The Gophers football team received one vote in the coaches poll -- no word if senior cheerleader Sid Hartman used his wide-ranging power to convince his close personal friend, Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin, to go in that direction.
With or without the one vote in the meaningless August poll, there are preseason expectations -- for the first time -- attached to the performance of head coach Tim Brewster. Year No. 1 was about cleaning up former coach Glen Mason's mess. Year No. 2 was a mystery after the '07 debacle. Year No. 3 comes with a strong assumption that another bowl trip is months away. That would mean six wins -- minimum. It's a realistic goal even with a daunting schedule. But is another average season enough to silence Brewster's critics? Probably not. Brewster, with his undying enthusiasm, rubs some individuals the wrong way. More importantly for him, does a six or seven win year convince athletic director Joel Maturi to offer Brewster a contract extension? Maturi is eating former offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar's nearly $300,000 salary this year. It's hard to believe he's happy about that. But after Tubby Smith fell into his lap, Maturi has made one signature hire in seven years of calling shots -- choosing Brewster. Would he want to admit failure after another trip to one of 30-something bowl games? I can't see it unless Brewster fails miserably, winning four or less games, and goes winless against Wisconsin and Iowa -- again -- to move his record in real rivalry games to 0-6.
Brewster deserves credit in a few different areas: Demonstrating a willingness to play non-cupcakes unlike his predecessor, his recruiting acumen and understanding the end had come with Dunbar. Now, the way in which he let Dunbar go can be debated, but a move had to be made. New off. coord. Jedd Fisch might've been choice No. 4 and has never called plays, but after spending 45 minutes alone with him shortly after his arrival for a piece on gopherillustrated.com, he impressed. I will be surprised if he doesn't succeed. My concern is that he leaves for an NFL job after the year.
In the same breath, Brewster is rippable for his lack of in-game adjustments and his team's uncanny ability to commit penalties, many of the dumb variety. Also, many coaches work years without suffering an Iowa-like blowout, so his game-planning can be brought into question.
Typically, fans either love Brewster, or can't stand him. He's a lightning rod for passionate fans. It's tough to imagine a scenario in which Brewster comes back in 2010 -- with only two years to go on his deal -- and doesn't get an extension. It'll be a rewarding season and a longer, richer agreement or Maturi and his headhunting firm of choice will conduct a national coaching search.
The Gophers hit the practice field Monday, returning the most starters of any Big Ten team. Will that experience translate into wins? Will this season earn Brewster extra years on his deal or his walking papers? The new stadium will help, but for how long? Answers to those questions -- and others -- will be coming our way soon enough.