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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Posts about Gopher coaches

Weekly LPR, plus Super Bowl stories

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: February 3, 2012 - 6:09 PM

I've covered seven Super Bowls, and I'm ambivalent about missing them these days.

I hate the pack journalism and inane questions. I also hate not being in the eye of the storm, at the game that commands everyone's attention.

Two favorite Super Bowl coverage memories:

1. At my first Super Bowl, SB XXIV, the Joe Montana/Jerry Rice 49ers blew out the John Elway Broncos 55-10. You might think that the game was boring, but it wasn't, not for me. I was fascinated at the precision of the 49ers. A friend of mine was the 49ers' pool reporter that week, and he told me on Friday, `If you could watch them practice, you'd know why they're so good.'

Also, it was my first Super Bowl, my first big trip on an expense account. Eating New Orleans cooking and drinking Abita beer was a blast, although I learned that following such a diet by eating the chocolate mint on the Hyatt pillow was like lighting a match near a munitions factory.

Also: I remember being in a French Quarter bar with a bunch of writers late at night, and hearing someone yell, `The Doctor is in the house!'' And he was. Dr. J walked in, acting and being treated like royalty.

2. My favorite Super Bowl in terms of coverage was XLI, when the Colts beat the Bears in Miami. The game wasn't very inspiring, and if the Bears hadn't busted a coverage and allowed Reggie Wayne to get open for a free touchdown, who knows what would have happened? Maybe Peyton Manning wouild have joined Dan Marino as all-time great quarterbacks who never won a Super Bowl.

In the days leading up to the Super Bowl, I was able to spend time with Rochester native Tom Moore. Moore had recruited Tony Dungy to the University of Minnesota and now was Dungy's offensive coordinator and Manning's personal mentor. Seeing Moore, such an anonymous yet influential figure, sitting at the back tables of the media scrums, refusing to call attention to himself, made me admire the man even more than I had previously.

Time with Moore was one reason covering that Super Bowl was worthwhile. Another: By some quirk of late deadlines and pure luck, I wound speaking with Manning alone at his locker long after the game, and he started talking about the difficulty of playing with a wet football. It had rained early in the game.

Manning explained that he had prepared for rain. During breaks in practice, he would make his longtime center, Jeff Saturday, dunk footballs into a full bucket, so they could get used to snapping a wet football.

When I finished speaking with Peyton, I ran into his father, Archie, outside the lockerroom, and told him the story. ``Wet ball drills, huh?'' Archie said. ``He really does think of everything.''

I never would have had those conversations with Moore or the Mannings if the Star Tribune hadn't sent me to the Super Bowl.

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On to this week's highly irrevelant, completely subjective and yet mildly annoying Local Power Rankings:

1. Minnesota Timberwolves

Didn't like the way they let the Pacers push them around. Hate the fact that the starting lineup features one guy who shouldn't be in the starting lineup (Luke Ridnour) and two who might not belong in the NBA (Wes Johnson and Darko Milicic.) But even in defeat I find this team interesting and entertaining.

It will be interesting, at this point, to see what Rick Adelman does with his lineup, and how Rubio reacts to teams that have been able to thoroughly scout him. His steals are down lately.

By the way, I rank the Wolves ahead of other teams not because of their place in the standings, but because of their combination improvement/likeability/promise/entertainment value.

2. Gophers hockey

They finally swept an opponent last weekend, and have this weekend off. What will be interesting is to see how the new athletic director will react if the Gophers flop in the postseason again. It would be tough for a new AD to fire Don Lucia. It would also be tough for a new AD to be overly impressed with Lucia if his team flames out again.

3. Minnesota Wild

I covered the team on Tuesday, and that was one of the most gut-wrenching days a coach or an organization can have: First a highly-paid veteran rips the coach, then the team blows a three-goal third-period lead and doesn't even salvage a point.

The Wild came back to win in Colorado on Thursday, more proof that fans probably invest more emotion in outomes than do players, who have been winning and losing games all their lives.

4. Gophers basketball

The Wild is still in eighth place in the West; the Gophers may have fallen out of the prospective NCAA bracket with their loss at Iowa. Most people in my business have analyzed the end of the game; i say when you score three points in the first 10 minutes of a game, you should have been thrown off the floor long before time ran out.

5. Minnesota Twins

Nothing new to report here, so I'll repeat myself: I think Terry Ryan made a bunch of sensible, strategic moves to bolster his roster and give this team a chance to compete, but the Twins need Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer to be healthy and Francisco Liriano to be outstanding if they're going to win this division.

