The Gophers were one of four current Big Ten teams that hired new coaches before the 2011 season, joining Michigan, Indiana and Maryland, which was still in the ACC that year.
Minnesota’s first interview was then-interim coach Jeff Horton. The second interview was Brady Hoke, who was coaching San Diego State to its first nine-win season since 1971.
Hoke had successfully turned around Ball State before doing the same with the Aztecs, and the Midwest native made a strong impression on the Gophers’ decisionmakers.
But that December, there were rumblings Michigan would fire Rich Rodriguez, with Hoke on a list of potential candidates with Jim Harbaugh and Les Miles.
So the Gophers kept looking. According to a source familiar with the search, they interviewed seven candidates. Jerry Kill was their final interview, in part because he preferred to wait until after his Northern Illinois squad had finished playing Miami (Ohio) in that year’s Mid-American Championship Game.
There was speculation the Gophers seriously pursued Randy Edsall, who guided Connecticut to the Fiesta Bowl that season. But the source familiar with Minnesota’s search said Edsall never interviewed.
On Dec. 6, 2010, then-athletics director Joel Maturi introduced Kill as the new Gophers coach to a skeptical Minnesota public. The next day, Indiana hired former Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. Maryland hired Edsall one day after Connecticut lost the Fiesta Bowl. And on Jan. 11, 2011, Michigan AD Dave Brandon hired Hoke, the former Wolverines assistant coach. Nearly three-and-a-half seasons later, these hires have panned out differently for each school:
Before Kill: The Gophers fired Tim Brewster after a 1-6 start in 2010. Horton went 2-3 down the stretch that year as interim coach.
With Kill: The Gophers went 3-9, 6-7 and 8-5 in their first three seasons, and last week’s victory at Michigan improved them to 4-1. Kill says the program still has a ways to go, but it appears he can add this to his list of successful turnaround projects.
Before Hoke: The Wolverines went 12-13 in their final two years under Rich-Rod.
With Hoke: The Wolverines went 11-2, 8-5 and 7-6, and last week’s loss to the Gophers dropped them to 2-3. The team’s struggles, particularly on offense, have been shocking. Hoke was on the hot seat before he left a concussed Shane Morris in at quarterback last week, and now many are calling for Hoke and Brandon to be fired.
Before Wilson: Indiana went 9-15 in its final two years under Bill Lynch.
With Wilson: The Hoosiers went 1-11, 4-8 and 5-7, and scored a signature win two weeks ago when they won at then-No. 18 Missouri. But Indiana came right back last week with a 22-point loss to Maryland, falling to 2-2. Wilson’s teams are dangerous on offense, but defense continues to be an Achilles’ heel.
Before Edsall: Maryland went 2-10 and 9-4 in its final two years under Ralph Friedgen.
With Edsall: The Terps went 2-10, 4-8 and 7-6, and they would be 5-0 this season if not for a three-point loss to West Virginia. Maryland is new to the Big Ten this year, which has spiked attendance, and Edsall seems to have the program moving in the right direction.
In 2011, Michigan destroyed the Gophers 58-0. Last Saturday, the Gophers won 30-14 at the Big House, and there were several other near-turnovers that could have made it an even bigger blowout. In December 2010, the Gophers might have preferred Hoke to Kill, but it looks like they got the better fit.
BIG TEN POWER POLL
1. Michigan State (3-1, 0-0): Connor Cook has completed 54 of 78 passes and leads Big Ten in passing efficiency (192.3).
2. Nebraska (5-0, 1-0): Randy Gregory has 4.5 sacks in the past two games after piling up 10.5 sacks last season.
3. Ohio State (3-1, 0-0): Freshman J.T. Barrett’s confidence grows by the week. He’s thrown 13 TDs and 5 INTs.
4. Wisconsin (3-1, 0-0): Outscored Western Illinois, Bowling Green and South Florida by a combined 132-30.
5. Maryland (4-1, 1-0): This team has five consecutive road wins and plays its next road game at Wisconsin, on Oct. 25.
6. Iowa (4-1, 1-0): Fell behind Purdue 10-0 in 24-10 win, but the Hawkeyes defense did not allow a touchdown.
7. Gophers (4-1, 1-0): Defense ranks fourth nationally with 15 turnovers — eight interceptions, seven fumbles.
8. Penn State (4-1, 0-1): Christian Hackenberg has thrown four touchdown passes and six interceptions this year.
9. Rutgers (4-1, 0-1): Gary Nova’s four TD passes last week gave him 61 for his career, setting a school record.
10. Northwestern (2-2, 1-0): Has Big Ten’s third-best scoring defense (16.8), despite giving up 31 points to Cal.
11. Indiana (2-2, 0-1): The Hoosiers had 332 yards against a Maryland team that gave up 694 to West Virginia.
12. Michigan (2-3, 0-1): First time in team’s 135-year history it had three losses by the end of September.
13. Illinois (3-2, 0-1): Tim Beckman’s team ranks last in the Big Ten in scoring defense (35 points per game).
14. Purdue (2-3, 0-1): The defense is at least making strides under former Gophers D-coordinator Greg Hudson.