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TDG Interview with the Star Tribune's Phil Miller

By now you all know that Phil Miller is your new Gopher beat writer, but I'm willing to bet that most of you know very little about him. Well he was kind enough to respond to several questions I had for him so that the rest of Gopher Nation could get to know him a little.

TDG - Tell us a little bit about your background? Where are you from, where did you go to school and what compelled you to lead the life of a sports journalist?

Phil Miller - I grew up in Pekin, Ill., less than 10 miles from Jim Thome. Having had enough of small-town flatland, I wanted to go to college in the Rocky Mountains (and do a little skiing), and ended up at Utah. I had been on the paper staff in high school, so I applied at the campus paper, worked there for six weeks, then was offered a part-time job as a copy boy -- run errands, man the wire-service terminals, kill flies -- at The Salt Lake Tribune to help pay the bills. Never consciously planned to make newspapers my life, but 26 years later, I was still at the Trib.

TDG - How did you get your start in sports journalism (first job, how you got plugged into the STrib, etc)?

PM - The Trib needed a copy boy and called the campus paper asking for a recommendation. My editor gave them my name, and bingo-bango, I'm a professional journalist. Honestly, I wonder how many careers begin this way. If a floral shop had called, I might be watering plants right now. When I was promoted above go-fer status, I was on the news side, but I was always a huge sports fan and naturally gravitated that way. Ended up covering the Utah Jazz, the paper's top sports beat, for six years before moving to Minnesota.

TDG - We at TDG are obviously bloggers with little to no journalistic training. We blog and the beauty of a blog is that we can be unashamed fans of the team we cover. The good blogs achieve some level of credibility by being accurate and somewhat grounded in reality. But from the perspective of a member of the mainstream media, can you share your thoughts on "blogging", how does it differentiate from a more traditional news source and how does blogging fit in the landscape of sports journalism? (be honest)

PM - I'm a huge fan, because I have a voracious appetite for sports and sports writing, and there are some thoughtful, cogent voices out there that deserve to be heard. Honestly, the number of spare-time bloggers in Minnesota is amazing -- when I covered the Twins, I tried to keep track of all the Twins bloggers, but there weren't enough hours in the day to read them all. Some are amateurish, some are more professional than a lot of newspapers, but I'm a fan of the genre. Truth be told, some are better connected within their community than the mainstream press (and yes, I'm basically thinking of myself and the Gophers here). By far my biggest reservation about web coverage is about the anonymous commenters who simply make ad hominem attacks on anyone and everyone. Those people seem to be unstable, often borderline psychotic, and I wish they would just go back to their day jobs in Congress and leave sports to the rest of us.

TDG - Let's talk about college football and the Gophers. You've been seen covering the Timberwolves and the Twins recently with the STrib (Vikings or wild?) but how have you enjoyed getting involved in college football?

PM - To keep it straight -- I covered the Twins for the Pioneer Press for most of three seasons, until my lack of seniority cost me my job during a round of layoffs. Then the Star Tribune offered me a two-days-a-week gig writing about the Wolves, and they hired me full-time, and assigned me the Gophers, in July.

Anyway, I love college football, of course, having attended the Florida of the West, as Utah is often called (by me). I loved attending the games when I was in college (back in the dark days of BYU domination), and I absolutely adored covering the beat, because every game is a major event, practically historic. There are so few games, and there's so much buildup, it's almost always a great story. I even wrote a book about college football 15 years ago, "The Unholy War," about the Utah-BYU rivalry.

Funny thing, though -- when the Star Tribune's sports editor offered me a fulltime job as the Gophers writer, he said, "I know you follow college football very closely." I had to tell him, "Well, I watched all 13 Utah games last season. But I've never seen a Minnesota game." Which they probably wish I would keep to myself.

TDG - What have been the highlights and lowlights of covering the Gophers in your short time on the beat?

Well, it's real short, so there's not much of either. The game at Middle Tennessee State was fabulous -- watching Jon Hoese play, and play so well, after the week he'd had was just a tremendous story. The lowlights? Well, by far my biggest problem on the beat -- and I would never whine about this in the paper, but you asked -- is the lack of access. Practices were open at Utah and BYU, players were accessible in informal settings as they walked off the field, and the coaching staff seemed to welcome an interested media. It produced interesting, entertaining stories about the players. This program allows almost zero interaction with the players, making it impossible to find stories that make them human. We are allowed to watch the first 10 minutes of practice, which is stretching and perhaps a special-teams drill, then are banished a few hundred yards away until after practice. People email me all the time asking, "How's this guy look?" and "Is that guy improving?" and I have to write back and say, I have no idea. We don't get to watch practice. But that's my problem, not my readers'.

TDG - Tim Brewster takes a lot of heat in the media, both nationally and locally. His eternal optimism and his initial bold statements when first hired are to blame. Typically the ever cynical local media mixes with optimistic and positive like oil and water. What are your thoughts on Brewster as a leader and promoter of his program?

Oh, he's a football coach. He's obviously been scarred by some things that were written before I got here, and he's a little too prone to hyperbole. The deck is stacked so overwhelmingly against the non-power schools in college football, that maybe his we're-going-to-win-a-Super-Bowl attitude is the best way to compete. I'm new here, what do I know? But it's all pretty harmless, he's been fine.

TDG - Prediction time! What do you predict for the Gophers this season. Remember that if you are accurate in your prediction nobody will remember but if you are wrong you may get ripped at the end of the season!

The players seem so sincere in their belief that they are miles beyond last year, I'm absolutely willing to buy it in the absence of evidence to the contrary. I picked them seventh in the paper (and got emails ripping me for being a "homer"!) and that seems entirely reachable. I'll say they finish 7-5 and go to a minor bowl, thus adding to my collection (Freedom twice, Las Vegas twice and Copper, two of which are defunct).

So that last question was answered prior to the game of which will never speak again.

That was great stuff. Thank you to Phil for answering my questions and helping Gopher fans better know their beat writer. His job may only get tougher as this season wears on but I'm sure he'll get through it.