Yes, the Gophers football team had a rough year, getting shut out by Northwestern and Wisconsin in their final two games by a combined score of 70-0 and finishing with a 5-7 record (2-7 Big Ten). But P.J. Fleck, not wanting to give any alibis, says many coaches struggle during their first season at a new school.
“You see the broad spectrum of the best of times and the worst of times, but that’s part of Year 1,” Fleck said. “You see that a lot in Year 1 teams, when they have a brand-new culture and new offensive systems and defensive systems and special teams. You see that. I still remember back at our 1-11 season at Western Michigan [in 2013], we got beat 33-0, I think it was against Buffalo.”
Fleck pointed out that even Barry Alvarez went 1-10 his first year at Wisconsin and was 0-8 in the Big Ten in 1990, then had back-to-back 5-6 seasons before having a winning season and going on to win three Rose Bowls.
Still, Fleck said he believes the team had a winning season in several ways beyond the field.
“We’re winning in every aspect of what we’re doing. We’re winning in recruiting, we’re winning in facility development, we’re winning in our culture, we’re winning in the serving and giving department, too,” Fleck said. “We’re winning in terms of the development of our players on and off the field.”
Fleck did have 22 players injured for spring practice, a big blow for a first-year head coach. Then players such as safety Antoine Winfield Jr. and sophomore wide receiver Tyler Johnson missed extended playing time after suffering injuries during the season.
“I think eight guys have been out a significant amount of time,” Fleck said. “What’s happened is that the eight that have been out have been significant injuries to significant players that we couldn’t afford to lose.”
Fleck already has made a big move for the 2018 season, bringing in Vic Viramontes, who was the No. 1 ranked JUCO quarterback in the nation. But he will be losing 16 seniors, including standouts such as defensive lineman Steven Richardson, linebacker Jonathan Celestin, offensive lineman Vincent Calhoun, tight end Nate Wozniak and running back Kobe McCrary, among others, who played key roles this season. They will have a tough time replacing those players.
“They’ve all given their fair share to the program. They’ve done a lot at different levels, but again any time you have a senior class moving on, it’s a very special time,” he said. “I’m very proud of their service and what they’ve done for the University of Minnesota.”
Fleck said there is no question that some recruits are going to have to step up and play right away. The Gophers also had 34 redshirt players this season, and some of those players should contribute quickly.
“We will win here,” Fleck said. “It’s just going to take a little longer than everybody wants. The problem is everybody has heard that for a lot of years. I can only tell you what I see and the type of process that I know works. It is going to take a while.”
And when it comes to offseason plans?
“We’re going to hit the road recruiting immediately.”
Grant just wins
Eden Prairie football coach Mike Grant won his 11th state football title last weekend with a 38-17 victory over Minnetonka. Grant wasn’t happy that not a single Division I school signed Antonio Montero, who in the title game rushed for 58 yards and three touchdowns, caught two passes for 27 yards, had six tackles at linebacker (two for loss), kicked off and kicked a 42-yard field goal and five extra points.
“Well, I’ve given up trying to figure out how people recruit,” Grant said. “… [Linebacker Ryan] Connelly had a great day for Wisconsin [with two sacks and six tackles in a 31-0 victory over the Gophers on Saturday], and I couldn’t convince Minnesota to recruit him [in 2014]. … But everybody has to do what they have to do.
“Montero has been a great player for us for a couple years. I always look for players who just make plays. Height and weight isn’t the most important thing to me. Like I said, I just coach high school football and I don’t know what anybody thinks about.”
Grant said only one of his players, defensive back Benny Sapp III, has a Division I scholarship.
“Benny Sapp only played two games [because of a knee injury] but is going to Minnesota. Montero, I know Air Force is very interested, but other than that, that’s it,” he said. “We have some D-II kids.”
Trestman wins again
Marc Trestman worked for Larry Tanenbaum when he coached the Montreal Alouettes in the CFL. Trestman won two Grey Cups in back-to-back seasons (2009, 2010) there before leaving to become an NFL head coach.
Tannenbaum became the owner of the Toronto Argonauts, and talked Trestman into becoming their head coach, even though he was not hired until Feb. 28. Despite the late start, Trestman was able to put a team together that won another Grey Cup on Sunday, his third as a head coach.
• Let’s face the fact: Unless Case Keenum gets hurt, he is going to be the quarterback for the Vikings for the rest of the season.
• One thing to watch during the Vikings game Sunday: The Falcons have had issues with blowing big leads. Last season they went 11-5 in the regular season but four of those five losses were in games where Atlanta held the lead. And, of course, there was the infamous 28-3 lead they held in the second quarter of the Super Bowl before losing to New England 34-28 in overtime. This season, they lost to Miami 20-17 after leading 17-0 and got beat by Carolina 20-17 after leading 10-0.
• The Timberwolves have had three sellouts in 10 home games this season. They had three sellouts in all of last season and they are leading the NBA in attendance percentage increase (29 percent).
• There has been a lot of talk about the extensive minutes the Wolves starters have played this season, and with good reason. In their 92-89 loss to Washington on Tuesday, their starters played 196 of a possible 240 minutes. The most-used lineup in the NBA this season is the Wolves group of Jeff Teague, Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Taj Gibson. That group has played 415 minutes together. Only Wiggins and Butler, are in the top 10 of minutes per game among all players, but those two, along with Towns and Teague, are all in the top 30.
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