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Dutcher Contract Targets Gopher Job

September 23, 2020 - 1 Comment

 

Minnesota native Brian Dutcher has negotiated a revised contract to continue coaching the San Diego State men’s basketball team.  The deal includes a near $7 million buyout if he departed for another school, but it has one exception: the University of Minnesota job.

The San Diego Union-Tribune offered details of the new contract earlier this month and reported the buyout to take the Minnesota job is $1 million.  The $6.95 million opt out amount, the newspaper said, drops in succeeding years and will be expensive for either the Aztecs to fire Dutcher, or for another school to hire him—except if that program is the Gophers.

Dutcher, 60, is an alum of Bloomington Jefferson and the University of Minnesota. His dad Jim Dutcher, now in his late 80s, coached Minnesota to the Big Ten title in 1982.  Brian is close to his father who every season travels to San Diego to watch the Aztecs.  Brian comes back to Minneapolis each summer with his family and sees not only his dad but two sisters.

“I guess he’s putting it out there that Minnesota would be a pretty good place for him to go if the job opened up,” said Robbie Hummel, Big Ten Network and ESPN college basketball authority.

Hummel, the former Purdue star and Minnesota Timberwolves reserve, acknowledged the opt out clause for Minnesota is unusual. “I’ve never heard of a coach being able to negotiate a deal like that,” Hummel told Sports Headliners yesterday. “That’s sure interesting because if that were to happen it would be encouraging for Gopher fans because he did a heck of a job last year.

“But I do believe Minnesota has a really good coach right now in Richard Pitino—given the hands he’s been dealt, whether it’s injuries, suspensions.  He’s put together some good teams in the league. …I think Minnesota’s got something pretty good right now.”

In the Union-Tribune story San Diego State AD John David Wicker said the Aztecs job is a better one than Minnesota but he understands the pull to go home for family reasons if a vacancy were to occur.  Brian Dutcher also spoke on the record and said,
“It’s my school. Where I went and was able to be part of that basketball program with my dad. But it’s still a buyout. It’s not like it’s free.”

Dutcher’s team was 30-2 and ranked No. 6 in the nation before COVID put an end to the 2019-2020 college basketball season.  His team appeared poised for a deep tournament run.  USA Today named him college coach of the year.  His three-year record as Aztecs head coach is 73-26 (.737 winning percentage).

Pitino, 38, starts his eighth season at Minnesota this fall.  Two of his teams have qualified for the NCAA Tournament.  His first Gopher team won the 2014 NIT.  His overall record is 127-108 and 48-82 in Big Ten games. Only once has his Gopher team won more Big Ten games than it lost.

Richard Pitino

Critics have suggested for awhile that Minnesota AD Mark Coyle should make a change.  With the possibility of program interest declining and ticket sales slumping even more, rumors had Pitino being dismissed last March and bought out of his contract, but issues caused by the pandemic, including financial hardship at the U, may have been why a change didn’t happen.

The Gopher job could also open up if Pitino decided to take over another program.  During Pitino’s tenure at Minnesota his name has been linked to other major college positions.

If Coyle did make a change some time in the next few years, you can be sure the ability of the head coach to recruit will be top of the list.  Dutcher has recruiting ties in talent-rich California and helped bring the great Kawhi Leonard to San Diego State when he was an assistant coach. While an assistant at Michigan, Dutcher was instrumental in the recruiting of the famous “Fab Five” freshmen class.

Hummel doesn’t believe Pitino is spending time thinking about Dutcher’s contract.  “You just gotta worry about yourself. …I don’t think he’s worried at all about Brian Dutcher’s contract.”

Worth Noting

Is it possible ex-Gophers center Daniel Oturu has fallen in NBA mock draft projections because scouts are concerned about his history of injuries with both shoulders? NBAdraft.net, for example, once ranked the Woodbury native as a top 10 choice in the 2020 draft but now projects him as the last player to be chosen in the first round, going at No. 30 to the Boston Celtics.

