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Joe Mauer Re-Do on Contract Now Due?

August 31, 2015 - (0) comments

 

The opinion here is Joe Mauer should consider restructuring his contract with the Twins in a meeting with club officials after the season ends.

Mauer has three years remaining on a deal he signed in 2010 that pays him $23 million annually through 2018.  His $184 million eight-year contract is the richest in Twins history, making him one of the best paid major league baseball players ever.

Mauer presumably has so much money from his current deal, plus earnings prior to his 2010 contract, he can take care of not only his immediate family but future generations.  At a season-ending exit interview he and the Twins could propose adding three more years to his contract with no change in compensation.  Instead of paying Mauer $23 million annually in 2016-2018, Mauer would make $11.5 million each year from 2016-2021.

My proposed change in contract benefits both the Twins and Mauer.  The club’s annual payroll decreases with a revised Mauer deal, enhancing the possibility of the franchise adding more quality players to help the already revitalized team push toward championships in the years ahead.  Even more practically, the organization can be better positioned to re-sign its nucleus of best contributors on the present roster.

A contract re-do would allow Mauer to demonstrate leadership and willingness to sacrifice for a franchise that has won four division titles during his 12-year career, but never a pennant or World Series, and has struggled through 90-plus loss seasons in 2011-2014.  News about a revised contract would be a public relations coup for the Minnesota native who has heard plenty of boos and criticism during the last couple of years.  He hit .277 with four home runs and 55 RBI during a disappointing season in 2014 that included a 15-day stretch on the disabled list.  This season the health has been better but it’s more of the same statistically with a .271 average and eight home runs and 55 RBI.

With Mauer being 32 years old and coming off a concussion in 2013, doubts grow stronger about whether he will ever again be the player who started this season with a .319 career batting average—the seventh best in major league baseball since 1950.  But Mauer’s numbers during the last two seasons for a first baseman and someone who usually hits No. 3 in the batting order are out of whack for what’s expected.

The Twins awarded Mauer his extraordinary contract because of his three batting titles, MVP season in 2009 and immense popularity in Minnesota as the club prepared to move into its new ballpark, planning to maximize ticket sales and other revenues at Target Field.  Given those realities, paying Mauer a mega-sum was appropriate.  But now circumstances and reality are different, and even if Mauer approaches past performance next year or in 2017, his past compensation and proposed earnings of $11.5 million through 2021 would be fair for a player who will be nearly 40 when that contract expires.

Mauer is known as a quiet figure in the clubhouse.  He’s a good role model for teammates, though, because of his character and midwestern values.  In the past he’s mostly made his statements with on-field performances at the plate, and also catching and now at first base.  By re-doing his contract, he could make another statement and contribution to the organization.

And one other incentive, Joe.  The taxman figures to go easier on you at $11.5 million per year than $23 million.

Worth Noting

Richard Pitino

Richard Pitino

The nonconference schedule for coach Richard Pitino’s team was announced this afternoon.  Highlights include the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament in San Juan where the Gophers will play three games in four days starting with Temple on November 19.  Clemson plays at Williams Arena on November 30 as part of the 2015 Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

After home games December 5 and 8 against South Dakota and South Dakota State, Minnesota will play Oklahoma State in Sioux Falls on December 12 in a neutral court matchup at the Sanford Pentagon.  The Gophers open their Big Ten schedule on the road at Ohio State on December 30.  Minnesota’s first Big Ten home game is January 2 against Michigan State.

The Twins have won eight of their last 10 games and remain in contention for a wild card spot in the American League playoffs.  Among the interesting storylines before the season was that starting pitchers Phil Hughes, Ricky Nolasco and Ervin Santana were thought to be key figures in determining the team’s chances of playing meaningful games in August.  Hughes has struggled this season and been on the disabled list much of the month.  Nolasco hasn’t pitched since May 31, and has also been on the disabled list.  Santana missed the first half of the season because of a suspension and has been mostly disappointing since his return, although he was impressive yesterday giving up no runs in seven innings against the Astros while striking out 10 batters.

