Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968. He has been a Star Tribune sports columnist since 1988. His sportswriting credo is twofold: 1. God will provide an angle; 2. The smaller the ball, the better the writing.


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Gophs in good shape almost across the board

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: February 9, 2014 - 11:09 AM

My long resume as a media house man for the Gophers probably doesn’t make it a surprise that I offered an endorsement in Sunday’s Star Tribune for the potential offered with Jerry Kill and Rich Pitino as the stewards of the Gophers’ two profit-center programs: football and men’s basketball.

The suggestion that Kill and Pitino were the best tandem in these areas “in decades’’ could be disputed by looking back to Glen Mason’s arrival to join Clem Haskins in 1997.

That dispute ends when you recall that Clem was run off by the academic fraud dustup in the summer of 1999, and Mason was 8-15 after two seasons at the time.

Lou Holtz and Jim Dutcher had the look of a solid pair in 1984 and 1985, but then Holtz bailed for Notre Dame and Dutcher quit in January 1986 after the administration chose to forfeit a game at Northwestern in the wake of a rape allegation against three of his players (later acquitted).

Admittedly, this could be a stepping-stone job for young Pitino and the partnership with Kill could become a blip on the Gophers’ radar, but for now, you can look at football and men’s basketball without grumbling about either of the men in charge.

They also are the lead ponies on a U of M athletic program that is looking very strong in the featured programs. This is the case even as complaints over inadequate facilities and a campaign is launched to raise 10s of millions for practice meccas for football and basketball, and for other structures.

Ignore the revenue and non-revenue aspect and I would classify five sports for men and five sports for women as “featured.’’ In order, they would football, basketball, hockey, wrestling and baseball for the men, and basketball, volleyball, hockey, soccer and softball for the women.

The only sport among those 10 that appears to be in need of an overhaul is women’s basketball. My read is that Pam Borton has to win a pair of games in the NCAA tournament to save her job, and the Gophers were 3-6 and in 10th place in the Big Ten heading into today’s game with Illinois.

Athletic Director Norwood Teague has few worries elsewhere, when it comes to winning, losing and leadership.

Don Lucia appears to have the most-talented hockey team in the country and has a big shot to win a national title for the first time in 11 years. Brad Frost’s women are No. 1 with a bullet and heavily favored to win a third straight national title, even with star scorer and Patty Kazmeier winner Amanda Kessel is occupied this winter with the Olympic team.

Wrestling coach J Robinson arrived in the fall of 1985, turned the Gophers into the national powerhouse and is there again this winter. The No. 3-ranked Gophers wrestled No. 1 Penn State before a full house in the Pavilion this afternoon.

Baseball coach John Anderson first raised most of the money to get a new Siebert Field built in a bare bones fashion. Then, he found money for the lights that will be in place for the new Siebert’s second season. Rumor has it, the booster behind the lights is a baseball fan who eventually could donate an amount that will allow the Gophers to fully complete “phase two’’ of the Siebert project.

Volleyball was made nationally relevant with Mike Hebert, and then previous AD Joel Maturi pulled off the coup of hiring Olympics coach Hugh McCutcheon to take over the program in the fall of 2012.

Volleyball is not only the best of the women’s collegiate sports for a spectator, but the Gophers have been in 19 consecutive NCAA tournaments and in the Sweet Sixteen of the 64-team bracket for the past five seasons.

Stephanie Golan was Teague’s first hire in the summer of 2012 as the soccer coach. The Gophers aren’t a power, but they are competitive and were in the NCAA field last fall.

The softball team was in the dumpster when Maturi fired the previous coaches and brought in Jessica Allister for the 2011 season. The Gophers reached the NCAA tournament last spring for the first time in a decade. They are expected to be a winner and then some in the season that started this weekend.

Swimming and diving; track and field (indoor and outdoor) and cross country; gymnastics … those are sports where both genders are competitive, and often beyond that.

As for tennis and golf, I’ve never really figured out why colleges involve themselves in these individual recreational activities, but more power to them.

Finally, women’s rowing was added as a bow to gender equity in 2000. I’m sure it’s fine exercise for the students, but it’s unfortunate that no one had the vision to see what lacrosse might become and go with that as the sport to help balance the Title IX numbers for female athletes.

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