All-Big Ten junior Gophers point guard Marcus Carr, who withdrew his name for the draft this summer, needs to improve his shooting to draw more serious interest from NBA teams.  He made .393 percent of his field goals last season (.361 on three-pointers).

Liam Robbins, the Drake transfer who will replace Oturu, is drawing interest from Gophers fans and he should including for his shot blocking.  Last season Robbins ranked No. 4 nationally with a 2.91 blocks per game average.  Oturu ranked No. 21 averaging 2.45.

Various media reports last week had Rick Pitino, father of Gophers basketball coach Richard Pitino, watching the U.S. Open from his nearby house at Winged Foot Golf Club.  Pitino is also a member of the historic club in suburban New York City.

Here is another indictment of the Vikings’ ineffective offensive line that has contributed to two quarterback sacks and a 0-2 record: Tight ends Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr. have to focus on blocking to help the interior crew, rather than receiving (they have two catches each).

Look for the Vikings to avoid their first 0-3 start since 2013 with a win at U.S. Bank Stadium against a mediocre 2-0 Tennessee Titans team.  It will be a miracle if Titans kicker Stephen Gostkowski beats the Vikings with a field goal after booting the game winner twice in the last two minutes of Tennessee’s opening games.

In the latest S.I.com NFL power rankings the Vikings, a preseason favorite to win the NFC North Division, are at No. 23 among 32 teams.

Front Office Sports reports FOX is willing to spend $2 billion to maintain its rights to Sunday NFL games that include exposure in the nation’s three largest TV markets, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.  The present deal cost $1.08 billion.

Twins closer Taylor Rogers earned the save last night in Minnesota’s 5-4 win over the Detroit Tigers that pulled the team within a half game of the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central Division race, but he gave up a run and is struggling this season with a 4.34 ERA (last season 2.61).

Minnesota is 10-1 in September Target Field games and a MLB-best 22-5 playing at home this season.

Bloomington-located Total Sports Enterprises is promoting an October 2 private signing of Joe Mauer items.

Former University of Minnesota president Eric Kaler turns 64 today.

 

Ben Leber Goes Off on Vikings

September 21, 2020 - (0) comments

 

The Minnesota Vikings have been dominated in their first two games, losing 43-34 to the Green Bay Packers and 28-11 to the Indianapolis Colts. Beyond the 0-2 start to the 2020 season, few numbers are more telling than the team’s time of possession average: Vikings 20 minutes: 10 seconds, opponents 39:51.

Since 1990 NFL teams that begin the season 0-2 have about a 12 percent chance of making the playoffs. With the league expanding the number of playoff teams from 12 to 14 in 2020, it might be premature to write the Vikings’ “obituary” before the first official day of fall, but this team has issues.

The front office willingly parted with personnel in the offseason, most specifically on the defensive line, cornerback and trading star wide receiver Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills. Injuries to defensive end Danielle Hunter, linebacker Anthony Barr and guard Pat Elflein have compounded performance. Still, there are a couple of issues that have been troubling for years—inconsistency at quarterback and in the offensive line. Management has not put high caliber personnel in place to elevate these areas to rank among the best in the league.

Vikings fans are frustrated and so is ex-Viking linebacker Ben Leber. Since Leber’s career ended he has emerged as a candid and knowledgeable analyst on Vikings radio broadcasts and college football telecasts. Unlike many ex-players turned analysts, he is credible and serves his audience.

After yesterday’s game he went off on how the Vikings are playing. Speaking on the KFAN post-game show, Leber was rightfully critical of both the offense and defense.

Kirk Cousins

Leber started with quarterback Kirk Cousins who had a miserable 15.9 passer rating yesterday. Cousins, who has a contract worth almost $100 million, completed 11 of 26 passes for 113 yards and threw three interceptions. But Leber thought Cousins was worse than his stats.