Before the season neither third baseman Miguel Sano nor center fielder Byron Buxton had played higher than Class AA in the minor leagues.  The hope was at least one of the two super prospects would play for the Twins this year.  Both are making major contributions to the big league club after recalls from the minors.  After less than 200 at bats, Sano has hit 13 home runs with 45 RBI and has a .287 average.  He has been invaluable for a team that sometimes struggles to score runs.

Sano has hit a home run every 13.2 times at the plate.  Twins Hall of Fame slugger Harmon Killebrew homered at a rate of 14.2.  He hit 573 career home runs.

Former Gophers athletic director McKinley Boston is retired from the same position at New Mexico State.  Boston continues to live in New Mexico where his grandson Jaylon Boston, playing for Centennial High School, was second team all-state as a sophomore running back last season.

The Vikings placed veteran cornerback Josh Robinson on the physically unable to perform list today.  They also cut offensive tackle Carter Bykowski, the Eden Prairie native who has two years of NFL experience after playing at Iowa State.

The Vikings have about 12 acres of land at Winter Park where the club has offices and practice facilities. The organization needs more room and about the only way to expand at the present site is vertically.  The Vikings have a purchase agreement in Eagan for 185 acres on the former Northwest Airlines site.  A Vikings spokesman said the club is performing due diligence on the property now.

Names to speculate as candidates for the Gophers athletic director vacancy include at least two from the West.  Tina Kunzer-Murphy is one of the few female athletic directors at a major school.  Murphy, the wife of former Gophers quarterback Greg Murphy, has been the athletic director at UNLV since midway through the 2013-2014 school year.  She has held high level administrative positions in athletics at UNLV and Pacific.

Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson is from Redwood Falls, Minnesota and is a University of Minnesota journalism graduate.  He has been commissioner of three college conferences including the Mountain West since 1998 and has extensive relationships in college athletics.  He’s a known innovator and creative thinker with a high regard for academics and sportsmanship.  He’s served on more than two dozen NCAA groups addressing issues such as playoffs, licensing and officiating.

Congratulations to Albany High School football coach Mike Kleinschmidt who won his 100th career game last Friday night with a 38-7 win over St. Cloud Cathedral.  He has been a head coach for 13 years, all at Albany, and his overall career record is 100-33.

 

Gophers Coaches Praise QB Leidner

August 29, 2015 - (0) comments

 

Gophers head coach Jerry Kill said quarterback Mitch Leidner is the “best I’ve seen him” during the most recent weeks of practices.  Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said the redshirt junior starter looks “sharp” as Minnesota counts down the days to the opening game on Thursday night at home against national title contender TCU.

Kill and Limegrover remarked about Leidner’s confidence at a news conference this afternoon.  After they spoke, Leidner told Sports Headliners his passing has improved from when he was a part-time starter as a freshman in 2013 and last year as the No. 1 quarterback.

Mitch Leidner

Mitch Leidner

“I feel like I am throwing the football as best as I ever had—accurate, consistent everyday and throwing with more velocity as well,” Leidner said.

Kill said he has noticed a difference in Leidner since preseason camp opened August 7.  “Well, I think for the first three or four days of camp Mitch wasn’t as sharp as he wanted to be, but I can tell you the last two weeks he’s been unbelievably sharp,” Kill said.  “It’s the best I’ve seen him look since I’ve been here.  I mean, he’s done a really, really good job.”

Leidner struggled and so did the entire offense last year in a 30-7 loss to the Horned Frogs in Fort Worth.  He passed for 151 yards, with 12 completions in 26 attempts while throwing three interceptions.  Backup quarterback Chris Streveler produced the only Minnesota score, throwing a touchdown pass to tight end Maxx Williams.

Leidner had a troublesome knee prior to the TCU game and there was some question about his availability.  He played much of the game, though, and he certainly wasn’t pleased with his performance or an offense that came up with just 14 first downs and 99 yards rushing.

Limegrover said it “eats” at his quarterback when he and the team struggle.  “I know that’s been something he’s wanted to rectify (the TCU loss)—the way he played, regardless of whether he was injured up or not,” Limegrover said.  “He didn’t feel very good about his performance and the way things went.  He is feeling good (now).  He’s been looking sharp.”

