Rick Spielman is excited to see new head coach Mike Zimmer open his first training camp this week in Mankato. Spielman went through an extensive information gathering process before hiring Zimmer last winter and when finished was convinced he found the right coach.
“I told our owners we were fortunate he was available,” the Vikings’ general manager told Sports Headliners.
Zimmer is 58 and had been a career assistant in the NFL before Spielman gave him his first head coaching opportunity. Spielman was in the Vikings’ front office as head of player personnel, not general manager, when Leslie Frazier was promoted from interim to head coach after the 2010 season. Nor did Spielman have the hiring responsibility when Brad Childress was made head coach about eight years ago, and so Zimmer is his first hire. What was Spielman looking for in a head coach?
A teacher and demanding leader, Spielman answered. Those are characteristics Spielman heard repeated when he talked to players and their agents as they described how Zimmer’s coaching made a difference in performance.
Ex-Viking Bob Lurtsema said Vikings players know they will be held accountable for mistakes and efforts by Zimmer and his staff. “Everything going in right now (in camp) is total competition,” Lurtsema said.
Lurtsema believes fans could be surprised about who makes the team and that players are excited about the competitive environment expected in Mankato. “They’re saying (the players) these coaches love to coach. That’s a contagious attitude. The players that deserve to be a member of the Minnesota Vikings will embrace it rather than fight it.”
Spielman has not only made a commitment to Zimmer by hiring him but the Vikings have also paid for a new weight room and meeting room. There are other changes too including an emphasis on healthier food with less fat and sugar.
Zimmer at 58 is as old as Bud Grant when he retired as Vikings head coach after the 1985 season. Grant decided to give up football to focus on the outdoor life of hunting and fishing including internationally. Grant was the second head coach in franchise history. Zimmer is the ninth.
Although this will be Zimmer’s first year as an NFL head coach, it certainly won’t be the most painful emotionally. Zimmer’s wife Vikki died unexpectedly during the 2009 season.
The Vikings agreement with KARE-11 to televise preseason games runs through next year, positioning the NFL club to negotiate a new deal as the team moves into the opening season of its downtown Minneapolis stadium in 2016.
Based on past interest, about 400,000 viewers are expected to watch each preseason game this summer. If so, the KARE 11 telecasts will exceed any competing programming in local viewership including Twins games.
The Vikings’ final preseason game of 2014 will be on August 28 against the Titans in Nashville. That game begins at 7 p.m. while the Gophers have their nonconference season opener the same night at home starting at 6 p.m. against Eastern Illinois. The Minnesota game will be on the Big Ten Network and may also attract approximately 400,000 viewers with many Minnesotans switching back and forth between the Gophers and Vikings.
The Gophers start football practice a week from today. Prior to their opening game, the public will be allowed to watch practices on August 3, 4 and 5. All three practices will be at the Gibson-Nagurski Complex with a start time of 10:25 a.m. on August 3, and 5:15 p.m. for the other two practices.
According to numbers as of last week, the Gophers had sold 3,331 student season football tickets, compared with 1,921 last year. The nonstudent season ticket total was 28,106 compared with 27,951 a year ago.
Look for an announcement later this summer about how the public can donate to the Gophers $190 million campaign to improve athletic facilities. Athletic Department officials have focused on larger contributors since the campaign was announced last year but names of those making pledges haven’t been made public.
Tony Dungy is sometimes written about because of the opportunity the Gophers gave him as an African-American to play quarterback for the team. What’s not so well-known is that starting with Sandy Stephens in 1959 the Gophers had at least six African-American quarterbacks on their rosters prior to Dungy’s arrival in Minneapolis in 1973. Minnesota gave opportunities to African-Americans to play quarterback when other schools didn’t and Stephens was the first ever All-American black QB.
Giovan Jenkins begins his sixth season as Washburn High School’s head football coach when the Millers officially start practice on August 11 and he’s not used to losing City Conference games. Jenkins was an assistant coach at Washburn before he became head coach, and the Millers have won or shared the last 13 city titles. His 2014 team will be without almost all of last year’s starters but Jenkins expects to contend for a championship again and is likely to have about 65 players, including freshmen, out for the team—probably the biggest turnout for football among Minneapolis high schools.
