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Frustrated Fans Target Fleck, QB

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October 8, 2017

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Gophers football fans are understandably frustrated after two consecutive defeats, including Saturday’s 31-17 loss to Purdue. Communications sent to Sports Headliners focus on coach P.J. Fleck and quarterback Conor Rhoda.

No surprise there.

Football fans typically direct attention to the head coach and quarterback, two of the most visible and important positions on any team. The Gophers, 3-2 overall and 0-2 in the Big Ten, have lost to mediocre league rivals in Maryland and Purdue. The remaining seven teams on the schedule are more formidable than the first five opponents and that prompts pessimism about Minnesota qualifying for a bowl game—something the program has achieved for five straight years.

The feedback received here is fans want to know why Fleck doesn’t use another quarterback, or have Rhoda become a running threat. Those questions are understandable and expected when after a 3-0 nonconference start the Gophers lose games late in the fourth quarter they could have won.

Let’s start with this. Fleck and his assistant coaches are with the players, including the quarterbacks, every day. That constant exposure gives the coaches the best possible opportunity to evaluate personnel. Fans don’t have that advantage, nor are most fans professionally qualified to make such evaluations.

Fleck is earning a $3.5 million salary and he better know what he is doing. He is charged with choosing a quarterback who best fits his system—a scheme that doesn’t emphasize the quarterback running the ball. His starter must have the knowledge to run the offense, make impromptu and correct decisions on the field, and be a strong and exemplary leader.

Through five games the coaches have determined Rhoda best fits the job description. They have also decided backups Seth Green and Demry Croft aren’t ready to play. They are better runners than Rhoda but Fleck and his assistants have so far decided Rhoda has the best command of the offense, and is the better leader and passer.

Rhoda is instructed by the coaches to use caution when making decisions to run on option plays. Fleck’s concern about Rhoda sustaining an injury sends a message about the lack of QB depth on the roster.

Saturday Rhoda made a first half run and fumbled the ball, killing a scoring drive inside the Boilermakers’ 10-yard line. Late in the game Rhoda came up limping after taking a blow trying to pass, according to KFAN Radio. His physical skills and body don’t appear well suited to running and absorbing a lot of hits during a game. Even in high school at Cretin-Derham Hall Rhoda didn’t make his reputation as a running quarterback.

Rhoda has been an effective game manager and he has completed some timely passes, although he has a few he wishes he could take back. He has demonstrated poise and command. Overall, he has played well within his abilities and what the coaches have asked him to do.

During a football season things evolve, so maybe Rhoda will be directed to run a dozen times per game in the future instead of handing the ball off to his running backs. That could be an indication Fleck is more comfortable using Green or Croft if needed. Perhaps the coach will see enough improvement in either or both of them to provide playing time.

Whatever the quarterback decisions going forward, it’s suggested fans take a deep breath and trust that the coaches have the expertise to know who their best candidate is for the job and what he is capable of doing.

Worth Noting

New Vikings running back Stevan Ridley seems like a third option to play Monday night against the Bears but he’s ready for whatever workload comes his way. “As many as the coaches throw my way, man,” Ridley said. “I really feel confident in that.

“I can’t say an exact number (of carries). I just know that it was more than I was getting last week at the house. I am really anxious and ready to get out there and do whatever I can.“

Ridley was home in Mississippi and football-unemployed last weekend, hoping to hear from an NFL team. He played in one game last season for the Falcons. The 28-year-old former LSU running back was among the final cuts by the Broncos in training camp last summer.

Ridley, who ran for 1,263 yards with the Patriots in 2012, has had two ACL surgeries but believes his physical abilities are the same as five years ago. Ironically, the Vikings added him to their roster because rookie running back Dalvin Cook is out for the season because of a torn ACL.

Being without a team didn’t discourage Ridley from taking care of his body but he’s been frustrated after playing for four teams. “It’s been tough, man. It’s been a lot of ups and downs, a lot of different stops,” he said. “A lot of hoping and praying that things work out.”

Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon will get the first opportunity to replace Cook but with 12 games remaining in the regular season, Ridley could see the field sooner or later.

Ridley has a passion for not only football but hunting and had a new bow he was planning to try out soon. He has been hunting ducks, deer and turkey since he was a child. “Everything I kill, I eat, man,” he said.

