Coming into this season Vikings defensive end Jared Allen had the most sacks in the NFL dating back to 2004. That was Allen’s first season in the league after being a fourth round draft choice and the 12th defensive end selected in 2004.
Allen has 123 career sacks going into Sunday’s game in Baltimore against the Ravens but only six have come this season. The 31-year-old Allen, who played his early pro years with the Chiefs and the last six seasons with the Vikings, is on pace with four games remaining in 2013 to finish with eight sacks, near his career low of 7.5 with Kansas City in 2006.
Eight sacks in 2013 would be behind last season’s total of 12 and way off from 2011 when Allen had 22, a Viking franchise best and nearly matching the NFL record of Michael Strahan at 22.5. Allen’s productivity, like the team’s 3-8-1 record, are sources of frustration for him.
“I’ve missed more sacks in my hands than I have in many years,” Allen told Sports Headliners. “I guess it would be one thing if I wasn’t getting there (to the quarterback). I watch the film and I am still moving well, playing well.”
Allen will be a free agent after this season and speculation is he won’t return to the Vikings. His age and high salary are expected to minimize interest by the Vikings who will likely be rebuilding the defense. Allen said he doesn’t have a plan to guide his decision on where he wants to play next season.
“Honestly, I haven’t even thought about factors. I am trying to give everything I’ve got to these remaining four games.”
Allen thought by now in his career the Vikings might have won a Super Bowl. But he discounts trying to select his next team based on offseason projections, pointing out the Chiefs, 2-14 last year, are 9-3 in 2013.
“Yeah, you definitely want to win. I think that’s the reason why we play. (But) I don’t think it’s possible to say, ‘Okay I think that’s the team that’s going to win the Super Bowl.’ Otherwise, we’d all get it right.”
Allen’s longtime teammate, defensive tackle Kevin Williams, isn’t expected to return to the Vikings either. His high salary and age, 33, could make him expendable on a defense that may have several new starters next season.
The one starter on the defensive line who seems certain to return is defensive end Brian Robison who agreed to a new contract this fall. He admires Allen and Williams.
“They’re guys we look up to because they’re veteran guys who have been around the league. You look up to them for advice,” Robison told Sports Headliners. “No matter whether it be personal advice, whether it be how to play on the field. How to watch film, all that stuff. They’re invaluable to the things they bring to young players.”
Robison, 30, has consecutive sacks in the last three games and five in the last five. He has six for the season after a career high of 8.5 in 2012.
Adrian Peterson, with 1,208 yards, has more rushing yards than 10 NFL teams. The Vikings All-Pro runner leads the NFL in rushing.
The Gophers basketball team plays New Orleans tomorrow at Williams Arena and through nine games Minnesota has demonstrated hustle and toughness. Sophomore forward Joey King exemplifies those qualities.
King is playing with a plate in his right jaw after fracturing it in the game against Wofford on November 21. He didn’t miss the next game on November 25, though, and despite vomiting played with energy as the Gophers lost to top 10 ranked Syracuse in Hawaii.
King said he learned to “play through pain” last season as a freshman at Drake when he had a broken thumb. “I do my best to completely block out (pain),” he told Sports Headliners.
King credited strength and conditioning coach Shaun Brown and head coach Richard Pitino’s running style of play with helping him be in better physical shape than at Drake where he was named to the Missouri Valley Conference All-Freshman team.
On the court Pitino, the Gophers 31-year-old first year coach, is passionate with his players and sometimes doesn’t hold back his displeasure. “Anything he may say, it’s just to build you up and make you a better player,” King said.
The Gophers sophomore forward from Eagan is already a Pitino admirer. “We love him to death. He’s a great person and a great coach. He inspires us to go out and give our best.”
Outside expectations are for the Gophers, 7-2 in nonconference games, to finish toward the bottom of the Big Ten but the players expect success. “We really believe in ourselves,” King said. “We do everything we can to avoid negativity. Look to each other for support and that’s what gets us through things.”
Al Nuness, a former Gophers player and assistant coach, thinks Tre Jones, the eighth grade brother of Tyus Jones, is so talented he will be starting in the Apple Valley backcourt with his brother by late in the season. He also said Tre is a special competitor. “You get in his face, he will get right back in yours,” Nuness said.
Apple Valley plays Minnesota prep basketball powers DeLaSalle tomorrow night and Hopkins next Tuesday evening, with both games at the Hopkins Lindbergh Center. Then the Eagles play at home against national power Whitney Young next Thursday night in a game to be televised by ESPN2. The Chicago high school is led by Jahlil Okafor who will play with Tyus Jones at Duke next year.
