Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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I’ve been interviewing people for a long time. The hour or more I spent with Eden Prairie football coach Mike Grant might represent the best on-the-record conversation I’ve had in 30 years.
Grant said he’s contemplating retirement, so he can write books. He may write about race relations, after watching the demographics of Eden Prairie change dramatically during his tenure. He may disappear into the woods with his father, Bud, the legendary former Vikings coach.
He also told me that his father came close to never playing sports or coaching football. When Bud graduated from high school, he told his father he wanted to live off the land, to hunt and fish and forgo college. Instead, he attended the University of Minnesota on the GI bill, subsisted on five-for-a-quarter candy bars and a all-you-can-eat-for-a-buck spaghetti at Café di Napoli in Minneapolis, and lived off the generosity of Star Tribune sports columnist Sid Hartman.
Bud is 87. Mike is 57. Mike says he wants to spend time hunting with his father while he can, and that may mean leaving a program that is trying for its fourth straight and 10th total state championship tonight at TCF Bank Stadium.
``My dad didn’t want to go to college,’’ Mike said. ``He got out of the war he wanted to go hunting. He just wanted to go live in the woods. My uncle tells the story of him and my grandfather arguing, fighting, my Dad saying, `I want to go into the woods and hunt. That’s it.’
``His brother says it’s truly what he wanted to do. He would disappear for days when he was 15 or 16 and be gone hunting and fishing, where he has his cabin now. My grandfather would say, what, you want to be a `Hunyuk’ your whole life? I don’t know what that is. Whatever a Hunyuk is, it can’t be good.’’
I’m writing about Mike’s future and Bud’s past tonight. It’ll be in the Saturday paper and online at startribune.com. If you want to hear our full conversation, in which Mike weighed in on race, Jerry Kill, college recruiting, Red McCombs, Rick Spielman, high school coaching, hungry kids, Tim Brewster, Glen Mason, Jeff Diamond, Sid, Tom Kelly and John Gagliardi, you can find it on my podcast at Souhanunfiltered.com, along with conversations with Paul Molitor, Michael Russo, Mark Craig, Ross Bernstein and Sean Barnard.
Thanks for reading, and listening.
Ok, let's call this more of an infant working theory than any kind of proclamation.
Our local teams are not exactly pinning championship banners on top of championship banners, but this year of seemingly perpetual losing feels different. Doesn't it?
There is no David Kahn, hopelessly overmatched and somehow oddly entertaining.
There is no Tim Brewster talking about hot chili or scoring last.
For a bunch of struggling teams, suddenly our towns have a lot of leaders you can believe in.
The Vikings are 4-5. But...
Mike Zimmer has already made players like Anthony Barr, Everson Griffen and Sharrif Floyd better. Harrison Smith is playing better than he was a year ago. Xavier Rhodes has improved. Josh Robinson ,when healthy, has been better.
Norv Turner is missing the two most important pieces of his offense, Adrian Peterson and Kyle Rudolph (who I thought would be the biggest beneficiary of Turner's arrival), yet has squeked out four victories while breaking in a rookie quarterback behind a surprisingly horrid offensive line.
If you can set aside his personal views, you'd have to admit that Mike Priefer is very good at his job. (Although Chris Kluwe is better than Jeff Locke. No contest.)
Rick Spielman has made a dozen shrewd moves the last couple of years, including trading Percy Harvin at the right time for the right value, and, along with Zimmer, identifying Barr as a worthy use of the ninth pick in the draft.
The Wolves are 2-5. But...
I love the enthusiasm Flip Saunders has brought to the job, and the way he has used his young players.
I picked this team to win 25 games this year. Maybe they're better than that. What really matters is that Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Anthony Bennett develop into quality NBA players. LaVine has acquitted himself far better in Ricky Rubio's absence than I would have expected, and Saunders seems to have a good working relationship with Rubio. This is a team worth watchng, if only because Wiggins is going to make more and more astounding moves as the season wears on.
The Wild is 7-7. But...