Dalvin Cook (photo courtesy of Minnesota Vikings)

Cook’s explosive running made him an early season candidate for NFL Rookie of the Year. His absence could cost the Vikings a couple of wins because he’s that effective of a playmaker. While Cook goes off the roster, the Vikings do add a potential points-producer in wide receiver Michael Floyd who was suspended for the first four games but seems likely to play Monday night.

Floyd, at 6-3, 220 pounds, brings size to the Vikings’ wide receivers roster in his first year with Minnesota. In three of Floyd’s six seasons with the Cardinals he averaged 16 yards or more per reception.

“Mike is a little faster than people will give him credit for,” said Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. “That’s sort of what I factored in after watching him here in the training sessions.”

Floyd is living with Vikings tight end and former Notre Dame teammate Kyle Rudolph and his family. Do the two players talk football around the house?

“From time to time but not a whole lot,” Rudolph said. “I really don’t see him much. He kind of just hangs out in the basement, and comes up for dinner—and that’s about it.”

Vikings defensive tackle Linval Joseph will get an early birthday present if the Vikings win against the Bears. Joseph turns 29 on Tuesday.

A local sports industry source believes the Twins may sign manager Paul Molitor to a new contract for two or three years at about $1.5 to $1.8 million annually. MLB manager salaries aren’t well document but the source said Molitor’s old contract was for three years and worth about $4 million. Ron Gardenhire, who Molitor replaced in the fall of 2014, is believed to have made $2 million annually.

The Twins and Molitor, 61, seem likely to reach a deal this week or next.

Executive Dana Warg, who used to be with Target Center, now makes booking and entertainment decisions for the new Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.

Congratulations to high school football coaches David Haugen of Pelican Rapids and James Semmen of Lanesboro on earning 100th career wins earlier this season. Both have known career postseason success including Semmen’s second place state tournament finish in nine-man football in 2010, and Haugen’s 1997 Class 2A title in 1997.

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About Author

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers.

Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section.

A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

(3) Readers Comments

  1. avatar
    Tom Sakal - Captain 1967 Big Ten Championship Team
    October 8, 2017 at 12:43 pm

    Dave, are these fair-weather Gopher Fans even aware that nearly 50% of the Gopher squad is Freshman or Red Shirt Freshman players? With little to no game time experience comes mental and physical errors and mistakes.There's not only a lack of playing experience but bench strength is minimal at best. The results of the prior coaching staff's recruiting philosophy of offering scholarships to players other schools have passed on or overlooked and trying to develop those players into Big Ten caliber players now shows it's flaw and weaknesses. The fact of the matter is the cupboards are bear and it will take time for Coach Fleck and his staff to rebuild this program with his own players. This will take time, perhaps 3 to 4 years. Minnesota is not by any stretch of the imagination an Alabama, Clemson, Michigan or other Top 25 teams who can reload every years with top notch players ready to compete on the big time college football stage and vie for a National Championship. They are barely minimal competitors in the Big Ten at this stage of the game and expecting them to play at those higher levels is not only wishful thinking but unfair. They will loose games that they SHOULD and COULD win like against Maryland and Purdue but given the above mentioned problems it's not always going to happen and that's "FACT" whether the fans like it or not. My advice to the fair-weather Gopher fans: Give this coach a fair chance, quit second guessing, stop the whining and expecting the Gophers to win every game, "'It ain't going to happen", accept it. Get behind the program and the coaching staff. Be supportive.Cheer like every game is for the National Championship, be excited and support these young players. Coach Fleck brings excitement, enthusiasm and a level of energy not seen since the days of Lew Holtz and sorely missing for far too many years. As a former Gopher who loves this program, I believe in this coach and see a bright future and return to national prominence for the Golden Gophers.

  2. avatar
    Joe Basil
    October 8, 2017 at 2:45 pm

    Your comments regarding Rhoda make sense. The only comeback I would have is Croft and Rhoda were a coin flip for the QB job for a long while. Once Croft works his way out of Fleck's dog house (if that's possible), I don't think its a stretch to give him a shot. Even if its as a change up for the "O". Croft brings a dimension that defenses have to account for.

  3. avatar
    Ken Lien
    October 12, 2017 at 3:39 pm

    I think it would be a mistake for Kill to risk taking any head coaching position. He's wonderful for the college game, but his health situation isn't worth the risk. If I were a college AD I wouldn't touch with it with a ten foot pole. Kaler made a HUGE mistake in letting Kill get away. He would have been superb for not only the football program, but college athletics in general. He relates and wears well with people, is very trustworthy and dependable.

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