6. Minnesota Vikings

The Giants give other NFL teams hope that patience can be rewarded. They stuck with Eli Manning when he sometimes looked lost, and he could give them a second Super Bowl victory on Sunday. They stuck with Tom Coughlin when the tabloids were calling for his firing, and he, like Manning, could win a second Super Bowl in five years. The Giants failed to run the ball as well as they should this year. They patched together an offensive line. They used multiple backs. They had a long-shot receiver (Victor Cruz) become their difference-maker down the stretch.

In other words, you can win in the NFL without setting passing records and being innovative offensively, which is good news for the Vikings.

7. Gophers football

Jerry Kill probably has the perfect personality to appeal to Minnesota high school coaches and recruits. I'm not going to rate his recruiting class, because all that matters is the scores of the games in which these recruits wind up playing.

As for the departure of MInnesota athletic director Joel Maturi, I'll offer a series of thoughts:

1. I never thought he was a big-time athletic director. He was a reactor, not an actor. He often made the decision that was easiest for him, not the one that would lead the department in the right direction. Some people just are No. 1s. It's not his fault; it's the fault of the guy who hired him.

2. Why is it that every time an important sports job comes open in Minnesota, everyone suggests that a Minnesotan be hired? Please. Minnesota should hire the best AD candidate they can find, wherever that person currently resides.

3. Minnesota needs an AD willing to take on lots of big, daunting problems. What do you do with Tubby Smith if he misses the NCAA tournament? What should be done with Williams Arena? How can funds be raised for a basketball practice facility? What happens with Don Lucia if his program flops again?

Minnesota athletics needs a CEO. Mr. Maturi was more like an HR director.

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Upcoming: I'm writing a Super Bowl prediction column for the Sunday paper. Tom Pelissero and I will run Sunday Sports Talk from 10-noon Sunday on 1500espn. Hoping for a special guest, plus we'll talk about Tom's season-ending Vikings film work, preview the Super Bowl, do picks along with Tom Linnemann, and check in on the rest of the sports scene.

Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.

 

Wolves-Lakers ... and we actually care

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: January 29, 2012 - 5:18 PM

I'm at Target Center for Wolves-Lakers tonight. Rick Adelman just spoke, saying that Darko Milicic (illness) will be a game-time decision.

Adelman is concerned about the Lakers' size, so he'd love to have Milicic's mass and six fouls to throw at Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. If Milicic isnj't available, Adelman will have to start Nik Pekovic and probably use Anthony Randolph at center.

An LA reporter reminded Adelman that he interviewed for the Laker job before the Wolves hired him. ``That was a long time ago,'' Adelman said, using coach-speak for ``I'm not really going to say much about that.''

The Lakers have won the last 15 matchups in this ``rivalry,'' winning by more than 12 points a game during that span. Strangely, if the Wolves win tonight, they'll be only a half-game behind the Lakers and will have beaten the Spurs and the Lakers in the same weekend, which, I believe, last happened in 1864.

A few tidbits to warm you up for tonight's game:

-The Wolves' 9-10 record is their best through 19 games since they were 10-9 in 2006-2007.

-Kevin Love has 18 double-doubles, four more than the player with the second-highest total. He ranks fourth in scoring, second in rebounds, tied for first in free-throws made and first in minutes, at 39.5 per game.

-The Lakers' 11-9 record is their worst start after 20 games sicne they were 10-10 in 2005-2006. They've lost four of their last five and seven of eight on the road.

-Bynum is averaging 12.5 rebounds, but just 7.7 over his last three games.

-----------------------------------

I keep hearing praise for the almost-six-hour Australian Open Final. When is a six-hour sporting event ever good? I love baseball, and if a game goes past 3:30 I have trouble caring or staying awake.

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Don't know what to think about the Gophers' victory over Illinois last night. I thought it was remarkably sloppy play for both teams, then the Gophers blow a big lead at home and send it to overtime only because Austin Hollins, son of a coach, throws up a two-point shot while down by three with four seconds left...and gets fouled.

To that I say...nice play?

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Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 each weekday with Reusse and Mackey. Thanks to Terry Ryan, Dave St. Peter, Jim Pohlad, Paul Molitor, Josh Willingham and the always-hilarious Ben Revere for coming on Sunday Sports Talk today at the Metrodome.

Next week's Sunday Sports Talk will preview the Super Bowl.

Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.