Limegrover acknowledged that how Leidner performs has everything to do with the success of the offense this season.  The quarterback is aware of the questions continually asked about his passing skills last season, in the spring and even now as the team prepares for the 12 games ahead.  He said it would be “huge” if he excels on Thursday night and the Gophers win.  “I am just hoping all this preparation will payoff,” he said.

Worth Noting

As of today, approximately 200 tickets remained on sale for Thursday night’s game.  When those tickets are gone, standing-room only will be sold and will contribute to an attendance that will be the largest for a Gophers game in TCF Bank Stadium history.

The University of Minnesota’s decision to give men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino a $400,000 increase is certainly controversial.  The increase was the decision earlier this year of the now departed athletic director Norwood Teague.  Defenders of Teague’s decision will say Minnesota needed to boost Pitino’s compensation because of Alabama’s interest in hiring the second-year Gophers coach.  But after Pitino coached a 6-12 season in the Big Ten and didn’t qualify his team for postseason play, the increase is difficult to accept under any circumstances.

Richard Pitino

Richard Pitino

Pitino could have achieved a public relations coup by turning down the $400,000 while noting this is a challenging time for the University because of the Teague scandal.  Further, he might have said the money was better directed toward the school’s $190 million athletics facilities project that will include a new basketball practice facility benefitting him.

Among Pitino’s contract bonus incentives is one paying him $25,000 for an annual cumulative team GPA of 3.0 or higher.  His players had a GPA of 2.73 (low B range) for spring semester.

The Vikings play tonight in Arlington, Texas against the Cowboys in another preseason game expected to draw a large TV audience in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.  The Vikings had a 35 average share for preseason games last year and in the first three exhibition games this summer the shares have been 38, 35 and 34.5.  A share is the percentage of households watching a specific program at a specific time.

AT&T Stadium in Arlington was designed by HKS, the same company providing much of the vision for U.S. Bank Stadium that opens in Minneapolis next summer. The retractable roof stadium is among the most acclaimed sports venues anywhere, and a facility with similar features to the Vikings new home.

Both stadiums allow the home team to take the field at the 50-yard line adjacent to turf suites (bunkered in AT&T but field-level at U.S. Bank Stadium).  The Arlington venue has a retractable window while the new Vikings home features five pivoting doors that at their peak are 95 feet tall.  AT&T Stadium houses an art collection and U.S. Bank Stadium will have artwork depicting Vikings and other Minnesota sports history, plus culture of the state.

Vikings second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater makes his fourth preseason start tonight.  Bridgewater was asked to contrast his first preseason start as a rookie in 2014 with now.  “Last year, that preseason game, my head was spinning,” he said.  “My head was everywhere.  My mind was everywhere.  First off, trying to get the play call correctly in the huddle.  Then coming to the line of scrimmage, trying to make the right calls at the line of scrimmage.  Then post-snap trying to figure out what coverage the defense is running.  I think my coaches did a great job last year preparing me for that first game and this year, having a year under my belt playing in this system, I’m even more comfortable.”

Vikings second year head coach Mike Zimmer, who is 7-0 in preseason games in 2014 and 2015, was the Cowboys defensive backfield coach from 1994-1999 and defensive coordinator from 2000-2006.  Zimmer remains friends with the Jones family who own and operate the Cowboys.  Steve Loney, the former Gophers and Vikings offensive line coach, is the assistant o-line coach for the Cowboys.

The Timberwolves are selling a “3-Pack on a Stick” multi-games ticket package at the Minnesota State Fair.  The games are the home opener November 2 against the Trail Blazers, November12 with the NBA champion Warriors and December 9 versus the Lakers.  The ticket offer is available exclusively at the Timberwolves’ exhibit at the fair.  Buyers also receive an Andrew Wiggins cutout on a stick.

Defending champion Saint John’s is the MIAC football coaches choice to win the league title again.  In their annual poll the coaches voted teams in this order following the Johnnies: St. Thomas, Bethel, Concordia, Gustavus Adolphus, Augsburg, Hamline, Carleton and St. Olaf.  D3football.com ranks Saint John’s No. 9, St. Thomas 14th and Bethel 20th in its national preseason top 25.

