Hartman: Despite loss, ESPN's Vitale likes much about Gophers

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 17, 2013 - 11:45 PM

The ESPN broadcaster believes the Gophers have the talent and toughness to be a factor at tournament time.

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Dick Vitale tosses a souvenir ball to a fan on the balcony at the Crystal Court in downtown Minneapolis in 2006.

Photo: Richard Tsong -Taatarii, Star Tribune

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Despite turning the ball over 10 times in the first half and losing 83-75 to Michigan at Williams Arena on Thursday night, the Gophers basketball team impressed the one and only Dick Vitale. The game was carried nationwide on ESPN.

"I think Minnesota is going to have a very good year," Vitale said. "They're very physical. They have to avoid those negative spurts, like they had against Indiana, and they had a negative spurt here, when Michigan took advantage of it. They have a lot of talent, they're well coached, and they should have a big year, but you don't want to lose at home."

Vitale added: "Absolutely they'll be an NCAA [tournament] team; they have a chance to create a lot of damage. They're a talented team.

"I liked their physical toughness, I liked their guard play. They have guys that can shoot, they have a star in [Rodney] Williams. I think they have to go inside more to Williams and [Trevor] Mbakwe."

Vitale also said some good things about junior guard Austin Hollins, who scored a team-high 21 points and helped the Gophers cut a 19-point deficit to as little as seven at 77-70 with 2:40 remaining.

"[The Gophers] have a lot of players to like," he said.

Kiffin liked Bradley

Gus Bradley, the Zumbrota, Minn., native who was named head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday, was a punter and defensive back at North Dakota State, playing on the 1988 Division II national championship team. He got his coaching start in 1990 as a North Dakota State graduate assistant, then spent another 10 years as a Bison assistant coach from 1996-2006.

He moved to the NFL in 2007 as a defensive quality control coach for Tampa Bay, becoming good friends with then-Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.

Kiffin -- who was Vikings linebackers coach from 1986-89 and 1992-94 and the team's defensive coordinator in 1991 -- worked closely with Bradley and recommended him as a defensive coordinator candidate for Seattle when then-Seahawks coach Jim Mora hired Bradley in 2009.

That year, Mora told the Star Tribune: "I became aware of Gus when Monte Kiffin called me and told me he was one of the best football coaches he has ever been around. I interviewed Gus. Our philosophy meshed, our personalities meshed. I loved his energy, his enthusiasm, his knowledge of the game."

Still, Bradley's hiring came as a surprise because many thought Jacksonville General Manager Dave Caldwell was heavily considering hiring his college roommate, Greg Roman, the offensive coordinator of the 49ers. Roman has been unavailable to interview with Jacksonville because San Francisco is still alive in postseason play.

But Bradley's credentials as a defensive wizard must have convinced Jaguars management that he could turn around their struggling defensive unit, which ranked 30th in the NFL in total defense (380.5 yards per game) and 29th in points allowed (27.8) last season.

Under Bradley, the Seahawks ranked No. 1 in the NFL in points allowed this season (15.3) and was fourth in yards allowed (306.2). Seattle also had 31 takeaways, which tied for fourth-best in the NFL.

Familiar with Cutler

In the news conference Thursday introducing Marc Trestman as head coach of the Chicago Bears, General Manager Phil Emery said: "Not only does he adapt to personnel, he adapts to situations. ... Do not underestimate Marc Trestman as a competitor."

Emery said the other finalist for the job was Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.

"I do feel the passion," Trestman said. "I do feel the urgency and boy, do I feel the commitment to win."

No doubt Trestman's familiarity with Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and his success as head coach with the Montreal Alouettes played big parts in his appointment over others, including former Vikings and current Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who Emery said lost out because he hadn't been a head coach.

Trestman said he met Cutler 10 years ago at a workout in North Carolina and worked him out before the NFL combine in 2006.

Talking about his most recent meeting with Cutler, Trestman said: "He is a different person. He is in tune with where he is and where he wants to go."

Cutler, who has had trouble getting along with Bears offensive coordinators, applauded the naming of Trestman, saying: "I think, in every aspect of a coach, we got it right. We are going to hit the ground running."

Jottings

• Because a lot of the media were comparing Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson with former Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton, Tarkenton called the Vikings last week before their playoff game and asked if they would call Seahawks coach Pete Carroll to ask if he could arrange a meeting with Wilson.

• Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said he isn't surprised to see former Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick having a great second year for the 49ers. "He was at the Senior Bowl two years ago and really had a fine week down there," Musgrave recalled. "Like we do, we interview each and every player down there in Mobile [Alabama] during that week, and [he was] a very engaging young man. You could tell he had a very bright future. He had a fantastic career, as we know, at Nevada, both throwing and running. A terrific young man."

• Outfielder Oswaldo Arcia, Twins minor league player of the year, and righthander B.J. Hermsen, Twins minor league pitcher of the year, will be among over 60 former, present and potentially future Twins players at TwinsFest on Jan. 25-27 at the Metrodome.

• Gophers freshman guard Wally Ellenson won the state high jump title two years in a row competing for Rice Lake, Wis. His 2012 regional meet jump of 7 feet, 1 inch tied for the nation's best mark by a high school athlete that year and was only 2 inches shy of the Olympic trials qualifying standard. Ellenson has said he doesn't plan to compete for the Gophers track team, but I expect he will change his mind.

• Former Minnesota Transitions star Kevin Noreen grabbed 10 rebounds in West Virginia's 69-67 loss at Iowa State on Wednesday. Noreen, a 6-10 sophomore forward, is averaging 8.0 rebounds per game in Big 12 play. In those four games, he has attempted only three shots.

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. • shartman@startribune.com

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