 

TK's moment and this week's LPR

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: January 27, 2012 - 4:23 PM

I was at the Twins Diamond Awards on Thursday night when emcee Dick Bremer and the team surprised Tom Kelly by announcing that his No. 10 will be retired on Sept. 8.

Kelly was so broken up by the news that he waved and stumbled off the stage, unable to speak. I caught up with him a little later, and he said the moment reminded him, strangely, of managing some of those lousy Twins teams in the '90s.

``Late in the game, if we were down, and we often were, I'd go up and down the dugout telling the boys, `Let's ambush somebody,' '' Kelly said. ``Well, I got ambushed tonight.''

The moment reminded me of a great TK moment. During Kirby Puckett's retirement press confererence, the two most eloquent people in the room were Puckett and Kelly. Puckett gave us the beautiful quote, ``Tomorrow is not promised to any of us.'' Kelly simply said: ``I got to see every one of Kirby Puckett's hits in the major leagues. How lucky am I.''

I covered Kelly for a long time. Because of his hard edge, few people realized just how emotional he was on a daily basis. I believe he spoke about his players staying on an even keel because he was so emotional himself.

Congratulations to Mr. Kelly. I think it's fitting that the Twins should honor the only manager or coach in the history of major sports in Minnesota who won two world titles.

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This week's highly-irrelevant and self-serving Local Power Rankings:

1. Minnesota Timberwolves

The Love deal is fascinating. The fact that he was eligible for five years and was given four with an opt-out after three years could mean a lot of things. I think it says a lot about Glen Taylor's paranoia and David Kahn's ambivalence about Love.

Taylor probably fears another mega contract that could weigh him down, the way Kevin Garnett's did, and Joe Mauer's is killing the Twins. And you can't forget that Kahn is desperate to justify his existence as a personnel boss, and he can't take any credit for Love.

This could work out well, in that the three-year option will force Taylor and Kahn to build around Love and Rubio and not settle for having Love locked up. But it's also dangerous, because Love the second-best player in franchise history could destroy the team's plans in three years.

2. Gophers hockey

They've earned their ranking as one of the best teams in college hockey, but you'd like to see them sweep a good team every once in a while, and the Gophers have begun to resemble the underachievers of recent history. Does this team have a surge in it, or has it already played the best hockey of the year?

3. Gopher basketball

So many fans love to overreact to individual games, or even individual weeks. I'm still not sure we know much about this team.

The three-game winning streak wasn't all that impressive, given Indiana's collapse. And the loss to Michigan State was hardly surprising or damaging. The Gophers weren't going to win at Michigan State with Tom Izzo going for his 400th victory.

I think this is going to be a long, unpredictable Big Ten season. I wouldn't congratulate Tubby Smith, or write off his team, for quite a while.

4. Minnesota Wild

Two straight victories kept them in the playoff picture entering the All-Star break. Despite their collapse, that's still better than I expected from this team entering the season.

5. Minnseota Twins

I keep hearing that Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer and Denard Span all look primed for bounce-back seasons, but there's nothing cheaper than winter baseball talk. I want to see if Morneau and Span really look recovered from their concussions, and I don't think we'll know anything about Mauer until well into the regular season.

6. Minnesota Vikings

The Rick Spielman-Leslie Frazier duo is going to be tested in the next year. Spielman needs to dramatically upgrade the roster, and Frazier needs to prove that he can coach, and that he built a staff that can coach.

7. Gopher football

Three victories? Really?

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Tom Pelissero and I will run Sunday Sports Talk on 1500espn from the Metrodome, from 10-noon, with a bunch of Twins guests. On Sunday. Of course. I make an appearance every afternoon with Reusse and Mackey on 1500espn at 2:05 every weekday afternoon. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.

 

Friday Local Power Rankings

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: January 20, 2012 - 10:27 AM

My weekly and highly irrelevant Local Power Rankings of Minnesota's seven prominent revenue teams:

1. Minnesota Timberwolves/Lynx

Suddenly beat-up old Target Center is the axis of power in Twin Cities sports. The Lynx won the WNBA championship and the Wolves have become easily the most likeable and interesting team in town.

They're 6-8 heading into tonight's game against the Clippers, and a fascinating contrast between the best young athletic power forward in the game (Blake Griffin) and the best young productive power forward in the game (Kevin Love.)

As I wrote today, I think the Wolves would be foolish to do anything other than sign Love to a maximum contract and depend on him being their franchise player. It's easy to watch Griffin and assume he's a superior player to Love, but the numbers don't bear that out. Love is better across the board, in pretty much every category other than dunking.

