No guarantees but Vikings fans are likely to see their team win its debut game in U.S. Bank Stadium next Sunday.
The Vikings will play their first ever game in the new $1.1 billion domed facility Sunday afternoon against the Chargers. It will be the third exhibition game of the season for both teams. The 2-0 Vikings are 10-1 in preseason games dating back to 2014, the best record in the 32-team NFL the last three years. During the same period the Chargers are 5-5 including 1-1 this season.
Former Vikings defensive lineman Bob Lurtsema, who is close to his old team, credits defense and third-year coach Mike Zimmer for Minnesota’s dominant exhibition record. “Defense, defense, defense,” Lurtsema told Sports Headliners. “Defense is always ahead of the offense at this time of the season anyway, and that’s why you see so many low scoring games. …But he (Zimmer) has that defense playing so well together, so quickly in preseason, I think that’s the main reason for his record.”
The Vikings have given up 16 points or more only three times during their 11 preseason games in the Zimmer era. Six times opponents have scored 12 points or less against Zimmer’s teams. This preseason the Vikings have defeated the Bengals, 17-16, and Seahawks, 18-11.
The Vikings gave up the second fewest points in the National Football Conference last year when they won their first division title since 2009. Minnesota’s 302 points allowed was second only to the Seahawks’ 272.
Zimmer has impressed Lurtsema and many others with his coaching. His defensive teachings were well documented with the Bengals where he was defensive coordinator before coming to Minneapolis. As a head coach he has his imprint on the defense but he also has shaped the entire team with his no-nonsense, direct approach with all players. He doesn’t tolerate lack of effort and mental mistakes.
Lurtsema attends practices and sees a team attitude he likes. He gives Zimmer and his staff a lot of credit for what he observes in the 2016 Vikings. He raves about Zimmer and likens him to his former coach Bud Grant who led the Vikings to four Super Bowls.
Zimmer, of course, doesn’t even have a playoff win yet as a head coach but Lurtsema wouldn’t trade him for any NFL boss including those who have won Super Bowls. “Nope, and that took me almost a millionth of a second to answer that,” Lurtsema said when asked about trading Zimmer.
This morning at Winter Park Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who missed last week’s preseason game with a shoulder problem, declined to say when it developed. He also didn’t comment on whether he can physically perform today as normal. The third-year quarterback said he never had arm problems while playing in college and high school.
Harrison Smith, who might be the best safety in the NFL, isn’t the only celebrity in his family. His aunt, Elaine Hendrix, is an actress who has appeared in such productions as Friends, NCIS and The Parent Trap.
Former Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder seems certain to see a lot of playing time for the 49ers when they play at home against the Packers Friday night. The 28-year-old Ponder was impressive last week in leading the 49ers to a win over the Broncos, only days after being signed to a one-year contract and not knowing if he had an NFL future. Ponder’s wife, Sam Ponder, will join Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit as ESPN’s lead commenting team on college football telecasts this season.
Ron Vander Kelen, who died last week in Edina, is remembered by older football fans in this state. As undrafted NFL free agent, he played mostly as a reserve quarterback for the Vikings from 1963-1967. At Wisconsin he helped the Badgers to the 1962 Big Ten title after they defeated the Gophers in a controversial game costing Minnesota the championship. Vander Kelen, a native of Green Bay, was the Chicago Tribune’s 1962 Big Ten MVP.
The football Gophers need a breakout player at wide receiver and they may get a huge surprise. Tyler Johnson, 6-2, 185-pounds, was a quarterback and defensive back at Minneapolis North but he’s made a big impression catching footballs in August practices.
“Done a tremendous job,” said Gophers coach Tracy Claeys. “I mean, for a true freshman, it’s unbelievable. Really is, just because you’re talking about a kid who played every sport in high school, including baseball, AAU basketball, (and) hadn’t had much time in the weight room. If we wouldn’t bring in freshmen in June he probably wouldn’t have a chance because of the strength thing, but he’s added some strength, and he’s gained some weight.
“I do think that the AAU basketball has given him a mentality of competing against older kids. …It didn’t faze him to get out there and go against older kids. Tremendous hands, and he can jump and come up with the ball. He’ll definitely be a part of what we’re doing this fall.”
C.O.R.E.S. will have former Gophers athletics director Joel Maturi as its speaker Thursday, September 8 at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Bloomington, 1114 American Blvd. Maturi was AD from 2002-2012 and during that time student-athletes improved in the classroom while teams won five national championships and more than 40 conference titles. He was a finalist for the National Athletic Director of the Year Award in 2009. C.O.R.E.S. reservations and more information are available by contacting Jim Dotseth, firstname.lastname@example.org.
St. John’s head football coach Gary Fasching will speak to the C.O.R.E.S. group Thursday, November 10. C.O.R.E.S. is an acronym for coaches, officials, reporters, educators and sports fans.