Gophers basketball coach Richard Pitino said Elliott Eliason’s conditioning has resulted in the senior center having less than 10 percent body fat. Returning senior point guard DeAndre Mathieu has added about “13 pounds of muscle,” and junior guard Carlos “Squirrel” Morris, a transfer, has put on 17 pounds, the coach said.
Dave and Linda Mona’s Camden’s Concert next Wednesday night at the Hopkins Center for the Arts will feature The Wright Brothers, a popular singing group that has prompted record ticket sales for the fifth annual event. The concert is named for the Mona’s grandson and benefits Cystic Fibrosis. An on-line auction with more than 125 items is also drawing attention. More at Camdensconcert.com.
The Gophers lost a legendary former player and extraordinary benefactor when Bob McNamara passed away on Sunday at age 82.
McNamara grew up in a poor family with a difficult father in Hastings, Minnesota. By the time McNamara started playing football for the Gophers in the early 1950s he was a tough guy. Never were his toughness, determination and love for the Gophers more on display than on November 13, 1954 against hated rival Iowa.
With more than 65,464 fans packed into Minnesota’s Memorial Stadium, McNamara led the Gophers to a 22-20 win and a 7-1 record in coach Murray Warmath’s first season in Minneapolis. The game’s highlight came in the first half with the score tied at 7-7. McNamara received an Iowa kickoff at Minnesota’s 11-yard line and made an 89-yard touchdown run that deserves a place among the most determined efforts in program history.
McNamara shook off Iowa tacklers, refusing to go down to the ground. Warmath said in his biography, The Autumn Warrior, that McNamara’s run was indeed the stuff of legends. “It was the finest example of brilliance and desire I have ever seen,” the coach praised.
Years later McNamara was in the bar business and patrons could watch film of the classic run at his Minneapolis establishment located near campus. McNamara was proud of that day and his All-American senior season in 1954 but his efforts for the Gophers hardly ended there.
His fundraising and promotion helped the Gophers with various facilities projects and he was a leader in the Save Gophers Sports drive that helped keep men’s and women’s golf, and men’s gymnastics as varsity sports at Minnesota. He was recognized for his efforts in helping to make TCF Bank Stadium a reality and was an Honorary Captain for the facility’s opening game in 2009 against Air Force.
Richard “Pinky” McNamara, Bob’s younger brother, threw a key block on that legendary touchdown run that happened 60 years ago this fall. “Pinky,” who passed away in 2011, was even more successful in business than Bob and the McNamara Alumni Center is named after him.
The McNamara Academic Center in the Bierman Building is used daily by more than 750 student-athletes. It is named after both brothers who spent their lives living in the Minneapolis area and devoted themselves to helping their alma mater.
Sports Illustrated’s Peter King likes to write about “Things I Think I Think.” If it’s good enough for Peter, it works for me. Here we go…
Two major storylines are already written in any word document about the Gophers’ football season outlook. Coach Jerry Kill will give himself and the program’s image a “facelift” by staying healthy all season. With a difficult schedule and unproven quarterback, if the Gophers win eight games again this season then be prepared to start dancing down University Avenue in 2015.
Richard Pitino keeps the lowest public profile of any Gophers basketball coach I remember.
At 29 and with a history of injuries, this will be a telling year for running back Adrian Peterson who looks like the focal point of the new offense under first-year coordinator Norv Turner. If Peterson is healthy, expect him to have one of his best years as a pro. If he isn’t, the Vikings may want to make other offensive plans for 2015 and beyond.
Anyone else surprised the Vikings still have season tickets for sale despite moving this season into TCF Bank Stadium with over 10,000 fewer seats than the Metrodome?
Hate to tell you, but you’re goofy if you think the Twins can catch the Tigers and win the AL Central.
If the Twins head into September on pace for another 90-plus loss season, speculation will begin about manager Ron Gardenhire’s job security. In his favor is the admiration of general manager Terry Ryan but how many managers have ever lost 90-plus games over four seasons and kept their jobs?
Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki has a one year contract with the club but don’t expect Joe Mauer to catch again after his concussion experience last season and the 2014 move to first base. It won’t be a surprise if Suzuki is traded before month’s end.
Local Josh Willingham fans should enjoy this summer because with an expiring $7 million contract and dismal offensive production the 35-year-old Twins left fielder looks like a goner after this season—perhaps sooner.
Hope Flip Saunders is thinking about making Gorgui Dieng the starting center because of his defense and rebounding while using Nikola Pekovic in an instant offense role off the bench.
