Comparing the Gophers football team Jerry Kill took over in 2011 to the group that will start practice on Saturday, the 2012 team is superior in every respect: academically, in athletic ability and in whatever makes a good football program.
A year ago the roster had over 20 ineligible players. Now Kill has a squad that has all of its players doing well academically and boasts one of the highest collective grade-point averages of any football team in the Big Ten.
Several junior college transfers, redshirt players and true freshman have been added to fill holes that existed a year ago. Believe me, the overall talent available is much better.
Another important factor in the Gophers' improvement is that the coaching staff is intact for the second consecutive year. Former Gophers quarterback Adam Weber had four different offensive coordinators, and the defense had three different defensive coordinators under former coaches Glen Mason and Tim Brewster.
Kill talked about the importance of staff continuity.
"I think the most important thing, as a head coach or an assistant coach or our strength coach, is we've got continuity," Kill said. "We didn't lose any of that continuity, so the vision stays the same. I think [players and coaches] are much more comfortable with each other, and what we are trying to establish is much better."
Kill had three assistant coaches turn down good job offers to stay with him.
"There's going to be a time or two, certainly I've got a couple guys that have been head coaches, and I'm sure they're going to want their opportunity someday," Kill said. "We're going to do everything we can to help them, but we certainly don't want to lose assistant coaches to other assistant coaches [positions] somewhere else."
Kill added: "We've been able to hang in there this year. I think it has been a great year for the University of Minnesota in that we have our whole academic team, our whole strength team, training room, equipment room and coaching staff, probably all of us are back for the first time in a long time. I think that's the direction our program is going. I think our administration understands that for us to turn a program around, we have to keep as much continuity as we can. We'll lose a few along the way, but hopefully we can keep the bulk of coaches with us."
Being close to the Gophers football program and following it 12 months a year, believe me, there is no comparison between what Kill inherited and the position, academically and athletically, the program is in today.
The best thing that happened to former athletic director Joel Maturi is that a number of head coaches turned down the chance to succeed Brewster and Kill got the job. I go back to the Bernie Bierman days, and no single coach ran a better overall program from every standpoint than Kill.
"I just think I was very honest a year ago and where we're at now we're a year older, even though we only have 10 seniors and we have a young team," Kill said. "I think it's a hungry group of kids that want to do well. I think that we have a chance to be better. You have to prove that on the field, and that's the bottom line, but I'm cautiously optimistic about our season this year, and we'll see how it goes."
Murray was an icon
The downtown Minneapolis community lost a real leader when Pat Murray, owner of Murray's Restaurant, passed away this past week at age 72. He took time away from taking care of his own place to help other businesses survive, one reason the Minneapolis downtown is as prosperous as it is.
I've known Pat since he took over the business when his mother and dad died. They don't make them any better than Pat Murray. He will really be missed.
•Through three games in the Summer Olympics, new Timberwolves forward Andrei Kirilenko is the second-leading scorer, averaging 23.3 points per game for Russia. Perhaps more impressive is that Kirilenko is shooting 68 percent from the field, going 26-for-38. Kirilenko's teammate on the Russian national squad and future Timberwolves teammate, Alexey Shved, is leading all players in assists by averaging 8.3 per game.
•Chaska native Brad Hand has gone 2-1 with a 2.24 ERA over his past five starts with the New Orleans Zephyrs, the Miami Marlins' Class AAA club. He has allowed only eight runs over his last 32 2/3 innings while striking out 32 and walking nine. Hand is 8-5 this season with a 3.66 ERA and 116 strikeouts in 128 innings.
•Former Gophers pitcher Seth Rosin was part of a three-player package that the San Francisco Giants sent to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Hunter Pence. Rosin posted a 4.31 ERA with 68 strikeouts and only 18 walks over 56 1/3 innings for San Jose, the Giants' high Class A team.
•Rochester Century standout Mitch Brown, who was selected in the second round of the draft by Cleveland this year, has posted a 2.25 ERA through three starts with the Indians of the Arizona Rookie League. Brown has six strikeouts and two walks and has given up two earned runs through eight innings.
•Former Gopher Mike Kvasnicka has been on a tear recently for the Lexington Legends, the Astros' Class A squad. Over his past 10 games Kvasnicka is hitting .316 with two doubles, three home runs, 11 RBI and eight runs scored. The catcher has raised his batting average to .232 and now has 15 home runs and 52 RBI this season.
•Former Centennial high school standout Austin Malinowski is pitching well for the Gulf Coast League Twins. Malinowski has appeared in seven games with three starts and has a 3-1 record and 1.66 ERA over 21 2/3 innings. He has struck out 21 while allowing only five walks.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org