I don't fault Mike Yeo or Chuck Fletcher. I like this roster. Maybe they overestimated Thomas Vanek, but if Zach Parise had stayed healthy, Vanek's struggles might not have been as costly.
When Parise was healthy, I thought this team was continuing the play like it did down the stretch and in the playoffs last season.
The Twins are...never mind.
It's been four terrible years, and I know people are tired of my saying that Terry Ryan is one of the best GMs in the business, but that's what I believe. I also will continue to say that if Byron Buxton, MIguel Sano and Alex Meyer can stay healthy and get to the big leagues, they'll lead a resurgence that will have the Twins contending in short order.
I loved the hiring of Paul Molitor, the smartest player I ever covered. So far, I like the staff - Tom Brunansky did good work last year, Gene Glynn has always been one of my favorites, and Rudy Hernandez, born in Venezuela, could provide an important language link to Sano and other young players from Latin America.
I'd love to see Eddie Guardado hired as the bullpen coach.
The Gopher football team lost to Illinois, and Richard Pitino didn't make it to the NCAA tourney his first season, but...
Both were well down the original list of candidates. The Gophers chose wisely/lucked out with both. Kill has put the football team in position to play big games in November two years in a row. Pitino has brought energy and an entertaining style to the Gopher hoops program.
I don't know how successful any of the current cadre of coaches and managers is going to be. But there is a wealth of intelligence and expertise around town these days. That's a start.
I'll be doing my first podcast for @aliveandsocial network today at 3:30 from O'Gara's in St. Paul. Molitor will be my first guest, and I"ll also speak with local author Ross Bernstein about the ways we researched stories about Randy Moss in the past. We have different stories to tell than ESPN.
Planning on doing the second podcast at The Devil's Advocate on Friday night at 7. May even break out the guitars after that one.
You can follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
What a week. I thought Minneapolis and Target Field put on a great show all week, from the Futures Game through Glen Perkins getting the save last night.
All week, Perkins talked about pinching himself, that he wasn't sure this could be real - a local boy pitching at an All-Star game in his home ballpark.
Here's the link to the column I did this spring on the turning point in Perkins' career:
Or, if you prefer text, here's the text:
FORT MYERS, FLA. – Glen Perkins is an All-Star closer who has spent his entire life in Minnesota. He is the rare Twins player who lives in state year-round, has become a centerpiece of the Twins’ marketing campaign and has vowed to play for them as long as they will have him.
It’s easy to forget that three years ago the Twins considered trading him, and only Perkins’ intervention led to what he calls “a great life.”
Perkins butted heads with his coaches at the University of Minnesota, then quarreled with his Twins bosses. He was on his way to becoming another first-round bust when, late in the spring of 2011, he walked up to Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson.
“I can remember it like it was yesterday,” Anderson said. “He came to me right here and said, ‘Can I talk to you? I was born and raised in Minnesota, I’ve spent my entire life in Minnesota, I want to be a Twin. I want to be a better teammate, I want to be a better pitcher, don’t give up on me.’
“There was some talk of making a trade, then all of a sudden he saw the light.”
Perkins remembers traveling from Fort Myers to Clearwater, Fla., with the Twins and not pitching.
“That’s the first time that had ever happened to me,’’ he said. “I was angry.”
He walked into manager Ron Gardenhire’s office and asked why he hadn’t been informed he had made the team.
“I told Gardy, ‘I want to play here, if you’ll have me,” Perkins said.
Gardenhire said he would call Perkins later in the day. Perkins figured that was a brushoff. He picked up his father-in-law and headed to Sanibel to fish.
“The phone rang before we got to the causeway,” Perkins said. “Gardy said, ‘Pack your bags, you’re going north with us.’ ”
Perkins had a similar experience with the Gophers. The Stillwater High School product made lousy grades during his first semester in college. The Gophers redshirted him, and he spent his second semester “figuring out how to be a college student.” One day, Gophers pitching coach Todd Oakes called him about a rumor that Perkins wanted to transfer.
Perkins said that if he was going to leave, he already would be gone.