“To me Kirk Cousins has to be able to trust other people outside of (favorite wide receiver) Adam Thielen,” Leber said on KFAN. “He’s way too predictable on passes thrown to him. (In) critical situations everybody knows it’s going to go to Thielen. He (also) has to do a better job in the course of the first half of ball distribution, finding other guys. …”

The Vikings started yesterday’s game with Cousins throwing the ball in a series of plays featuring play-action passes. Leber didn’t like the scripted plays not utilizing Dalvin Cook who management just rewarded with a big contract that includes a $23 million guarantee. He regards Cooks as one of the NFL’s best running backs.

Leber understands offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak wants to have a balanced attack of running and throwing but Cook isn’t receiving enough opportunities (14 carries, two receptions yesterday). “He has this ability to make plays,” Leber said. “Let him be your playmaker. Let the offense run through him. Let the play action pass get developed and get down the field through the run game. We’re just not doing that.”

The Vikings’ woes with time of possession are caused by more than an ineffective offense that leaves the defense on the field for long stretches. “It’s extremely agonizing (to watch),” Leber said. “I love that word because it encapsulates how you feel watching the defense as well (as the offense).”

The defense isn’t playing like a typical Mike Zimmer defense. The line has been pushed around on running plays and unable to sack quarterbacks and create pressure. “The running backs are getting two, three, four yards down the field before there is any initial contact,” Leber said.

An inexperienced group of cornerbacks 24 years old and younger has struggled. Leber said they have played “dumb football.” He is also critical of linebacker Eric Wilson’s pass coverage. ”There are big time issues on this defense that cannot be ignored,” Leber said.

Worth Noting

Leber lives in Edina, a community of choice for players from the Minnesota Wild, Gophers coaches P.J. Fleck and Richard Pitino, Minnesota Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson, and Twins club executives Derek Falvey and Thad Levine.

The AL Central division leading Chicago White Sox rank No. 2 behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in SI.com’s MLB power rankings of last Friday. The New York Yankees, the team Twins fans fear meeting in the playoffs, rank No. 8 while Minnesota is No. 6.

In MLB.com’s power rankings out today the Yankees rank No. 4, White Sox No. 6 and Twins No. 7.

The Twins win over the Chicago Cubs last night was the club’s first appearance since 2010 on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.

Ron Gardenhire, who has had health issues for years, retired from the Detroit Tigers a couple of days ago but will best be remembered as the Twins manager. He was the first skipper in MLB history to have his team in the playoffs during the first six of his nine years.

Nice guy Gardy could get fired up on the field. He was ejected from games 84 times, the seventh highest in MLB history.

Former Gophers head coach Jerry Kill, now a special assistant at TCU, will see an interesting prospect coming to Fort Worth next year. Alexander Honig, who lives in Germany, has verbally committed to TCU and prompted an Associated Press story awhile ago that detailed his 6-6 height, skills and potential.

Murray’s, the longtime Sports Headliners advertiser, has an impressive new website telling visitors the success story of the iconic downtown restaurant that dates back to 1946. Open most days for lunch and dinner, Murray’s is also offering curbside pickup.

 

Gophers May Still Open with Iowa

September 17, 2020 - (0) comments

 

The 2020 Big Ten football schedule targeted for a season launch October 23 and 24 is expected to be announced within 24 hours or less.  When that schedule for the league’s 14 teams comes out, it certainly could have Minnesota playing Iowa in Minneapolis.

Why? Because conference planners in making up a revised composite schedule may decide the best procedure is to use the original schedule in place before COVID-19 turned the world upside down including college football.  For a couple of years now, Minnesota’s 2020 schedule had the Gophers opening their Big Ten season against the Hawkeyes at TCF Bank Stadium.

The game was originally scheduled for Friday, September 18.  A Minnesota-Iowa matchup for Floyd of Rosedale could land on Friday, October 23.  Per Big Ten policy, no fans will be allowed in the stadium to watch, but the telecast would draw a large TV audience in Minnesota, Iowa and other parts of Big Ten territory.  The TV ratings could be among the best in college football that weekend.