Fans might think Saunders’ selection of assistant coaches looks like a collection of “Yes, boss” types. But this could be a good staff that helps the Wolves overachieve, something they didn’t do last season under coach Rick Adelman.
When the Gophers play their opening game of the season at TCF Bank Stadium on August 28 against Eastern Illinois fans will have more locations to buy beer and wine.
A source told Sports Headliners that approximately 150 points of sale in the stadium will serve customers—about double the number from last season. That means about 150 workers available to sell alcohol in different parts of the stadium. Also new is beer and wine will be sold 90 minutes prior to kickoff and through the third quarter—compared with 60 minutes and through halftime in 2013.
The athletic department is making the changes to create a better fan experience. In the past, the stadium beer and wine locations were overcrowded (plaza area only) but being able to purchase those alcohol products at regular concession stands, creating additional points of sale, will provide more efficient service.
Beer and wine sales at TCF Bank Stadium began in 2012 and the athletic department has netted about $200,000 in profit the last two seasons. That profit is expected to increase this year but the department doesn’t see the alcohol sales so much as a revenue producer as it does filling a customer need. Most college stadiums don’t sell alcohol but in a pro sports town like Minneapolis the Gophers want to be competitive with amenities.
A few thousand or more University students typically attend Gophers home games and many are under the legal drinking age of 21 in Minnesota. Customers must show identification to purchase alcohol at the games. Despite the presence of beer and wine sales at TCF Bank Stadium, University officials didn’t see any significant increase in behavior problems with fans in 2012 and 2013.
The Gophers’ opening football game on August 28 at TCF Bank Stadium will start at 6 p.m. and will be televised by the Big Ten Network. The Vikings play the same night starting at 7 p.m. in Nashville against the Titans in a preseason game televised by KARE 11.
BaseballAmerica.com released its midseason top 50 prospects list on Monday and five players from the Twins organization are in the group including outfielder Byron Buxton who is No. 1 in the rankings. Third baseman Miguel Sano is No. 9 while right-handed pitchers Jose Berrios, Kohl Stewart and Alex Meyer are No. 27, 30 and 32.
Fox Sports North will televise a replay of Minnesota’s 1965 MLB All-Star Game tonight at 5:30 p.m. and show the 1985 game on Friday at 11 p.m.
Metropolitan Stadium was the site of the 1965 game when the National League defeated the American League, 6-5. Harmon Killebrew homered and drove in two runs. Other Twins playing for the American League were Earl Battey, Jim “Mudcat” Grant, Jimmie Hall, Tony Oliva and Zoilo Versalles.
The Metrodome hosted the 1985 game and the National League won 6-1. The lone Twin in the game was reserve outfielder Tom Brunansky who went hitless in one at bat.
As part of All-Star weekend activities, the State Fairgrounds will be the site on Sunday of a first ever event—The Color Run MLB All-Star 5k Presented by Nike. Baseball alums at the event are expected to include former Twins Scott Erickson, Doug Mientkiewicz and Dave Winfield. The Color Run website describes a “unique paint race that celebrates health, happiness and individuality.” Participants are doused in a different colored powder at each kilometer. More on Sunday’s event at Allstargame.com/run.
Minnesota native and former Timberwolves executive Kevin McHale hasn’t been part of an NBA championship team since the Celtics won the title in 1986 but perhaps that will change in Houston where he is the Rockets head coach. If speculation turns into reality with the Rockets signing a superb free agent this summer, that could make Houston—already with star players in Dwight Howard and James Harden—a title contender for McHale, the ex-Celtics Hall of Fame power forward.
Joel Engel e-mailed that his son Derrick Engel, the former Gophers wide receiver, is “on track with his rehab” and hopes to be ready for private workouts in coming weeks. Engel had ACL surgery last December but is hopeful about a career in pro football.
Derrick’s younger brother Sean, who played for Chaska High School as a sophomore wide receiver, is now 6-foot-5 and a player to watch in the class of 2016.
The Twin Cities Dunkers continue to help fund the athletic needs of Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools. From equipment to transportation to uniforms, gifts from the Dunkers Fund have grown from $32,500 to $71,000 in the last two years and are expected to increase in 2014. “You have boosted confidence and pride in these kids on and off the playing field,” a coach told the organization.