With Rick Adelman, Ricky Rubio and Love, the Wolves employ three people around whom they can build a winner.

What's going to be most interesting to me is how Adelman handles the return of Martell Webster and Brad Miller. Wayne Ellington is highly effective for short bursts at shooting guard. Wes Johnson continues to struggle with his shot but seems to be trying to play a better all-around game, and has had success driving to the hoop the last few games. Webster could make the Wolves much better at shooting guard.

At center, Darko has again proved that he's an NBA bust, Pekovic has become a useful center and Miller is perfectly suited to operating in Adelman's offense. If Adelman can get more production out of center and shooting guard, the Wolves' improvement could become a factor in the Western Conference playoffs instead of just a nice local story.

2. Gopher hockey

It will be an interesting weekend, seeing how the Gophers perform against third-place Colorado College. The Gophers had another so-so weekend at North Dakota, losing on Friday before playing very well in a win on Saturday.  More important, they survived all those handshake-line cheap shots.

The Gophers have become less dominant and impressive as the season has progressed but remain tied for first in the WCHA. We may find out a lot about their staying power this weekend against a good CC team.

3. Gopher basketball

I'll be at the Barn on Sunday for a deceptively big game. A victory moves the Gophers toward the middle of the Big Ten pack, a loss negates the progress they've made with two road victories.

A victory would also be a sign that Tubby Smith is doing what you would hope he would do, and find solutions to his team's problems during the season, instead of throwing his hands up and complaining about the lack of a practice facility and injuries.

4. Minnesota Twins

I know, I know, the average fan is screaming about the Twins not spending money or making a huge move this offseason, but the moves they have made have been logical and surgical. I like the signing of Joel Zumaya as a low-risk, high-reward investment. But no matter how the moves they made turn out, they need Mauer and Morneau to be healthy and Francisco Liriano to be outstanding to have a chance to contend.

If those three things happen, then the lineup and pitching staff could fall into place, thanks to Terry Ryan's moves.

5. Minnesota Vikings

It's hard to be impressed with the coaching staff Leslie Frazier has put together. Any improvement we see next season in terms of coaching will have to come from Bill Musgrave's work with Christian Ponder and Frazier's influence on the defense, along with new defensive coordinator Alan Williams.

6. Gopher football

Not much new to reflect on here. I still think Jerry Kill has a chance to build a solid program, and next season will be the first time in a long time the Gophers have a quarterback returning under the same set of offensive coaches. I could see MarQueis Gray having a big season.

7. Minnesota Wild

Yes, they've dropped from first to last in my rankings, just as they've dropped from first to out of the playoffs in the NHL. They are currently unwatchable.

Upcoming: I'm writing about the Vikings' coaching philosophies for the Sunday paper, then covering the Gopher-Northwestern game for the Monday paper.

I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today, and Tom Pelissero and I will run Sunday Sports Talk from 10-noon on Sunday from the boat show. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.

 

 

 

Friday morning LPR and picks

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: January 13, 2012 - 10:29 AM

Quick thoughts on the Wild loss and Gophers' win last night:

-It appears that hockey coaches have only one card to play. Last night, Wild coach Mike Yeo complained about his team's lack of effort in a lopsided loss to the Blackhawks.

I like Yeo. Even considering the Wild's slump, I think he's done a good job and is very promising. I see this season as evidence that he was able to get his players to overachieve for a span rather than as an indictment of his work of late.

But it's always the same with hockey coaches: Win, and your guys showed grit; lose and everyone's a dog.

It's just not true. The X-factors in hockey and basketball are shooting. If the Wild had the skill to finish more odd-man rushes with goals, they'd win more games and spend fewer postgame interview sessions complaining about effort. Last night, the Wild lost to a far superior team on the road. It's a game of skill.

In basketball, shooting fixes all kinds of problems. I remember having a conversation with Larry Johnson's high school coach in Dallas. He played Johnson at center and surrounded him with four shooting guards. I praised the concept once, and the coach, ol' J.D. Mayo, told me: ``You know what? When we make shots, I look really smart. When we miss shots, it looks like we've never been coached.''

Simple, but true. The Gophers beat Indiana last night because they made shots. They made three-pointers, and Austin Hollins, Joe Coleman and Rodney Williams finished their drives.

Credit Tubby Smith with having his team ready to play last night. Credit the players for performing well in a tough place. But if Tubby tries to complain about a lack of talent on his roster at any point this season, remember that the Gophers were the more athletic and gifted team last night. Rodney Williams was the best player and athlete on the floor, and the Gophers had more quickness and depth than the Hoosiers.