Former Gophers tennis coach Jerry Noyce is a new member of the Evanston (Illinois) Township High School Athletic Hall of Fame.  Noyce played on the undefeated Evanston state doubles championship team in 1962.  He was part of two state championship tennis teams playing for the suburban Chicago school.  He is also a member of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Hall of Fame and the Gophers “M” Club Hall of Fame.

 

Bet on Beth Goetz for U AD Position

August 27, 2015 - (0) comments

 

Although public speculation regarding candidates for the vacant Gophers athletic director position is a list of almost all males, the prediction here is the next AD will be a woman.

First, some background.  Chris Voelz was athletic director of the Gophers women’s program from 1988 to 2002 but since the men’s and women’s sports programs were combined no female has led the Athletic Department.  Historically—dating back over the past century when there were sometimes few or no opportunities for females to play sports at the University of Minnesota—no woman ever served as director for the entire Athletic Department.

When Minnesota had separate athletic directors for men’s and women’s sports (one of the few such arrangements in the country), it was seen as a strength by advocates for gender equity, and that commitment to equity remains at the University.  After Joel Maturi was hired in 2002 to be AD of a combined department, his priority for the next 10 years was to nurture both the women and men in the school’s 25-sport program (more than many universities offer).  Although former athletic director Norwood Teague (2012-2015) is accused of sexual harassment of University employees, it remains to be proven his department was unfair toward women’s athletics.

A gender discrimination investigation at the U began months ago after an anonymous complaint was made to the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights.  It’s believed at the core of the complaint and investigation is the future location of the school’s track for track and field athletes.  Women’s track and field accounts for a large portion of female Gophers athletes.

Beth Goetz

Beth Goetz

When University president Eric Kaler named Beth Goetz interim athletic director earlier this month the appointment certainly didn’t go unnoticed by federal investigators and others involved with enforcing gender equity.  And appointing Goetz, who served as Teague’s No. 1 assistant, is a reminder the University has been proactive in the past regarding hiring opportunities for women and minorities within the athletic department, and is certain to continue on that path.

Clem Haskins was chosen as men’s basketball coach in the 1980s when it was rare for African-Americans to head a major college program.  When McKinley Boston was made athletic director in 1991, he was the first African-American AD in Big Ten Conference history.  The minority hiring record at the U also includes the appointment of African-Americans Cheryl Littlejohn as women’s basketball coach in 1997 and men’s coach Tubby Smith in 2007.

Filling high profile coaching and administrative vacancies with minorities and women is still unusual in the Big Ten and other major conferences.  There are two minority head football coaches in the Big Ten, Penn State’s James Franklin and Purdue’s Darrell Hazell, and Eddie Jordan from Rutgers is the only minority head men’s basketball coach.  The conference has two female athletic directors among the league’s 14 schools, Sandy Barbour at Penn State and Julie Hermann from Rutgers.  Merrily Dean Baker, the former AD at Michigan State, is the third woman ever to lead a combined men’s and women’s athletic department in the Big Ten.  She was Minnesota’s women’s athletic director from 1982-1988.

It’s a good bet Kaler sees the Gophers vacancy as an opportunity to write more history at Minnesota and in the Big Ten.  He’s given Goetz, 41, a chance to lead the athletic department for awhile, and perhaps permanently.  He told MPR on August 19 he doesn’t anticipate “ramping up” the search for a new AD until late next winter or early spring, with the goal of having a permanent person in the role by July 1.  That timeline would certainly provide lengthy evaluation of Goetz who has been at Minnesota since March of 2013.

Goetz worked in high level athletic administrative positions at Butler and Missouri-St. Louis before coming to Minnesota.  Her varied administrative background includes areas such as budgeting, gender equity and NCAA policy.  Indications are she’s probably interested in moving into the AD job at Minnesota full time.  She is already reaching out to those in the community who can help with fundraising, relationships and knowledge about how to run the department.  Tomorrow she will meet the committee of volunteers involved with the athletic department’s $190 million fundraising campaign for new and improved facilities.

