Hartman: Shanahan got his break as U assistant

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 12, 2012 - 6:49 AM

Before winning two Super Bowls, Mike Shanahan won praise as Gophers offensive coordinator in 1979.

This is a column about a two-time Super Bowl-winning coach who got his big break as a 27-year-old Gophers assistant under Joe Salem in 1979, because of one game in a season where the team went only 4-6-1 but scored 264 points with its run-and-shoot offense, at the time the highest total in school history since 1926.

His name is Mike Shanahan, a very close personal friend who will coach the Washington Redskins against the Vikings in a game that, if the visitors can win, could establish Leslie Frazier's team as a contender for the NFC North title.

Shanahan had about six major college assistant coaching offers after his one season with the Gophers. In 1980, he wound up as an offensive coordinator at Florida, and he made the leap to the NFL as a Denver Broncos assistant in 1984. Since then he's gone on to be the head coach with three pro teams, winning the Super Bowl in back-to-back years with Denver.

But before all that, he was a college assistant here. His second game with the Gophers came Sept. 15, 1979, at Memorial Stadium against 15th-ranked Ohio State, which was coached by Earle Bruce. His staff included future Gophers coach Glen Mason as well as Pete Carroll, now coach of the Seattle Seahawks.

The year before, the Buckeyes went 11-1 and won the Big Ten title. That day, they were three-touchdown favorites. But they struggled mightily to slow down the Gophers.

The Gophers took the kickoff, marched 80 yards in seven plays for a touchdown with Garry White scoring on a 29-yard run. There were only 2 minutes, 40 seconds gone when the Gophers took the lead.

Later in the first quarter, White scored again on a 16-yard pass from Mark Carlson, ending a nine-play drive for 62 yards.

At that point, according to Mason, Carroll -- who was calling the Ohio State defensive signals from the press box while Mason was doing the same for the offense -- was so disgusted with the play of the defense that he threw the book with all of his defensive setups into the crowd.

Paul Rogind's 44-yard field goal just before halftime put the Gophers up 17-7, but they ended up losing 21-17 when Art Schlichter scrambled for a 32-yard, fourth-quarter score.

But what impressed coaches around the country about Salem, Shanahan and the Gophers offense was that the Maroon and Gold ran up 505 yards to the 295 of the Buckeyes, who went to the Rose Bowl undefeated and ranked No. 1 but lost to USC. White ran for 221 yards on 34 carries that day.

So Shanahan, who had been an assistant to Salem at Northern Arizona in 1977 and then an assistant at Eastern Illinois before rejoining Salem in '79, became one of the most sought-after assistant coaches in the country.

And this great career of his really got going after Salem gave a 27-year-old a big opportunity at Minnesota.

Good News at U

Visiting campus Thursday, I had an opportunity at TCF Bank Stadium to see Gophers quarterback MarQueis Gray, who has missed almost three weeks, get ready to play against Northwestern on Saturday. Gray was listed on the depth chart as a backup to Max Shortell.

And stopping at Williams Arena where the Gophers men's basketball team was, I watched Trevor Mbakwe, who has been sidelined since last November after knee surgery, getting ready to scrimmage Friday, when the Gophers will hold their annual All-Star Friday night to start the season.

Getting back to football, like coach Jerry Kill said after the loss to Iowa on Sept. 29, "We need to do well and get the bad taste out of our mouth."

However, Kill has been a nervous coach when it comes to addressing the problems Northwestern will pose this week.

"I think they always create a problem," Kill said. "I mean, they use their personnel -- not just their two quarterbacks, but you have to look at their team and what they do.

"They can be a personnel nightmare with the no-huddle system, like everybody else is using, and then they use two quarterbacks [Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian]. Those two quarterbacks are athletic enough to do other things besides play quarterback, so you have to worry about where they're at at all times. They can throw a double pass, they can do a lot of things. Practice, your preparation in practice is long, and you have to make sure you have good matchups on people. That's why it's really important that [defensive back] Brock Vereen is healthy, and if [defensive back] Martez [Shabazz] is able to play, that would certainly help us."

A victory Saturday, and even all of the Gophers haters will have to pay attention to the team's success.

Jottings

• There are a number of former Twins appearing in the MLB postseason. Kyle Lohse pitched his second terrific game for St. Louis on Thursday, giving up only one run on two hits and one walk with five strikeouts over seven innings in a no-decision. Lohse, who won Friday night's wild-card game at Atlanta, has a 1.29 ERA in two playoff starts and, at age 34, figures to sign a large free-agent contract after going 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA this season. It's disappointing to think that the Twins' only compensation for trading Lohse to Cincinnati in 2006 was Zach Ward, a righthander who never pitched above Class AA and now is out of baseball at age 28.

• Former Twins lefthander Jose Mijares bounced back from a horrid first playoff outing with San Francisco -- when he gave up three earned runs and didn't record an out in the Game 2 loss to Cincinnati -- to record a big strikeout of former NL MVP Joey Votto in Game 4 on Wednesday, as the Giants came back to win the series.

• Jim Thome is having a very rough series for the Baltimore Orioles against the New York Yankees. He is 2-for-15 through four games. ... J.J. Hardy also is having a rough series at 3-for-18, but his third hit was a big one, a 13th-inning RBI double that gave Baltimore a 2-1 victory in Game 4. ... Lew Ford pinch ran for Thome on Thursday but got picked off first.

• In the Oakland-Detroit series, Pat Neshek pitched two-thirds of an inning in Game 1, but the appearance was especially notable because it came only days after the death of Neshek's newborn son, Gehrig, who was not even 1 day old. The other former Twins reliever on the staff is A's closer Grant Balfour, who took the loss in Game 2 in Detroit but earned the save in Game 3. ... Delmon Young drove in his second run of the series during Detroit's four-run seventh inning in Thursday's Game 5.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 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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