Carey Harveycutter is the director of tourism for Salem, Va. and has been prominent in bringing NCAA Division III championships to his city, including the Stagg Bowl.
I talked to Harveycutter on Friday afternoon, a few hours before Mount Union and St. Thomas would kick off in the 23rd consecutive football championship game to be played in Salem Stadium.
Mr. Harveycutter was such a delightful Southern gentleman that I posted a pregame blog based on our conversation at startribune.com. I did a read-through an hour later, checking for errors, and noticed there was one comment.
“The SJU (St. John’s) Mt. Union Fan Club Chapter has rented out Target Center to watch Caruso lose. 20,000 expected.’’
In these parts, Glenn Caruso has become the lower-division college coaching equivalent of Joe Mauer in baseball: People go after both even when an article doesn’t mention their existence.
What’s interesting is that no one was bothered in 2008, when Caruso came over from Macalester and set about returning the Tommies to contending status in the MIAC.
When he took it from there and started turning the Tommies into national contenders, even civilians who might never have attended an MIAC football game started to turn on him.
I think the starting date for this was Oct. 1, 2011, when St. Thomas defeated St. John’s 63-7. This would prove to be the second-to-last season for John Gagliardi, in his mid-80s and trying to add a few more victories to his all-time record for a college football coach.
By then, Gagliardi was kindly old John in the view of the public, not the guy who once went for a two-point conversion to put 70 on Carleton – a team coached by Bob Sullivan, one of his former players.
I’ve known John since working at the St. Cloud Times in the mid-‘60s and he’s one of my all-time favorite characters. BUT, the fact Caruso and the Tommies buried him on that day four years ago was more reversing a dose of familiar medicine for Gagliardi than cruelty.
This is college football – D-III, but still a level where a coach with national (not regional) aspirations is going to take care of his team and not dwell on the hurt feelings of others.
I covered five St. Thomas games his season: two victories over St. John’s, a blowout of Bethel, a victory over Linfield in the national semifinals, and Friday night’s 49-35 loss to Mount Union in the Stagg Bowl.
Every column offered on the Tommies was followed with more than a handful of e-mails ripping Caruso – as well as demands that St. Thomas elevate itself to Division II (for no reason other than winning too often, I guess).
By that theory, Eden Prairie should stop playing high school football and start scheduling top-rated junior colleges.
I don’t get the impression the complainers were St. John’s fans. It’s more the do-gooders, people who think if St. Thomas beats Carleton 80-3, it is Caruso’s problem, not Carleton’s.
St. Thomas pulled off a trick two-point conversion vs. Carleton that gained attention on an ESPN highlight show. The legend became that Caruso did this after the last touchdown to get to 80 points. Actually, the two-pointer came in the first quarter.
Admittedly, Caruso’s decision to try out an onside kick with a 43-0 lead over Hamline (on the way to a 78-7 victory) was a bit over-the-top. I asked Bethel’s Steve Johnson about that a week later and the longest-tenured MIAC coach said:
“Caruso wanted to get that on tape for us, to give us something to think about.’’
The Royals had much more than that to think about, as they were overpowered 45-14. Once the Tommies turned loose running back Jordan Roberts and wore down St. John’s 35-14 in the conference opener, the MIAC was a cruise.
As the scores mounted, so did the zaniness of Caruso’s critics. A couple of e-mailers assured me that it wasn’t really an interest in a religious vocation that had caused Roberts to leave South Dakota and enroll in the St. John Vianney Seminary at St. Thomas; that it was instead a method for Caruso to get him on the football field.
Ah, this is Division III folks … you don’t have to contemplate the priesthood to be eligible as a transfer. You just show up with an adequate transcript.
Division III is a weird place, for sure. Pick most any sport and you will find a few schools that keep sharing the national championships.
The athletic goals at D-III schools vary greatly. Nobody has explained it better for me than Jason Verdugo, the hard-working, creative athletic director at Hamline.
“St. Thomas’ goal is to contend nationally in all of its sports – and it has the assets to make that possible,’’ Verdugo said. “My goal is to have us strengthen our athletics to the point we’re a contender to finish in the MIAC’s first division in all sports.’’
St. Thomas has won national titles in eight sports since Division III started in 1973. Until Caruso got the program surging, there was no indication that football could be the ninth.
On Friday, Caruso had his second whack at Mount Union in a Stagg Bowl, and a second loss. The 49-35 final was deceptively close thanks to a couple of weird touchdowns for the Tommies.
The Purple Raiders put up 35 points and 369 yards in the second half. They gave Caruso some of his own medicine during that elongated, freezing half, and the St. Thomas coach did not complain a bit.
His postgame message was, “We have to get better,’’ which is the message the rest of the MIAC received from the Tommies in 2015.