Jim Souhan: Kill wisely steers clear of hype at U's spring 'game'

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 25, 2011 - 1:31 AM

The game evolved as a lemon that the new Gophers coach sold as is.

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You need a lot of quotation marks to write about what happened Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium, where the Gophers played their "spring" "football" "game."

Spring? Except it felt like November.

Football? Sure, without punts, kickoffs or quarterbacks getting tackled.

Game? If one team scrimmaging itself in front of a couple of thousand fans while the coach stands behind the offensive huddle and the scoreboard doesn't register scores, then, sure, it was a "game."

For people who became accustomed to Tim Brewster's bluster and haven't found the right 12-step program to wean themselves off of it, the most interesting aspect of the afternoon came when new coach Jerry Kill held a press conference to "rally" the faithful.

Artfully woven into his platitudes were these assessments:

This team lacks depth.

This team lacks speed.

MarQueis Gray, easily the squad's most impressive and important player, is still learning how to play quarterback.

That's what Kill said. What I heard was, "Don't get your hopes up yet, people."

We are all inevitably compared to our predecessors and peers, and Kill is currently benefiting from his juxtaposition to Brewster.

Brewster predicted Rose Bowls. Kill has artfully lowered expectations while simultaneously raising his likeability, a shrewd move for someone who understands how many light years this program is from Pasadena.

"We need more speed and more athleticism," Kill said. "That's something I've said from the beginning when I came in. And we just have to increase it. That's not going to happen overnight and we will keep plugging along. We're going to have to utilize the talent that we have and I think we can."

It is said of great coaches that "You don't want to be the guy who replaces the guy, you want to be the guy who replaces the guy who replaced the guy." At Minnesota, you simply want to be the guy who replaces the guy.

When we were first introduced to Kill, he recalled the reaction of himself and his coaches when the Northern Illinois bus pulled up to TCF Bank Stadium last fall, how he felt like they were visiting the big-time.

Saturday gave Kill a reminder that architecture doesn't always reflect stature. This beautiful college football stadium held a smattering of fans. There wasn't much noise, and when the scrimmage ended, fans didn't cheer, instead filing out as if they had just seen a movie that put them to sleep.

The Big Ten Network plans to run its broadcast of the "game" Sunday night. Not exactly Ohio State treatment.

The day of Kill's introductory news conference, he sounded like a candidate for the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. Saturday, he just sounded blue collar.

"It was certainly great to work with the kids over the past practices and get in our 15th and final practice today," he said. "I look forward to watching the tape and evaluating how they did and their technique and fundamentals. But it's been a good thing. We'd like to turn around and have 15 more practices, but we can't. I do think that there is progress being made. Infant steps."

What Kill seems to recognize is that false hope won't do him any good. Given the state of the program and how Brewster's bluster backfired, Kill has already succeeded as a public figure.

The day he was hired, the vocal Gophers faithful hated him. By the end of his introductory press conference, the vocal Gophers faithful had decided to give him a chance.

Today, by merely avoiding saying anything stupid, Kill has become the most popular figure in Gopherland since Brewster and Tubby Smith brought different forms of optimism to Minnesota in 2007.

Considering the task ahead, Kill will probably be downplaying expectations again at next year's "spring" "football" "game."

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2:40 p.m. on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is Souhanstrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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