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The Tim Brewster hot seat, fair or not?

There has been a lot of talk this offseason about the hottness of Tim Brewster's coaching seat. But how hot is it really? And maybe the greater question is how fair is this ever-warming seat?

There is no denying that Brewster's name is popping up on hot seat lists all over the internet.

Lost Lettermen have him ranked as the 8th hottest seat in the country.

Michigan isn’t the only "UM" in the Big Ten longing for the days of stable mediocrity. The Golden Gophers are wondering whether firing Glen Mason after the 2006 season was the right move. Brewster can claim two bowls to his credit but Minnesota finished last season with a losing record after an L in the Insight Bowl. Good luck getting off on the right foot against a Middle Tennessee State team that won 10 games last season and a nonconference game vs. mighty USC. The offense was woeful last season after ditching the spread and the defense returns just two starters, leading many pundits to project Minnesota’s finish as dead last in the conference.

The Mason comparisons are more and more unfair with every passing year. Comparing their accomplishments is fair game but the debate as to whether or not we should have kept Mason has nothing to do with Brewster. Mason's time was up. Brewster was the next man to get an opportunity, but Mason was gone regardless of who or how successful the next coach was.

CBS has Brewster tied for 8th in their hot seat rankings, tied with Indiana's Bill Lynch. He has a 4.0 ranking (out of 5.0). There are three other Big Ten coaches ahead of or tied with him in what may turn out to be the Mike Leach derby.

ESPN's Bruce Feldman puts Brewster at 9th in his list of coaches on the edge.

He came to Minnesota with a rep as a strong recruiter, and to his credit he's landed some very good players from the high school and JC ranks. After a dismal 1-11 season, he's .500 the past two years and 14-24 overall. Not bad, but now what? The facilities have really been upgraded, and with that, so have the expectations. A backward step could be treacherous.

There is a lot of truth to what Feldman is saying. Brewster has been given the keys to a program with amazing facilities and Brew's recruiting has raised the talent level for the program. But the results have not yet materialized. a .500 record after this embarassing 1-11 season is not what we have all hoped for. He has time to get things going in the right direction but Feldman is right, a step backwards would not be a good thing for Brewster.

And this leads me to yesterday's post over at Fringe Bowl Team. On a side note, FBT is a very good new Gopher football blog. He has some very good recruiting evaluations and posts that are well thought out and well-written.

But I'm not sure I completely agree with his post yesterday that Brewster should be given more time or that Gopher fans should have more patience just because the last several coaches were equally as mediocre and they were given plenty of time. I want to be very careful here not to take FBT out of context but here is what I believe is the crux of his post (you really should go read his post).

This begs a corollary question: why the talk of Coach Brewster on the hot seat in year 4? If you go back 42 years, every Gopher head coach has gotten the benefit of the doubt for at least 5 seasons, including Salem and Wacker. In fact, if you look at Gopher history, the coaches at the "fringe" bowl level coached here at least 6 years (Gutekunst had 6 years, Stoll had 7 and Mason survived 10 years – longest since Murray Warmath). Minnesota has very little historical precedence to fire a head coach after just 4 years, provided the squad is performing near the traditional program "mean." Given that Brewster is at that level now, where is the justification behind the calls for his head? Moreover, if the program and all the stakeholders are raising expectations, do those expectations come with increased involvement and commitment to assisting the program itself rather than finding a scapegoat?

The point here is show where the Gophers have been and to ask ourselves, as fans and stakeholders in the program, why is the current coach somehow different from the previous lead men over the past 42 years that he doesn’t deserve his 5-6 year shot to get the Gophers over the hump? Where the program is today, in 2010, roughly where it has been since the wake of the Glory Years: it’s too early to write off Brewster’s plan to move the program beyond just yet.

On the surface I completely agree. I am a patient person when it comes to my favorite teams. I firmly believe that you need to give coaches time to bring in their players and get their systems established. But I also believe that after four seasons there are areas that you can adequately evaluate. After four years it is possible to make the determination that the current staff is not meeting expectations, whatever those expectations may be.

Back to FBT's post. He spends a lot of time going back over the last 5 Gopher head coaches to show that they achieved and stalled at levels of mediocrity similar to Brewster. And they were all given five or six years to get the program over the hump. Looking at just records and bowl games (or assuming bowl seasons if older coaches would have been coaching in today's climate where 6 wins means a bowl game) what FBT is saying is 100% accurate and fair. But he is missing some key components and these components are the heavy ammunition that anti-Brewster fans are firing.

This is where I get negative. In just three seasons Brewster has not beat one rival. In three seasons Brewster has not beat one team that he wasn't supposed to beat. In three seasons Brewster's teams have not improved as the season went along. I'll start with the rivalry games. Every single coach since Murray Warmath has defeated one of the Gopher rivals in their first 3 seasons (NOTE: I skipped over Lou HOltz since he was here just 2 years and nobody argues the success he had here, but he was 3-1 vs. Iowa/Wisconsin in his 2 seasons). In fact all of them except Mason did so in their first year.

coach year coach yr who upset?
Stoll 1972 1 Wis no
Stoll 1972 1 Iowa no
Stoll 1973 2 Wis no
Stoll 1973 2 Iowa no
Stoll 1974 3 Iowa no
Salem 1979 1 Iowa yes
Salem 1980 2 Iowa no
Salem 1981 3 Iowa YES
Gutekunst 1986 1 Wis no
Gutekunst 1986 1 Mich (11-2) YES
Gutekunst 1987 2 Wis no
Wacker 1992 1 Iowa yes
Wacker 1993 2 Wis (10-1-1) YES
Wacker 1994 3 Wis yes
Mason 1998 2 Iowa no
Mason 1999 3 Iowa no

Even the worst Gopher coaches we have had to endure were able to get wins over Iowa or Wisconsin (or even Michigan) in their first 3 seasons. I excluded the Michigan games for the simple fact that those games haven't been competitive since before any of these coaches and only Gutekunst beat Michigan in his first three seasons. But below are rivalry (sans Michigan games) win% compared to ovearll win% for the last 6 Gopher coaches (again, sans Lou Holtz).

