The Gophers and Iowa were the last two Big Ten teams to finish their spring practice schedules last Saturday. Both are programs trying to establish themselves in the conference after 2012 seasons when the two teams had identical 2-6 records, but if there is a sharp contrast between the programs it’s with the coaching staffs.
The Hawkeyes have six new assistants on their staff since the 2011 season. But the Gophers have the same core group, boasting a staff longevity that is unusual in college football.
Gophers’ assistant head coach and linebacker coach Bill Miller has worked for about a dozen head coaches and knows the staff loyalty to Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill is special. Kill has seven assistants who have worked for him 14 years or more at Minnesota and previous head coaching stops, according to Miller.
“He treats them good,” Miller told Sports Headliners earlier this spring. “He is a good man. He’s a good guy to work for. He’s sincere. … He’s a tell- it-like-it-is.”
Coaching relationships can be volatile but Miller said Kill, who has been the Gophers’ head coach for two seasons, doesn’t “threaten you with your job and things like that.” “I guess I work harder for a guy that wants me to do well and treats me good, and then I don’t want to disappoint him.”
Miller described Kill as humble, organized and a tireless worker — someone who treats not only the coaches “great” but the players too. That kind of leader makes recruiting easier and more successful, according to Miller.
“You can sincerely sell the farm for him and guarantee people that their son is going to be treated well when he comes here,” Miller said. “They’re going to be disciplined and they’re going to do the right things. The good players that I’ve been around in the last 35 years…they want that type of environment, that type of structure, and that’s what I think our staff gives them.”
Miller was first employed by the Gophers in 1986 when John Gutekunst took over as head coach succeeding Lou Holtz who in 1984 and 1985 ignited a passion for football in Dinkytown not seen since. The Gophers had about 56,000 season ticket holders after Holtz worked his magic with state football fans.
Miller, who came back to the Gophers a couple of years ago after multiple coaching stops elsewhere, saw that fan support in the 1980s and sees it happening again. “They’ll support somebody that puts a good product out there. I guarantee you we are putting a good product out there, and it’s gonna get better and better and better. If it doesn’t, hey, they’ll fire us just like they fire anybody else.”
The Gophers apparently will minimize the number of hits their quarterbacks will be exposed to next fall. “I think there’s a lot of the quarterback run game that we kind of got rid of,” Philip Nelson said.
Fewer hits on Nelson and his backups can mean less chance of injuries. The Gophers have minimal game experience at quarterback. As a freshman, Nelson started seven games last year in relief of injured quarterbacks MarQueis Gray and Max Shortell.
Behind Nelson now on the quarterback depth chart is redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner and true freshman Chris Streveler.
The rushing game responsibility will focus on the running backs. Nelson was encouraged by the Gophers’ rushing game in the Meineke Car Care Bowl loss to Texas Tech and sees the performance as a predictor of success in 2013. Running backs Donnell Kirkwood and Rodrick Williams were the team’s leading rushers in the game with 77 and 60 net yards, part of a team total of 222. “I think our running game will be tremendous this year,” Nelson said. “No doubt about it.”
In Big Ten Conference games last season the Gophers ranked No. 9 in rushing at 127.2 yards per game. Minnesota is counting on an improved offensive line and better performances by the running backs including incoming freshman breakaway talent Berkley Edwards to inflate the rushing stats this fall.
Coach Jerry Kill knows that a better rushing game will buoy his young quarterbacks, causing defenses to respect both the run and pass. “You help quarterbacks by running the football,” Kill said.
After 15 spring practices that ended with last Saturday’s spring game, Nelson is the starting QB but with emphasis on constant competition and evaluation there are no guarantees. “Somebody has to take Philip’s job (for there to be a change),” Kill said. “Right now it’s his job. Somebody has to take it.”
Kill is confident about his quarterback roster. “I feel very good about that position,” he said.
The coach said it’s too soon to decide if Streveler will be redshirted. The Illinois native enrolled in school last winter to participate in spring football.
The Gophers were 6-7 overall, 2-6 in the Big Ten last season including the bowl loss. Nelson believes the team is much improved on both offense and defense. How many games can the Gophers win?
“I think we can win them all, to be honest with you,” Nelson said. “We’ve got a great squad. As long as we stay healthy we’ve got a pretty dangerous team.”