Gophers defensive coordinator and acting head coach Tracy Claeys isn’t among the five finalists for the Frank Broyles Award recognizing the best assistant coach in the country. The finalists for the award, to be presented next Tuesday, are Rhett Lashley, Auburn; Philip Montgomery, Baylor; Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State; Kurt Roper, Duke; and Jeremy Pruitt, Florida State.
Concordia-St. Paul senior safety Mike Willett from Woodbury has been named a second team Capital One Academic All-America® by the College Sports Information Directors of America. The third year starting safety was one of Concordia’s top tacklers in 2013, averaging seven tackles per game after having 8.4 as a junior including a school record 20 in one game.
The Gophers hockey team (11-2-1 overall, 2-0 Big Ten) has seven players who have already been honored for their performances this fall by the conference including forward Seth Ambroz who had four goals last weekend in a pair of wins against Wisconsin.
The Saint John’s hockey team will make its first international trip when visiting Italy and Germany December 27 – January 4. The travel party will consist of head coach Doug Schueller, assistant coach Michael Palmiscno, and more than 30 student-athletes and 30 family and friends. The Johnnies will play four games on their trip.
Despite an 8:30 p.m. tipoff, wintry weather and losses in two of their last three games, the Gophers attracted their second largest home crowd of the nonconference season last night against Florida State. The announced attendance of 11,386 was no surprise because Florida State is by far the most attractive opponent on the early schedule.
The game was part of the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge and in alternate years that guarantees the Gophers will schedule a home nonconference game with more box office appeal than usual. But for many years now the nonconference schedule has been filled with the likes of Bethune-Cookman, Chicago State and Coastal Carolina, with “highlight” games against schools from the Dakotas.
With Gophers season ticket holders paying some of the higher prices in the country to watch college basketball, the interest of patrons should count for more. “Unfortunately it doesn’t but it should,” former Gophers coach Jim Dutcher told Sports Headliners.
This fall the Gophers haven’t been approaching sellouts in the 14,625 seat Williams Arena. Through Big Ten nonconference games as of last Sunday the Gophers had the third lowest average attendance in the 12-team league. Minnesota’s 10,974 average was better than only Northwestern and Penn State.
Most major conference basketball teams, the Gophers included, schedule weaker opponents in November and December to build up their records hoping to later qualify for the NCAA Tournament. That’s reality but Dutcher and others believe in a competitive sports market like Minneapolis there needs to be some balance in Minnesota’s schedule.
Dutcher’s teams played home and away games with Iowa State, Kansas State, Louisville and Marquette. “We (also) played South Dakota State and North Dakota State, and some of those (teams), but we wanted to have some challenging home games. Recently, with Minnesota, the only challenging home games they’ve had are those they had to play, the ACC challenge.”
In recent years the Gophers have faced a few of the marquee names in college basketball on neutral courts — Duke, Louisville, North Carolina and Syracuse. It might be difficult to bring a school like that to Minneapolis but the new Vikings dome could be alluring enough with a big payday and national TV audience to make that happen in 2016 or beyond.
More doable would be a home nonleague schedule anchored by at least two major conference opponents (excluding an ACC team) who have name recognition even if they aren’t among the absolute elites of college basketball. An easy suggestion for part of the plan is to have either Iowa State or Marquette here every year. Playing those neighboring schools at home and away would add a lot of energy to the nonconference schedule.
Dutcher fondly remembers in 1978 and 1980 when his team beat Louisville at Williams Arena and also in Louisville. Playing big time schools excites fans and players. “Your players love it,” Dutcher said. “They want the challenge. They don’t want to beat Mount Whoever, that’s no thrill.”
When Tubby Smith coached the Gophers he didn’t bring top box office teams to Minneapolis. “You gotta decide if you’re trying to build a program or you’re trying to build a record,” Dutcher said. “If you’re trying to build a record you schedule soft. If you’re trying to build a program you accept some challenges.”
Last month came news the Gophers and Louisville are likely to play a game on an aircraft carrier next November. Matching Richard Pitino against his dad Rick Pitino is something Gophers fans have been anticipating for awhile. It’s just that the fan base hoped a game would land here.
The largest nonconference attendance so far this season for the Gophers was for Pitino’s debut as coach, 12,957 on a Friday night last month against Lehigh.
