Hartman: U of M to break ground on new football facility

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 27, 2014 - 12:17 PM

The Gophers are building a $70 million practice complex; other facilities will follow as funds come in.

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Under grey, rainy skies, the University of Minnesota football team went through their first day of practice at the U of M football complex Saturday, Aug. 4, 2012

Photo: David Joles, STAR TRIBUNE FILE

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Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague and former Gophers and North Stars hockey player Lou Nanne, who is the chairman of the $190 million fundraising drive to upgrade the school’s athletic facilities, have refused to comment on the progress of the drive.

But boosters must be contributing, because the Star Tribune has learned that ground will be broken this December on a $70 million football facility that will include not only a modern indoor practice facility but coaching offices and other amenities for the program.

The new facility is expected to be located in an area behind the Bierman Building, and speculation is that the new outdoor track will be moved to somewhere in St. Paul.

The current facility, the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex, was built in 1985 for $5.5 million when Lou Holtz was coach. But the building simply can no longer serve the needs of the team.

This winter and spring, Gophers kickers and punters have been unable to effectively practice because the 55-foot-high ceilings are too low to simulate kicks under game conditions.

The current practice facility is 12,000 square feet and was recently renovated for $1 million. It includes a practice field, along with the football offices, training/treatment areas and student tutor centers.

But compare it to the Nebraska practice facility, which is 81,200 square feet and features a full-length FieldTurf field identical to the Cornhuskers’ Memorial Stadium (and has two adjoining outdoor practice fields, one with FieldTurf and one with grass), and it demonstrates how badly the Gophers need a new practice facility to be competitive in the Big Ten. This $70 million complex will be just that and then some.

The word is there will be a basketball practice facility built in the near future as well, with more facilities to be built as fundraising progresses.

Dakich likes Gophers

Dan Dakich, the former Indiana basketball player and coach who does color commentary for ESPN, worked the Gophers’ 81-73 NIT victory over Southern Mississippi on Tuesday and said he believes Minnesota keeps getting better. He thinks beating the Golden Eagles was a big win for a few reasons.

“No. 1, I think Mo Walker keeps getting better,” said Dakich of the 6-10 junior, who had 12 points and nine rebounds against Southern Miss. “As you go to New York and you go on to next year, he’s going to be really big for Minnesota. Austin Hollins got out of here with a big performance and they beat a good team.

“I thought [Austin Hollins] was the difference in the ballgame. When they were down and struggling, he came in and hit [six] threes and I think he gave everybody in the building a lot of confidence.”

Austin’s big game

How important has Austin Hollins’ offense been?

Minnesota is 8-2 in games in which the senior guard has scored 15 or more points, with the losses coming against Arkansas and Michigan. Hollins scored a career-high 32 points against Southern Miss and moved up to 16th on the Gophers’ career scoring list.

“I just was focused,” he said. “It was my last game in the Barn, the whole team was trying to get to New York and that’s our goal right now, to go win the NIT. That’s really what our focus was going into the game [Tuesday].

“Confidence really builds when you hit that first one and see it go through the net. You see that second one go through the net, the rim just gets bigger and bigger and your confidence is as high as it can be.”

Hollins was asked how the Gophers bounced back to win three NIT games after losing to Wisconsin 83-57 in the Big Ten tournament.

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