Former Gopher Adam Weber is with the NFL Bucs where he expects to compete against three or four other quarterbacks for a roster spot. The last two seasons Weber has been on practice squads with the Broncos and Bucs where he earned about $100,000 per year.
Under league rules, a player can only spend three years on a practice squad so this is a big year for Weber. “I am tired of being on the practice squad,” Weber told Sports Headliners. “I want to play. I want to be part of a team. I want to help a team win.”
Weber said it’s a misperception that while offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch was coaching Weber at Minnesota his throwing mechanics were messed up. “No, not at all. I owe a lot to Jedd Fisch. He showed me a lot of things of what it takes to be a quarterback. …I wouldn’t even be where I am at if it wasn’t for Jedd.”
Weber, 25, did color commentary on the radio broadcast for the Gophers’ spring game last Saturday. He’s undecided about post-football plans but broadcasting might be a possibility.
Former Vikings’ defensive lineman Bob Lurtsema, who is a sharp talent evaluator, labeled Vikings’ fourth round draft choice Gerald Hodges “the one to watch” and a “sleeper.” Hodges is a former college safety turned linebacker and Lurtsema likes the field awareness and speed of the ex-Penn State player.
Hodges talking about what it was like to play for coaching legend Joe Paterno: “It was a blessing. It was like being coached by — not a God because no one is higher than God — but it was like being coached by a legend while he was still coaching. That was a blessing to even be in his hands. He was more of a father figure than I would say coach. He taught a lot (about) football, but at the same time, he taught us a lot about how to be a man and how to show respect.”
The super-prep foursome of Apple Valley’s Tyus Jones, along with Houston’s Justise Winslow, and Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander, both from Chicago, are talking about attending the same university starting in 2014-15, according to a Sunday story from the Courier-Journal.com. The Louisville newspaper’s website story said the four high school juniors are talking about winning a national championship together.
Chris Monter, the local basketball writer, was asked last weekend how strong he thought the long-held plan was of Jones and Okafor attending school together. “I would be surprised if it didn’t happen,” Monter said.
University of Minnesota president Eric Kaler is impressed with what he’s hearing about new basketball coach Richard Pitino. “Everybody I’ve talked to is excited about his energy, excited about the people he’s brought so far, and I am looking forward to him having a good run at Minnesota,” Kaler told Sports Headliners.
Flip Saunders was a hometown favorite among fans for the job but turned it down. Kaler wouldn’t elaborate on discussions with Saunders. “I haven’t and don’t intend to make any comments about the coaching process selection. I think we wound up with a really super guy and we’re focusing on his success.”
An athletic department spokesman e-mailed that “102 new deposits for season tickets” have been accepted since Pitino’s hiring.
St. Thomas ranked No. 11 nationally in the unofficial winter Division III Learfield Sports Director’s Cup standings released last week. Other MIAC schools in the top 50 were St. Olaf at No. 31 and Gustavus Adolphus, No. 37. Concordia, Carleton and Saint John’s also placed in the first 100.
Eleven of the MIAC’s 13 schools ranked among the leading 213 schools in the standings — second most for any Division III conference. The Learfield standings measure each institution’s combined performance at national championship tournaments and events. The final standings for school year 2012-13 will be announced June 6.
Covering the Gophers’ spring football game on Saturday:
Gophers’ executive associate athletics director David Benedict told Sports Headliners the University of Minnesota will designate a parking lot just for students as an incentive to increase ticket sales for football games this season.
Last week athletic department officials met with 55 student leaders representing various groups to talk about the idea. Benedict also said the student season ticket sale will begin next month. Student season ticket totals have been declining in recent years despite the move of football to campus from the Metrodome.
Last year the department contracted with the Aspire Group to sell tickets. Benedict said Aspire has sold approximately $1 million in tickets since last September, including 600 new football season tickets.
He also said the department hosted 100 potential purchasers of premium football seating at Saturday’s spring game. Those seating areas include suites and outdoor locations.
The Gophers had a large turnout of high school prospects on Saturday but Washburn High School running back Jeff Jones, who has verbally committed to play for Minnesota, didn’t attend the game. The junior recruit was playing in a basketball tournament.