Pitino impressed again last night with his coaching as a less talented Gophers team defeated Florida State 71-61. The passionate coach threw his jacket off in the second half, then later whipped his tie off, too.
Weather and logistics have been concerns with past games played on aircraft carriers. Dutcher said when San Diego State and Syracuse played last year it was so windy no three-point shots could be attempted. “I think the shine is off those games,” Dutcher said. “That show has left town.”
Dutcher’s son Brian is head coach in waiting at San Diego State where he is associate head coach for the Aztecs. Head coach Steve Fisher has led the Aztecs to a 97-0 record when leading with five minutes remaining in games.
Condolences to Twin Cities marketing authority Billy Robertson on the passing of his mother Gwen Robertson. A celebration of her life will be held on Friday in St. Paul at Lumen Christi Catholic Church with visitation from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. and funeral service/mass from 10:30 to 11:15 a.m.
Jeff Jones, the Washburn four-star running back per Rivals.com, will make his official visit to the University of Minnesota Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Jones, who has verbally committed to the Gophers, will be picked up on campus Sunday morning by Washburn coach Giovan Jenkins and the two will attend the Mr. Football Banquet later that day.
Jenkins said Jones has accepted an invitation to play in the prestigious January 2 Under Armour All-America Game in Orlando. Jenkins is going to encourage Jones to finish all his official visits to schools before January 2 and Jones might announce his college choice at the Under Armour game.
Jones is one of 10 finalists for the Mr. Football award. The 2013 winner will be announced on Sunday, December 8 at the DoubleTree Hotel in St. Louis Park. Tickets are $15 and can be ordered on the MFCA website (click on MFCA ad on this page). The banquet begins at noon.
There are multiple reasons the football Gophers look forward to playing in a bowl game including the social aspect. Spending time at a bowl game site means arriving days in advance and having more opportunity than usual for players to be together.
“It’s like a big vacation, just having fun with your teammates,” Gophers cornerback Brock Vereen said.
That fun can include playing video games and dancing. Asked about a favorite memory, Vereen said:
“Any of the locker room dance battles is definitely a highlight. There’s been many. Everybody on the team thinks they can dance but (defensive back) Jeremy Baltazar is definitely one of the best dancers on the team. He just wings it. I don’t think there is a name for some of the stuff he does.”
Quarterback Philip Nelson values the extra practices allowed as part of bowl game preparation. “I think that’s where you make big strides as a team so I am really excited to get those extra 15 practices,” said Nelson.
The Gophers will hear about their bowl destination next week. This week and next they concentrate on academics, strength training and conditioning. The coaches will be on the road recruiting.
Local sports author and motivational speaker Ross Bernstein is scheduled for presentations in Australia, Singapore and South Africa. Bernstein will be in Australia next month when the Australian Open is played. He plans to spend time in Australia with Minnesota native and doubles star Eric Butorac.
The Twin Cities Dunkers breakfast group has a Dunkers Fund that assists the athletic departments at Minneapolis and St. Paul public high schools. Two years ago the fund awarded $32,500 to schools and this year over $70,000. Assistance has included monies for uniforms and equipment.
St. Paul Pioneer Press sportswriter Bruce Brothers retired last Friday. His assignments over the years included beat writer for the Wild.
Former Gophers and U.S. Olympic hockey trainer Gary Smith works for the Institute for Athletic Medicine. His assignments include being the athletic trainer for Eden Prairie High School teams.
The Swarm, the local professional box lacrosse franchise that starts its 10th season in Rochester, New York on December 28, is partnering with Goldy’s Locker Room to sell merchandise and tickets at 10 locations.
Look for negotiations to begin soon regarding Jerry Kill’s annual compensation as Gophers head football coach.
Kill is the lowest paid head coach in the Big Ten Conference, according to multiple sources including USA Today. He earns $1.2 million per season as stated in a November 7 USA Today article listing the earnings of major college football coaches throughout the country.
Kill finished his third regular season as Minnesota coach last Saturday. His present compensation was influenced by what he earned as head coach at Northern Illinois. His salary with the Huskies was reported at $381,000, according to Internet reports. USA Today’s article said current Huskies coach Rod Carey earns $375,000 from the school.
The salaries of major college coaches are determined by not only their previous contracts at other schools but also the competition for their services and what athletic departments can afford to pay. Kill came from Northern Illinois and the Mid-American Conference where salaries are dramatically lower than in power leagues like the Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12.
But after three seasons of success in rebuilding the Gophers, it’s a sore spot with Kill boosters that the coach has the most minimal pay in the Big Ten. A source in the athletic department told Sports Headliners earlier this month school officials would wait until season’s end before addressing a change in Kill’s compensation.
