Minnesota's final drive, and berated another official as play resumed.
"Everybody said, 'Boy, coach got after that official,' but you never know what I'm saying down there. I might have been asking him if he had a hot date that night," Kill joked, adding that he has never been flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. "Aggressive football is aggressive football, so I'm not going to moan and groan about it. You know, that kid made a good interception and he made an aggressive play, and if I was on the other side of it, we'd be coaching that aggressive play."
It was interesting to hear Jerry Kill talk on Wednesday about how little control coaches have over their players off the field, and how hard he and his staff work to educate the players so they don't get into trouble. "We're responsible for 105 kids," he said. "Can I tell you once they leave this building every single thing they do? There's no way."
He was mostly talking about taking illegal benefits, since the question was about his reaction to the University of Miami's long list of alleged violations, but the Gophers' coach began speaking about how he keeps his cell phone next to his bed, and how it seems like someone calls with a problem almost every night.
"There's some kid, maybe they lost their mom, maybe they got sick, maybe they broke up with their girlfriend," Kill said. "I'm like a doctor on call."
There have been no major off-field incidents involving Kill's players since he took over at Minnesota, and he has counseled the Gophers endlessly about avoiding such problems. But Kill knows all too well that college kids sometimes get into trouble no matter who the coach is or how much they are lectured.
Kill had been on the job only four months at Emporia State a dozen years ago, when he got the worst call of all: One of his players, freshman linebacker Brian Wagner, had been driving around Emporia with a friend when they pulled into the parking lot of a local bar to talk to some other friends. Wagner soon became involved in a confrontation, which escalated into a brawl. When the police arrived, Wagner was lying unconscious, beaten and kicked until he was comatose. Six days later, the teenager died.
Kill was still learning who his players were, and vice versa, when the fight occurred, and already he faced a crisis. Not only did he have to console his shocked team, but he had to keep a bad situation from escalating, since there apparently were players who discussed taking revenge on Wagner's assailants. (Three men were eventually arrested and convicted of involuntary manslaughter for the crime.)
Through it all, and though still grieving over the death of his father a few months earlier, Kill managed to keep his team focused on football when they needed to. Though using mostly inexperienced players, Kill led the Hornets to a 5-6 record that fall.
"It's probably the best job of coaching he ever did, considering everything he was dealing with that year," said Kill's younger brother Frank, who attended most of Emporia State's games. "They didn't have a lot of talent, and they went through so much -- that murder was really a big, emotional issue around town -- but he got them to play pretty good football."
CHICAGO -- The Gophers may be a consensus pick for last place in the Legends Division of the Big Ten, but one member of the media disagrees.
Some TV talking head named Tim Brewster.
"I think it's very evident they have a lot of talent there," said Brewster, who recruited much of it before being fired as Minnesota's head coach last Oct. 17. "I was very much looking forward to coaching that team this year, because I felt like it was going to be our best team. It's a really talented group of kids."
Instead of coaching them, he'll be watching them from afar, as he focuses on his new life as a sideline reporter for Fox. Brewster, who went 15-30 in four seasons at Minnesota, will work a college game each week and probably an NFL game or two. "I'm really excited," Brewster said as he helped with the network's coverage of the Big Ten media day. "It's the first time in 25 years I won't be coaching, but I'm really looking forward to meeting with coaches, watching games, going to practices. I'm going to try to offer an analytical approach to football."
Seven months after his tenure at Minnesota ended, Tim Brewster is finally breaking his media silence.
"I poured my heart and soul into that situation in Minnesota and I was disappointed with how it ended," Brewster told Naples (Fla.) Daily News reporter Woody Wommack in a story posted on the paper's website Friday. "But I'm a positive guy and you're not going to keep me down long."
That he's been quiet this long is surprise enough. The former Gophers coach, fired Oct. 17 after a 1-6 start to the season, has refused all interview requests from Minnesota reporters since that day, content to remain out of sight at his Naples home.
But the 50-year-old Brewster, who will apparently be out of football this fall for the first time since 1985, has been visiting high school spring football practices in Fort Myers lately, and told Wommack "I want to get back into coaching."
He was a finalist for the head-coaching job at Texas State in January, a job that went to Dennis Franchione, who coincidentally was the football mentor to Brewster's Gopher successor, Jerry Kill. Now Brewster, 15-30 in 3 1/2 seasons with the Gophers, plans to stay in Florida until jobs come open again at the end of the year.
Brewster and a couple of other fired coaches, ex-Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez and former Kansas coach Mark Mangino, traveled around the state last week watching high school practices, the newspaper said, and Brewster said he was impressed with what he saw.
He even addressed the players at Immokalee High, lecturing them on the importance of academics.
"I've tried to get out to see some of the top players down here," Brewster told the Daily News. "I've got a little free time, and it's been a lot of fun to get out and watch."
Thomas Hammock served as Minnesota's co-offensive coordinator on Tim Brewster's staff last year. In order to pursue a similar job, Hammock has decided to leave the Gophers.
Hammock, running backs coach at Minnesota since 2007 and the only assistant coach retained after Brewster's firing, has been hired at Wisconsin after realizing, according to new Gophers coach Jerry Kill, that the stability of Kill's staff means he likely would not have a chance to assume that role again anytime soon.
"It had to do with advancement in his career," Kill said in a statement released by the university that also announced the promotion of Brian Anderson to fill Hammock's role with the running backs. "Thomas felt the stability of our coordinator situation meant that the opportunity to advance from running backs coach to offensive coordinator would come quicker at Wisconsin."
"Thomas is a coach I have watched grow," Badgers coach Bret Bielema said of Hammock, who was a graduate assistant at Wisconsin from 2003-04. "I first met Thomas when I was the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin eight years ago, and I have been impressed with his coaching ability and work ethic ever since."
Hammock had a reputation as a strong recruiter, and took over the offensive coordinator role by himself when Jeff Horton was promoted to head coach after Brewster's firing.
The departure means Kill has found a slot on his coaching staff for Anderson, who has been one of his on-field assistants since 2001 at Southern Illinois. Anderson has coached wide receivers and tight ends for Kill in the past, but accepted a job as defensive quality control assistant when Kill was hired at Minnesota.
"Brian had every right to be upset with me when I asked him to take an off-the-field position here," Kill said. "But he swallowed it up for the team. I told him if he came here and something like this happened, then I don't have to worry about the transition."
-- Hammock wasn't the only ex-Brewster assistant hired Wednesday. John Butler, who handled linebackers and special teams for the Gophers for four years, accepted the special-teams coordinator job with South Carolina.
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