Oswaldo Arcia, the former Twins outfielder who joined the Rays earlier this season, was signed off waivers by the Marlins earlier this week. With the Rays he hit .259 with two home runs and seven RBI in 54 at bats. His numbers earlier this season for Minnesota were .214 with four home runs and 12 RBI in 103 at bats.
The Gophers volleyball team is picked for second in the Big Ten behind Nebraska. The conference announced the results yesterday of a coaches poll which also voted Gophers Hannah Tapp, Paige Tapp and Samantha Seliger-Swenson preseason All-Big Ten.
Here is what I know—or think I know—about news-making Gophers coaches J Robinson and Don Lucia, and major changes coming in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
Sources tell Sports Headliners the University of Minnesota may make an announcement tomorrow regarding Robinson, the suspended head wrestling coach. The University has been investigating Robinson this summer over how he handled allegations his wrestlers used and sold the drug Xanax.
Speculation is Robinson, 69, will not be allowed to return for a 31st season as Gophers wrestling coach. A source reported Robinson and the University are trying to reach a financial settlement, but recently were far apart in determining a final compensation amount—more than $500,000.
In June both Hennepin County and the City of Minneapolis declined to file charges that Gophers wrestlers used and sold the anti-anxiety drug, and that Robinson covered up the alleged activity. The University’s investigation of Robinson has been going on since at least May and he was placed on paid leave June 1.
Robinson is one of the legendary coaches in U history. He has coached the Gophers to three national championships, and has a long list of Big Ten team and individual champions, and All-Americans. He made the Gophers a regional and national power while also impacting the lives of his wrestlers and the thousands of youth attending his summer camps.
A former University employee talked about an encounter a few years ago with a stranger he met while travelling for the athletic department. “Saved my life,” the stranger said about Robinson. “I went to coach’s camp. He changed my attitude. He changed my approach to life. He saved my life—tell him that I owe him a lot.”
A former U.S. Army ranger who served in Vietnam, Robinson is known for his philosophies about life. His experiences have been shaped not only by the military and coaching but also his own successful amateur wrestling career when he won national championships. He is also regarded as one of America’s better Olympic wrestlers of the 20th century. …
Although an announcement has been anticipated for awhile, there has been nothing made public about Lucia and the University agreeing to a new contract. There were media reports last month of an alleged two-year extension providing the Gophers men’s hockey coach security through the 2019 season.
It could be that both sides, including legal representatives, are still finalizing paperwork for signatures. It’s not unusual for U athletic department contracts to move through a process taking months for finalization. The contracts are detailed—and key provisions and wording can require sorting out and consensus.
Lucia’s present deal with the Gophers ends next year. Without a contract extension, he is at a disadvantage in recruiting, with other schools able to tell prospects the Gophers don’t know who the coach will be in the fall of 2017 and beyond.
Lucia has been Minnesota’s head coach since 1999. In his early years at Minnesota he knew Mark Coyle who worked in marketing for the athletic department. Coyle, who became athletic director last spring, is regarded as supportive of Lucia.
The Gophers didn’t qualify for the NCAA Tournament last season but did win the Big Ten Conference championship. Minnesota has made program history by winning consecutive regular season league titles the last five years, with two championships in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and the last three in the Big Ten including 2016.
The move in 2013 to the six-team hockey startup Big Ten from the history-rich WCHA hasn’t been received well by many Gophers hockey fans. There’s been a lack of excitement about the program in recent years, with empty seats at Mariucci Arena characterizing some of the apathy. Fans who are critical of the program point to last season’s un-Gopher-like 20-17 overall record and no national championship since 2003.
Lucia, who had a young team last season, has coached Minnesota to national titles in 2002 and 2003. The Gophers’ all-time winningest coach, Lucia told Sports Headliners last March he planned to continue indefinitely at Minnesota: “Yeah, I would like to come back,” said Lucia who had head coaching jobs at Alaska Fairbanks and Colorado College before coming to Minnesota. “This is my 29th year as a head coach and I will be 58 this summer, but I still love what I do.”
Lucia turned 58 last Saturday. …
The innovative WCHA expects to make changes for next season involving overtimes, points awarded and its nets. Announcement about the changes for men’s regular season games is expected as soon as this week.
Sports Headliners has learned that next season games tied after regulation and the NCAA-mandated five-minute 5-on-5 overtime period will advance to a second five-minute overtime period of 3-on-3 play. If games are still tied, they will be settled in a sudden death shootout (each team receives a minimum of one shot).
A WCHA regular season game will be worth three points in the standings next season. Games decided in regulation and in 5-on-5 overtimes will award three points to the winning team (two points last season). Games decided in 3-on-3 overtimes and shootouts will award two points to the winning team and one to the losing.