Both teams are contenders for the Big Ten’s West Division title, adding importance to the opening game.  With the revised composite schedule, each league team will play all six of its division rivals and two cross-over teams from the other division (no nonconference games).  Instead of nine conference games as originally scheduled, the Gophers and others will play eight league games (four home, four road).

That means Minnesota will lose a game on the schedule against an East Division team.  On the original schedule the Gophers were to play Maryland, Michigan and Michigan State in cross-over games. Maryland played the Gophers last year and is on the 2021 schedule so the Terps could be dropped in 2020.  The Gophers didn’t play Michigan and Michigan State in 2019, nor are they scheduled to see either program next year.

From a TV popularity perspective, the Big Ten can do itself a favor with a Minnesota-Michigan game this fall.  That’s a potentially glitzy matchup involving two preseason top 25 teams playing for the famous Little Brown Jug.

There is another perk with dropping Maryland.  The original nine-game schedule had Minnesota playing in College Park as part of a lineup with five road games and four at home. Reshaping the original schedule would have Minnesota at home for Iowa, Michigan, Purdue and Northwestern.  On the road at Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan State and Nebraska.

Maybe the Big Ten schedule makers will go in a different direction than following the original model, but in a year of so much disruption and changed perspectives it seems like a schedule that most closely mirrors expectations prior to COVID makes a lot of sense.

Of course there’s no guarantee COVID will allow games to be played, but the league believes medical advances and protocols are better than when the Big Ten announced its schedule postponement in August.  Gophers athletics director Mark Coyle told KFAN’s Dan Barreiro yesterday that compared with other conferences, what the Big Ten has in place is “much more demanding.”

The TV revenues from a Big Ten football startup will lessen the financial hit Minnesota and other conference athletic departments are trying to cope with.  The Gophers (with no football season) have been looking at about $75 million less in revenue by year’s end.  Now an estimate is $40 to $50 million.

Despite loud protests Coyle isn’t second-guessing the decision to reduce his total sports program from 25 teams to 21.  Awaiting final Board of Regents approval in October is a cost cutting recommendation to discontinue the men’s programs of gymnastics, indoor and outdoor track and tennis following this school year. The Gophers currently have the fourth most sports in the conference, operating with the eighth largest budget, per Coyle.

The decision, in part, was dictated by Title IX, the federal law that dictates gender equality in college athletics.  Complicating things for the University of Minnesota in recent years is student enrollment at the Twin Cities campus is increasingly more female than male.  The latest figures are 54 percent female, 46 percent male.

Title IX can prompt roster rebalancing between men’s and women’s sports, with reality being the elimination of sports at Minnesota was coming even before COVID-19.  It’s believed the athletic department, historically self-supporting, has been bolstered of late with about $7 million annually from the school’s general fund.  The department operates on a budget of over $100 million thanks to the profit-making of football, men’s basketball and men’s hockey.  No women’s sport at Minnesota turns a profit, as is true at most Power Five schools.

Coyle is asked to operate with a balanced budget but with recent developments the Gophers and other athletic departments will now be turning to the outside for loans.  Or at least hoping to as such a historic move will require approval by the U Board of Regents.

Look for a more balanced gender population in the future at the Twin Cities campus.  Gender percentages unexpectedly increased even more this year because of COVID, with fewer international and out of state students wanting to enroll at a school far from home.

P.J. Fleck

As for Gopher football preparations in the coming weeks, it will be a challenge for coach P.J. Fleck and the other Big Ten coaches.  Students are attending classes, meaning the time football players have available is not the same as during normal training camps that take place in August.

Then, too, coaches will need to adjust at a moment’s notice to roster changes.  Under Big Ten policy, a player who tests positive for COVID will be out 21 days.  Also, there could be players who decide not to play because of concerns regarding safety and health.

The Gophers, of course, have already lost a player to the NFL.  Star wide receiver Rashod Bateman announced in August he won’t return for his junior season and that type of development remains possible with other Minnesota and Big Ten players.  Bateman, by the way, can’t change his mind now that the season is starting up because he has an agent.

 

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