Win or lose, my position on Smith is that he should not be allowed to make excuses. He has enough talent to finish in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten.

-Today's LPR - the Local Power Rankings that are a transparent device in which I can comment on the development on all the local teams:

1. Timberwolves

Crazy to rank a 3-7 team No. 1 locally?

Maybe, but I think sports are as much about entertainment and atmosphere as winning championships. Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love justify the purchase of a ticket, and the atmosphere at home games this year has been fun. That puts the Wolves way ahead of the pack in this market.

2. Gopher hockey

Lucia's boys are in a typical slump, failing to capitalize on their early promise. This weekend's games at North Dakota could tell us a lot about the state of this team and Lucia's program.

3. Wild

At this point I don't expect the Wild to make the playoffs. I would be more disappointed if I thought before the season that this team would make the playoffs, but I didn't. This slump may be a good thing in one way: It may allow the Wild brass to continue focusing on building for the future, instead of making a deal that might help this team.

Fletcher and Yeo need to recognize that this team isn't ready to make a playoff run, that they need more scorers to have any staying power. And I think Fletcher does.

4. Gopher basketball

Impressive win at Indiana. I think the Hoosiers are overrated, but give Smith credit for orchestrating a victory that keeps the season alive.

5. Minnesota Twins

I hasn't been an offseason filled with blockbusters, but the Twins have never made blockbuster signings, and making lopsided trades is harder today than it was when Terry Ryan was stealing from everyone in baseball in the late '90s and early 2000s. I think the Twins have had a reasonable, sane, rational offseason, and their fortunes will be decided by the health of their star players and the ability of their starting pitchers to provide quality innings.

I'm not particularly optimistic about either, but no flashy signing was going to change either of those realities.

6. Golden Gopher football

I'm surprised Jerry Kill hasn't gotten a contract extension for avoiding losses for the last two months.

7. Minnesota Vikings

I'm not impressed with the Vikings' search for a defensive coordinator. Rick Spielman is going to have to have a great draft to change this team's fortunes.

-NFL Picks:

49ers-Saints: The Saints don't perform as well on grass as on turf, but I think this is such a mismatch that secondary factors won't matter. The 49ers excelled because of a weak schedule and division this year, and won't be able to keep up with the Saints. My guess: Saints 30, 49ers 17.

Texans-Ravens: The Ravens' defense ain't what it used to be, but it's good enough to win at home against a third-string quarterback. This game, to me, points out just how weak the AFC is this year. (And I still can't believe a great defensive coordinator like Dick LeBeau would make life so easy for Tim Tebow in a playoff game.) My guess: Ravens 23, Texans 15.

Broncos-Patriots: The Patriots have been lousy in the playoff since their last Super Bowl win. The Patriots have a mediocre defense and running game. You can seize on either trend and pick against the Pats, but I wouldn't. Belichick will not make the same mistakes against Tebow that LeBeau did. Belichick will find a way to contain Tebow and force him to read zone coverages.Tom Brady, facing a superior defense, will nevertheless move the ball enough to outpace Tebow and the Broncos My guess: Patriots 27, Broncos 12.

Giants-Packers: As with Broncos-Patriots, there are plenty of good reasons for picking an upset, and I'm not buying into any of them. The Packers' flaws (offensive line, porous defense, may have peaked too early this season) indicate that the Giants could win another big playoff game at Lambeau. The Giants have the better running game and defense. But I'm going big-picture here: The Packers remain the best team in football, they should be healthy again following their bye week, and they're playing at home. I'm not picking against Aaron Rodgers here, or for the forseeable future. My guess: Packers 31, Giants 26.

If you want to know how confident I am in any of these picks, please consider that I never bet on sports.

-Spoke with former Gophers quarterback Adam Weber for today's column. I wasn't joking when I said I think he has a better NFL future than Tim Tebow.

Weber had horrible coaching and little support at the U of M, yet still was highly productive. With good coaching and a great work ethic, I'm sure he can complete more than 46.5 percent of his passes, which is what Tebow did this season.

I'd rather put my money on Weber than Tebow or Brady Quinn. And anyone who thinks that Tebow is somehow a better human than Weber is a religious fanatic. You don't have to quote scripture to be a good human being. I'll take Weber as a guy as well as a quarterback.

Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today with Reusse and Mackey and at 6:40 with Tom Pelissero. Tom and I will run an abbreviated Sunday Sports Talk on Sunday from 10-10:30 a.m. before making way for Gophers women's basketball. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.

 

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