WCHA arenas will use 40-inch goal frames on the nets for next season after using 44-inch frames in the past. The 40-inch model is consistent with that used by the National Hockey League. The WCHA’s intent with the change is to open space on the ice for skaters and make games more entertaining.
The WCHA, with league offices in Edina, starts its 65th year of competition next season. The 10-team Division 1 conference consists of schools ranging from Alaska to Alabama, and includes Bemidji State and Minnesota State. The men’s commissioner is Bill Robertson whose career experiences include leadership positions with the Minnesota Wild, Minnesota Timberwolves and Anaheim Angels.
The rollout for Jerry Kill’s book is about to happen. The former Gophers coach told Sports Headliners the book is only days away from being available online at Amazon, and he will travel from his home in Kansas to promote the book in Minneapolis next month.
Chasing Dreams: Living My Life One Yard at a Time is a book with intentions that won’t surprise Kill’s many admirers in Minnesota. He wrote the autobiography with Minnesota author Jim Bruton to help others and raise money for his two nonprofits.
“It’s really a book that is filled full of a lot of different types of information,” Kill said in a telephone interview Sunday. “I am hoping that somebody that has epilepsy would read it. Somebody has cancer would read it. Somebody from the business world would read it (comparing business and big time college sports). I think that’s one of the better chapters in there, honestly.
“The other part of it (the book) is a little bit for where I was raised, family and that kind of thing. It’s a book to try to touch as many lives as I can.”
Kill’s intent is to sell thousands and thousands of books because all profits go to the Illinois-based Coach Jerry Kill Cancer Fund and the Minnesota-headquartered Coach Kill Chasing Dreams Epilepsy Fund. “Both foundations will benefit,” Kill said. “That’s what I am more proud of than anything.
“None of it will go to (wife) Rebecca and I. It will all go to our foundations. So even if you don’t like the book, somebody ought to buy it just to donate 25 bucks or whatever it’s going to cost because they’re helping somebody out.”
Kill will be in Minnesota Friday, September 9 and Saturday, September 10 for book signings. Among his stops will be TCF Bank Stadium September 10 where he will have books available before and after the Gophers-Indiana State football game.
Kill poked fun at his verbal skills when discussing the book. His Kansas twang and folksy manner—and sometimes incomplete and grammatically mixed up remarks—can leave a listener trying to piece things together. “This book may not have perfect English in it cause people said that I don’t speak English real good,” he said. “So it will be interesting. …”
In his book Kill writes about his personal life both growing up and as an adult. ”There will be some stuff that nobody knows about,” he said. “There’s no question about that. I didn’t pull any punches as far as my life.
“My wife left me for a short time. I talk about that and why. It’s in there.”
Kill, who turns 55 next week, is revered by Gophers fans for the accomplishments he had with the football team and the unselfish volunteerism he provided in the community. He inherited an embarrassing program after the 2010 season that was a failure on the field and in the classroom. His “brick-by-brick” slogan came true as the Gophers earned milestone wins and played in their first New Year’s Day Bowl game since 1962. Off the field incidents involving players that had made headlines under previous coaches stopped and GPAs dramatically improved.
Kill and Rebecca made time to help individuals and organizations who reached out to them. They have been mentors and role models to many Minnesotans who needed assistance. Part of why they empathize with others is because of their own struggles. Kill is a cancer survivor and his battles with epilepsy were dramatically highlighted while coaching the Gophers.
Health concerns drove him out of coaching and into retirement last October when he unexpectedly resigned with five regular season games remaining on the schedule. Kill was struggling so much his wife was helping him get through the nights. He was trying to do his own pressure-filled job while adding some responsibilities of resigned athletic Norwood Teague. Kill held a heartbreaking news conference to announce his resignation only days before the October 31 Michigan game.
In the book Kill writes about Teague but doesn’t go after his controversial former boss. “I did say that when he left I had to do a lot more things than I had to…in the past, and that was difficult,” Kill said.
Although Kill admits his situation was very demanding last fall, he doesn’t blame Teague or anyone else for how his career at Minnesota ended. “Everything was brought on (by) myself,” Kill said. “I don’t have anybody to blame except myself as (to) why at the end of the day it was out at Minnesota. …”
In the weeks after Kill’s resignation he tried to figure out what he was going to do with his life and time. The idea of writing a book fit in with his plans. “Well, I think the biggest reason (was) I needed something to do after my situation,” he said. “After a month…I got my feet on the ground and we done it (the book) pretty fast.”
Kill is now an associate athletic director at Kansas State. He works closely with student-athletes and legendary football coach Bill Snyder. A native of small-town Cheney, Kansas, Kill is close to nearby family while working in Manhattan.
Minnesota, though, is still on his mind. He made so many friends here and loved the state.
The book cover shows a triumphant Kill running off the field at TCF Bank Stadium looking up at approving fans. Kill is pleased with the cover and it reminds him of his feelings for Minnesota. “It’s a great state,” he said.