Dan O'Brien

Dan O’Brien

Goetz likely leads an internal candidate pool for the job because of her experience and responsibilities at Minnesota and other schools.  Internal candidates might also include senior associate athletic director Dan O’Brien and baseball coach John Anderson.  O’Brien is close to football coach Jerry Kill who should have a voice in the AD selection process.  Anderson has been in the department for more than three decades, is highly respected by colleagues and has relationships in the Minneapolis business community.

The question no Sports Headliners source has answered is who Kaler will trust to advise him on the AD hire.  It’s likely to be a small inner circle—with the assistance of a search firm—and the decision figures to have strong input from Board of Regents chair Dean Johnson who has become much more visible since Teague’s resignation.  The new AD will certainly be well vetted, providing Kaler and Johnson with a high level of confidence there will be no embarrassing personal incidents.

Letting Goetz head the department for close to one year will provide an evaluation period not always present when making an important hire.  Will she be the person Kaler wants?  It seems likely she will satisfy him during the trial period because of her previous experience, intelligence, work ethic and support both in the department and from the president’s office.

But could something derail the push of Goetz supporters to break the “glass ceiling” in athletics at the U?

Well, it’s not likely she will set off any red flags during the coming months but if Kaler listens to voices that have already surfaced he could go in another direction.  Those voices are varied and include advocates of hiring an AD from outside the school with a business background to run the $100 million department and put some steam into the fundraising project that appears stalled at $70 million.  An alum like Wall Street and TV personality Pete Najarian puts a charge into those who long have advocated for a charismatic leader who has business relationships and can build more of them.  (At the top of attributes needed by any Big Ten AD are the abilities to generate revenues—including by fundraising—and the skill to hire the right coaches in the high profile sports of football and basketball.)

Jerry Kill

Jerry Kill

Another voice argues for a hire with an existing and impressive track record as an athletic director.  Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips was described by a Sports Headliners source as a potential “home run” hire if the Gophers could bring him to Dinkytown.  Phillips was Kill’s AD at Northern Illinois and the Gophers coach could be president of the man’s fan club.

It would be historical if the Gophers hired Phillips away from Northwestern because the Big Ten has an unwritten policy about member schools not pursuing each other’s athletic directors and coaches.  Years ago two football coaches swapped jobs at Big Ten schools, and it’s believed there is no precedent for a Big Ten AD to take the same job at another league university.

The other problem with a Phillips’ candidacy is he reportedly has turned down programs with better reputations than Minnesota to stay at Northwestern.  Yet the believers in pursuing Phillips will tell you he is well worth placing Kaler, Kill and a couple of big time athletic department donors on a private jet and flying them to Evanston.  It might take nearly a $1 million salary to bring Philips to Minnesota but don’t think the University couldn’t pay that compensation.

Kaler, though, is already embroiled in controversy because of the mess left behind by Teague, and a bold move by the president causing criticism around the Big Ten seems highly unlikely.  A safer path would be listening to voices advocating for someone like Gene Taylor who spent 13 years at North Dakota Sate as AD while helping turn Bison football into the best FCS program in the country.  Taylor became Iowa’s deputy director in the Athletic Department last year with the goal of better qualifying himself to be an AD at a major school.

Taylor is 57 and he has work experiences at both North Dakota State and Iowa.  He’s an upper Midwest guy with an understanding of the culture and people in this part of the country.  That alone distinguishes him from Teague, an East Coast native who came here with no relationships and wasn’t that good at developing them.

Taylor’s success in helping build the Bison football program is one of the attributes that should make him attractive to Minnesota.  The next AD shouldn’t be a “yes person” to Kill, but he or she should be an ally working effectively with the Gophers coach who is the face of the athletic department.  Kill’s success is vital to the future of the department whose finances depend on revenues from football and men’s basketball and men’s hockey.  It’s not taxpayer dollars but revenues from the big three sports that mostly pay the bills in the department.

Kaler knows he’s got a good thing in Kill and while he’s likely to listen to the coach’s input, the decision as to the next AD will probably be mostly his and a couple of astute advisers (hopefully with expertise in business and athletics).  Unless something unusual happens with Goetz, I doubt he will turn to Taylor or some other outside candidate.  The hope of Kaler will be that Goetz and Kill forge a solid working relationship in the months ahead.  That will be an important factor on the path to what could be a permanent Goetz hire.

 

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