That time is here after Kill coached the Gophers to eight total wins, the most since 2003, and four victories in the conference, the most since 2005. The Gophers’ highlights included their first victory over Nebraska since 1960 and a four-game win streak in the Big Ten. And it wasn’t just the wins, but also how competitively the Gophers often played that encouraged program followers.
Former Gophers coach Glen Mason knew Kill was an exceptional coach even before Minnesota hired him. “I am somewhat surprised they won eight games,” Mason said. “It’s a tremendous credit to the coaches.”
Multiple sources will attest to the affection University of Minnesota president Eric Kaler has for Kill. Kaler admires his coach for more than wins and losses. Kill has made a dramatic impact on the academic work of his players and the coach’s struggles with epilepsy have inspired even non-football fans. So, too, has Kill’s good deeds in the community and the way he represents the University.
Increasing Kill’s compensation would be both a reward for his work and indication the Gophers are serious about discouraging other schools from pursuing him. His $1.2 million pay is almost embarrassing. Purdue coach Darrell Hazell — who a year ago was hired from MAC member Kent State and in 2013 led the Boilermakers to a winless season in the Big Ten — earns $2.1 million, according to USA Today. Dave Doeren, who took over for Kill at Northern Illinois in 2011, left the Huskies after last season to become head coach at North Carolina State where he reportedly earns $2.5 million per season.
The Big Ten’s highest paid coaches are Ohio State’s Urban Meyer at $4.6 million and Michigan’s Brady Hoke at $4.1 million, according to the USA Today listings. The average compensation paid per school to the league’s 12 coaches is $2.6 million. It seems reasonable to think the Gophers will offer to increase Kill’s earnings to about $1.8 million. That would be a 50 percent increase and move him ahead of Kevin Wilson from Indiana and Tim Beckman of Illinois. Kill would be the 10th best paid coach in the Big Ten but close to Hazel, Gary Andersen from Wisconsin at $2 million and Mark Dantonio from Michigan State at $1.9 million.
In any contract negotiations involving Kill, a couple of things are assumed by those who know the coach. One is that Kill is interested in remaining at Minnesota, having expressed a liking for the job and working here. Another is any negotiations he does for himself will also include looking out for assistant coaches. And Kill will want assurances the school is committed to improving practice facilities for the football program.
The athletic department has budget issues but football is the bell cow for revenues. Interest in the Gophers is growing among fans and so too is money coming into the department. Kill has leverage in forthcoming discussions because of his “brick-by-brick” results and comparative compensation versus his peers.
It doesn’t hurt to have a president who admires him.
Washburn running back Jeff Jones has yet to schedule official college visits but his coach expects favored destinations will be Michigan State, Minnesota and Missouri. “I think if he had to choose today he would be a Gopher,” coach Giovan Jenkins told Sports Headliners on Friday.
Jenkins said Jones, who has received scholarship offers from all three schools, has a GPA of about 2.1 and the Rivals.com four-star running back is awaiting the result of his second ACT test. Jenkins expects Jones to have no problem in academically qualifying for a college athletic scholarship.
The Eden Prairie High School football program has seven teams, three freshmen, two sophomore, one junior varsity and one varsity. The Eagles, who won their third consecutive state title on Friday, celebrated with a banquet last night at Grace Church in Eden Prairie.
When the Vikings found themselves playing in overtime yesterday against the Bears for a second consecutive week they weren’t interested in another tie like they experienced with the Packers. “It’s been two long weeks for us, there’s no doubt about it,” quarterback Matt Cassel said after Minnesota’s 23-20 win. “…Our mentalities were we have to get out of this thing with a win no matter what it takes.”
Groundbreaking for the new Vikings stadium will be at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow (Tuesday) in the east parking lot of the Metrodome. Governor Mark Dayton, mayor R.T. Rybak and Vikings owners Zygi Wilf and Mark Wilf will participate.
Count former Gophers All-American Lou Nanne among those who is just “okay” with the new Big Ten hockey league. He misses Minnesota’s historical ties to programs like North Dakota and even Denver, but expects the new Big Ten grouping to become more appealing as teams are added. The six team Big Ten hockey league was all driven by the Big Ten Network, he said.
The Wild have some “good young kids” but will have to “battle to make the playoffs,” according to Nanne. Injuries have limited the availability of the team’s top two goalies, Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding. “That is surprising to me,” the former North Stars president said.