Overall Win% (first 3 seasons)
Wis / Iowa Win% (first 3 seasons)
Stoll 0.500 0.833
Salem 0.355 0.500
Gutekunst 0.441 0.333
Wacker 0.291 0.500
Mason 0.529 0.333
Brewster 0.368 0.000

So I realize that beating Iowa and Wisconsin is not what should determine anyone's coaching future, but it is at least something to hang your hat on. Brewster's overall record puts him right on par with all of the other stellar Golden Gopher coaches but not beating a rival in six tries is clearly a check mark against him. I realize that both Iowa and Wisconsin have been pretty good in recent years but they haven't been unbeatable. In 2007, Iowa was 6-6. In 2008 Wisconsin had an identical record to ours and Michigan was BAD. And I'll also throw in that we haven't even scored against Iowa in two years.

But let's forget rivals for now and talk about notching a signature win or two. In three years and 36 total games Brewster has defeated exactly 3 teams that finished with a winning record (2 of which were non-BCS conference teams). If you are looking for the signature win of the Tim Brewster era it is probably a road win over Northwestern in 2009. The Wildcats went on to finish 8-5 that year. This is the only Big Ten team Brewster has defeated who finished with a winning record.

Every coach prior to Brewster has done something significant in their first three years to warrant more time for their program. It isn't just about being given time to turn a program around. It is about showing signs that you are capable of turning a program around. A program like this one doesn't usually turn around in three years, but to be given more time one usually has to show some reasonable sign that you are capable being the person who will eventually do it.

Significant milestones in first three years
coach milestone coaching year
Stoll 6-2 in Big Ten, 4-0 vs. Rivals in 1st 2 years 2
Salem beat Big Ten champs OSU AND Iowa 3
Gutekunst 3rd in Big Ten, bowl game in fist year, beat Michigan (11-2) 1
Gutekunst 4th and 5th years went 4-0 vs. Iowa and Wis 4/5
Wacker beat 11-1-1 Badgers during a 4-7 season 2
Mason 8-4 beating Penn State 2

Brewster's Northwestern and arguably his Michigan State home win last year are his significant accomplishments. Again, overall record is roughly the same but all prior coaches gave us some reason for on the field optimism. Brewster has not delivered.

To be clear I am NOT calling for Brewster's head. There are a number of things that I have appreciated about what he has done with the program and I do believe he should be given time. He has recruited well and in my mind there is no doubt he has raised the overall level of talent in the program. Those who critique his recruiting because he hasn't landed another top 25 class are grasping. Realistically we are not going to land top classes year in and year out, especially when we are not winning. The classes we have brought in are not perfect but they are talented enough to at least give us a fighting chance. This year is really the first year

Academically this program has also improved. Grad rates are dramatically improving and APR scores are creeping up after bottoming out recently. In the Mason era we annually finished 10th or 11th in the Big Ten grad rates. Regardless of who you want to credit the recent classes grad rates to, the fact is while Brewster has been coaching Gophers have been graduating. This is a good thing.

And he has raised expectations, which I believe is a good thing for the program (although may not be a good thing for him). As I said above, I am a patient person I. But I do believe it is conceivable and even a rational thought that there may be validity to ending the Tim Brewster era after year four. But that cannot be determined, by anyone, until after the season. There absolutely needs to be some sign of measurable improvement and some glimmer of hope that things will be better sooner rather than later.

The 2010 Gophers need to have an offensive and defensive identity. They need to be competitive in all of their games. And they need to show signs of improvement both from the 2009 season and as the season progresses. Wins and losses may not be very pretty this year and that can be somewhat excused by the schedule. But if we do not see signs of progress I would not blame Gopher Nation for turning up the heat and I would not blame the administration if they chose to go in a different direction.

In the end, we are all on the same team and want the same things. All we want is to see this program succeed and make us proud. I urge all of you to get behind this team now. Too many people love to be the first on the "fire coach" bandwagon so when the coach is eventually ushered out they can be the ones to say I told you so. That serves no one. Brewster isn't perfect and he may make some mistakes this year. But get behind this program now, root for them to win. There are ample opportunities for this team to notch a huge win in their belt in 2010. There is a talented, albeit young, defense that will be fun to watch grow. And there is an experienced offense that is poised to show us 2009 was not the norm.

Get behind this team, don't dwell on the success or failures of previous coaches or the current one. The 2010-11 offseason will take care of itself. We should all be desiring for this team and staff to be successful. In the end I think FBT was as much calling Gopher Nation to action as he was telling people to back off.

Moreover, if the program and all the stakeholders are raising expectations, do those expectations come with increased involvement and commitment to assisting the program itself rather than finding a scapegoat?

In this I agree 100%. Spending your time ripping the staff is pointless and only self-serving. If you want to make things better get on board and do what little you can to contribute. Get yourself and get others involved. Take a trip to support the team, contribute to the athletic department or do what you can to promote the virtues of Golden Gopher football. Don't bury your head in the sand but don't stick a fork in this team or staff before they are dead.