As the lone assistant with any head coaching experience, Jeff Horton was a logical choice to assume the Gophers' job when Tim Brewster was fired Sunday. But as the newest member of the staff, having come aboard in January, Horton sensed some awkwardness with his peers over being elevated ahead of more senior coaches.
"That does upset you. I'm sure there are guys here (who were upset). I tried to address that right from the start," Horton said after accepting Joel Maturi's offer to finish the season as interim head coach. He told his assistant coaches, "I don't know how this decision came about, but this is the decision that was made. And I need all of you guys for us to have any chance for success."
Horton said he was impressed by the professionalism of the staff, because everybody has committed to work just as hard to finish the season strong, even knowing that their future employment now depends upon a coach who hasn't been hired yet. It's the football life, he said, but that doesn't make it any easier.
In fact, Horton said he recalled some bruised feelings at Wisconsin when Barry Alvarez announced a year ahead of time that 2005 would be his final season. Horton had been on Alvarez's staff as quarterbacks coach for seven years, and some other assistants had been in Madison twice that long. Yet the school picked Bret Bielema, who had been at Wisconsin for only one year, as the new head coach.
"Phil, don't I get to call signals anymore?"
That was how defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove good-naturedly pointed out that he will continue to run the defense, even though he's moving out of the press box and back down to the sidelines. Ronnie Lee is moving up to the booth, and I had misunderstood Horton's description of the switch, that the duties would not be changed.
"It's pretty much the same," he said. "I just get to enjoy a little more of the atmosphere of the game now."
The defense has taken the brunt of criticism this season, and ranks last in the Big Ten in preventing points and rushing yards. But Cosgrove remains upbeat about what he's seen from a unit that starts only one senior.
"We're still a young defense, a work in progress," he said. "Believe it or not, we've made some strides even in these past two games."
- Speaking of Cosgrove, his son Connor, a freshman receiver, is responding well to the cycles of chemotherapy he is undergoing to treat leukemia. "The treatment is working," he said. "It's a long road ahead, but his attitude is outstanding."
- Linebacker Mike Rallis should be able to play at least part-time Saturday, though the Gophers want to ease him back in as he recovers from a hip pointer and abdominal strain that has kept him out of action for three weeks.
- Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said he reached out to Tim Brewster after hearing he had been fired. "I gave him a call just to wish him luck and hope that everything works itself out for him," Fitzgerald said at his weekly news conference. "He's a great coach and a great guy, and unfortunately, it just didn't work. It's a tough deal. It's a production business, you have to produce, and unfortunately for Tim, he didn't do it at the level the administration needed. He'll be fine. He'll land on his feet and do a great job wherever he ends up."