Today, I am both happy and sad for Gopher football fans. Let's talk about the good first, while re-living just a wee bit of the bad. I'm happy in that they got a good coach that has a real opportunity to turn around a program that desperately needs solid leadership and continuity. Under Tim Brewster, Minnesota football was anything but that.
One minute Brewster was a spread offense guy, the next minute he was an I formation, run the ball and impose your will guy. He recruited for both, and succeeded at neither, leaving Gopher fans frustrated and angry. When he changed his mind, it was the coordinator's fault. Brewster never met a coordinator that he could get along with, and the amazing thing was is that it was Brewster that hired them. And all the while he was yelling ‘Rose Bowl' to anyone who would listen. I'll admit, I thought it was great that the Gophers hired a guy that had big goals, because no one, not Wacker, not Holtz, not Gutekunst, and definitely not Mase talked in those terms.
But I'm also a firm believer of the ‘crawl-walk-run' model, and by that I mean before you go to the Rose Bowl (or anything but the Insight Bowl), you have to win and get into the top half of the Big Ten consistently. Lay that groundwork first, especially if you've never coached at the D1 level before.
Jerry Kill, on the other hand, is a solid football hire. When you look at the most successful programs in the Big Ten, one of the things that stand out, other than talented teams that are well coached, is the continuity of the staff...which plays a large part in getting the talent to be able to compete. Brewster never got it; Adam Weber had to learn 36 offenses in his four years as the Gophers QB, and the defense had about as much changeover as well. Consequently, they were never able to get comfortable in a particular system, on either side of the ball, and Brewster finally lost the team, both on and off the field.
Kill has taken a majority of his staff with him wherever he has gone, and that stability is something that cannot be stressed enough. When Kill left Southern Illinois for Northern Illinois, he brought seven assistants with him that had a combined 70 seasons of experience under him, including defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys (16 seasons with Kill), and offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover (12 seasons).
Wow. Stability, what a novel concept. Now, if Kill and his staff hadn't had success, it would be one thing, but the track record of these Natural Born Killers (Kill, killers, get it?) is pretty damn impressive. He took Southern Illinois to the FCS playoffs for five consecutive years after years of suckitude prior to him arriving, and turned around Northern Illinois as well, winning their division before losing in the MAC Championship last week. The more I look at this hire, the more I like it for Minnesota. Whenever you read something about the guy, he comes off as an anti-Brewster - low-key, blue-collar guy that loves to coach, gets the most out of his talent, and wins. A few days ago, I wrote this in another article over at Off Tackle Empire, the SB Nation Big Ten blog:
Jerry Kill-- Kill would be another great fit for the Gophers, in my opinion. (From what little I've seen on the Indiana coaching search, I've seen his name pop up there as well depending on the unreliable source of the moment you're reading, so let's consider this a summary for both teams). Kill's record at turning around terrible programs is pretty damn impressive. His first year at either an FCS or FBS school was Southern Illinois in 2001, where he started out 1-10. The second season he was 4-8, and then either won or tied for first in the Gateway Football conference three straight years, going 10-2, 10-2, and 9-4. He also took the Salukis to the FCS playoffs from 2003-2007. From Southern Illinois, he went up the road to Northern Illinois, who went 2-10 in 2007. In Kill's first season of 2008, he went 6-7 and got Northern Illinois to the first of two consecutive bowls. This season Kill has guided UNI to a 10-2 record and a berth in the MAC Championship game.
Yeah, I think in the long run, Kill is the right guy at the right time for the Gophers.
So why am I sad for Gopher fan today? Well, because of Joel Maturi, that's why. You see, Joel Maturi has done nothing to engender himself to Gopher fans of any sports, and the Tubby Smith hire was viewed by many as the theory of the ‘blind squirrel finding a nut' coming to life. But when Joel said he was going to open up the wallet and get a Tubby Smith hire, a lot of fans talked themselves into thinking, ‘well, he DID hire Tubby, so I believe him. He'll get a great coach.'
So Gophers fans started to think big, and I have to admit, I thought Maturi might pull a rabbit out of his hat. UConn coach Randy Edsall, BSU coach Chris Petersen, Miss State's Dan Mullen, and former UT coach Phil Fulmer were all mentioned, along with a bunch of other guys as well. Noted pirate and offensive guru Mike Leach practically begged for the job in Minneapolis papers, so of course every cynical scribe and columnist in the Twin Cities got on board...long after me, by the way. (Ouch, sorry. I just tore my rotator cuff patting myself on the back for being out front for Mike Leach. We now return to our regularly scheduled story). Never mind that Maturi all but ruled out Leach the day they started looking for a coach.
As it came down to decision time, Maturi and the U of M kept getting more cryptic and less talkative, making it seem like there would be a WOW! moment with the hiring. For awhile, signs seemed to point to Chris Petersen, the Boise State wunderkind, and that hire would've sent shockwaves through college football.
So when the official word broke that it was Jerry Kill, Gopher fans had their appropriate WTF?! moment. Why all the subterfuge and cloak and dagger stuff for...the guy that lost the MAC championship on Friday? Seriously? Dinkytown erupted with anger and frustration, lead by lead pitchfork and torch carrier Pat Reusse, who never met a coach he didn't love to eviscerate before the end of their first week on the job. Yes, Mike Leach would've definitely been the ‘sexy' pick, but c'mon, if both Kill and Leach have some success here, who do you see still coaching the Gophers in five years?
I think once there is some distance between the announcement and the expectations of that announcement, Gopher fans will like who is running the program. Jerry Kill is a well respected coach, who brings with him a stable staff and a proven track record of success.
Welcome to Minnesota, Coach Kill. And apologies in advance for all the cool play on words we'll use with your name.