“I think that was the moment for Todd where he said, ‘OK, he’s committed, he just needs to figure out how to do it.’ I never had any more trouble.”
Why so much conflict? “I guess it’s a character flaw of mine,” Perkins said.
Now he’s Mr. Minnesota, or at least hangs out with someone vying for that title.
Perkins and Joe Mauer played for the USA in the World Baseball Classic and for the American League in the All-Star Game last year. They could play in the next All-Star Game, at Target Field.
With Mauer having twin daughters and wintering in Minnesota instead of Fort Myers, the two were able to enjoy the Polar Vortex together. “We played hockey,” Perkins said. “Well, it was more like ice dancing. No sequins, though.”
They talked about their kids. They talked about their futures, with Perkins signed through 2016 and Mauer through 2018. They talked about how losing feels, and what winning at home would mean.
“We agreed that if we had crappy season after crappy season it would be worth it if just once we could win it all here,” Perkins said. “That’s the carrot dangling in front of us. The experience of winning a World Series in your hometown — what Kent Hrbek did — makes it all worth it.
“I want to be the closer of this team when we get to the playoffs. I got to see Joe Nathan do that a whole bunch.”
In the last few days, Perkins became the centerpiece for Twins television and radio commercials, and has dined with the Gophers baseball staff, with the team playing in Florida. One conversation changed him from an anti-authoritarian trade chip into a representative of all that is right in Minnesota sports.
“Either I hinted to them that I didn’t want to be here, or they got that impression,” Perkins said. “I think they appreciated what I had to say. For a guy to say, ‘This is where I still want to be,’ no matter how rough the going was, I think they respected that.”
For my column in the Wednesday Star Tribune, I wrote about how impressed I am with Richard Pitino so far as the Gophers.
Here's a stat I didn't get to in the column that demonstrates how well-coached the Gophers are.
Against a quality team with superior size and athletic ability, the Gophers had more steals (8) than turnovers (6.)
That's hard to do in any game. It's really hard when you play an up-tempo style against a quicker team. Florida State had two steals and 17 turnovers, facing Pitino's multiple full-court and half-court defenses.
Andre Hollins had an interesting night. He scored 21 points, all on three-pointers and free throws. Because the long two-point shot is the least-efficient shot in basketball, that's a good sign. The Gophers need to make three-pointers and draw fouls to be effective. Hollins has already adapted.
In fact, 59 of the Gophers' 71 points came on three-pointers and free throws. Part of that was due to the whistle-happy refs, who did what they could to ruin the entertainment value of the game. But it's also by design.
Pitino is a sharp coach, and he has smart players to work with. This will be an interesting season.
I'll be on 1500ESPN at noon tomorrow with Judd&Dubay. I'll be on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15 a.m. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Here's the good news for local college football fans: Two of the best games of the day are in Minneapolis and North Dakota.
Here's the bad news for national college football fans: Two of the best games of the day are in Minneapolis and North Dakota.
College football might be the most compelling and atmospheric sport in existence when it's good. Today is evidence that it's not very often good.
It's late September. The weather is beautiful. This is the best time of the year to be a college football fan, when you can sit in the stands on a gorgeous fall day even on our wintry tundra and enjoy a game.
So how can Gophers-San Jose State be one of the better games of the day?
Because college football, despite constantly threatening to reform itself, still packs its schedule with throwaway games.
Colorado State-Alabama? Please.
Ohio State-Florida A&M? C'mon.
Georgia-UNT (and I'm not even sure which UNT that is, University of Northern Toledo? University of Nonsensical Theology?) Stop it.
College football is the rare sport that can be great and chooses often not to be.
So I'm lucky to be in the press box at one of the more interesting games in the country today, even if it shouldn't be.
After two weeks on the road, I"m back in the 1500ESPN studio for Sunday Sports Talk tomorrow, 10-noon. We'll run the Gardenhire Show from 9:30-10 then move on to our show, with Scott Korzenowski and Tom Linnemann. Working on a surprise guest.
Heading to London to cover the Vikings on Sunday.
Thanks for reading.
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