GopherIllustrated.com reported three-star quarterback Dimonic McKinzy from Kansas City, Kansas, committed to the Gophers on his unofficial visit to campus last weekend.
Among those in the crowd of several thousand spectators at the game were University president Eric Kaler and members of the Board of Regents. After being told the Gophers’ opening game at TCF Bank Stadium on August 29 will be played at the same time as the Vikings’ final preseason game at Mall of America Field, a regent said: “I am not happy about it.”
The Gophers’ game has long been scheduled for that date but the Vikings finalized their date earlier this spring.
Gophers coach Jerry Kill said he didn’t allow more than a dozen players to participate in the spring game including two of his best defensive players, senior tackle Ra’Shede Hageman and senior safety Brock Vereen. Hageman is a consensus pick as the team’s top NFL draft prospect. “Brock Vereen is, in my opinion, one of the better secondary players in the Big Ten,” Kill said.
Kill told his players after the game he was proud of their spring efforts and he “loved” them. He urged players to be accountable in their off-field activities including attending class.
Later he told the media: “You go to bed every night worrying about something. Nothing is ever perfect.”
This week the Gophers, who have now completed their 15 spring practices, will hear about mental toughness from motivational speakers Kill has asked to address the team.
A replay of the spring game will be shown on the Big Ten Network starting at 7 p.m. tonight.
Jim Dutcher followed with interest the recent University of Minnesota hiring of assistant basketball coach Kimani Young who many years ago was arrested for possession of 96 pounds of marijuana. In 2007 the University wouldn’t allow the hiring of assistant coach Jimmy Williams who decades before had allegedly been involved with NCAA rules violations at Minnesota.
“That was a gutsy move (hiring Young) after the way they treated Jimmy Williams — and I fully support it because I always believe in giving people second chances,” said Dutcher who had Williams on his staff in the 1970s and 1980s when he was the Gophers’ head coach.
Dutcher expects Michigan State and Michigan to be favorites to win the Big Ten title next season. He also said the hiring of young head coaches at Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern and Rutgers could change the style of play in the league, moving away from the “grind it out” offenses to faster play.
Twins’ manager Ron Gardenhire has sold his home in Little Canada for $751,000.00, according to a Bizjournals.com story on Friday. Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal also reported the sales price was $1,100.00 more than the initial asking price in February.
After yesterday’s 5-0 win over the Rangers, the Twins are above .500 in both overall record (11-10) and at Target Field (7-6). Starting pitcher Kevin Correia shutout the Rangers for eight innings. He’s the only Twins’ pitcher in history to start his career with five straight outings of seven innings or more.
Twins’ second baseman Brian Dozier is batting .364 in eight games as the team’s leadoff hitter. He has reached base in 10 consecutive games.
Watch Twins’ farm players like Chris Colabello (six home runs) and Clete Thomas (.340 average) when Triple-A Rochester hosts Buffalo starting at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday in a MLB Network telecast.
Paul Allen, the radio play-by-play voice of the Vikings, will speak to the C.O.R.E.S. group on Thursday, May 9 at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Bloomington. Allen is also a radio talk show host on KFAN and track announcer at Canterbury Park. Anyone interested in attending the luncheon and program can contact Jim Dotseth, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Canterbury Park is the only location in the state where there is legalized wagering for this Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. Admission is free at the Shakopee facility where live horse racing returns on Friday, May 17.
WCCO Radio’s Dave Lee has been honored with awards from both the Associated Press and the Northwest Broadcast News Association for his play-by-play broadcast of the St. Thomas and UW-Oshkosh football playoff game last year.
Dave Mona, public relations executive with Weber Shandwick-Minneapolis, was honored by Minnesota Business Magazine last week as part of its power 50 list. Mona is retiring from the international public relations agency on July 1 but will consult for the company.
Weber Shandwick announced this month that it has added the Big Ten Conference to its client list. Mona said much of the work will be done by Weber Shandwick in Chicago.
When the Blue Jackets didn’t qualify for the playoffs, it probably cost Columbus coach and former Wild coach Todd Richards a realistic opportunity to win the NHL Coach of the Year award.
Tim Leiweke, the former Timberwolves marketing executive, has been hired in Toronto to run Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. He will have NBA, NHL and facility responsibilities.