My wife works in the athletic department at my high school alma mater where the Athletic Director happens to be the very same AD who was there when I was a student, and the father of a classmate of mine. I graduated high school from an institution that is tight knit and has a very strong athletic tradition. This athletic tradition can be directly attributed to the Athletic Director, who has been leading the athletic programs for 37 years.
On Saturday we had the pleasure of partaking in some pre and post-game tailgating with said AD outside of The Bank. The excitement and optimism was high before the game. The head-shaking and disappointment was palpable following the game.
As we discussed the game and the state of Gopher football over a frosty beverage in the parking lot after the game, the topic of the coach, what kind of coach you look for, etc, came up. The AD said to me "boy, I wouldn't want to be Joel Maturi right now." To which I responded, "how do YOU pick a coach?"
The AD's insight was interesting. He told me that he tells everyone of this coaches that he expects two things.
1. That the team improve from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.
-if the coach is starting out with a young or poor team at the beginning of the season, his expectation is that the team shows marked improvement by year end.
-if the coach is starting out with an extremely talented team, his expectation is that they are competing for a conference championship by year end.
2. That the kids have fun.
-the AD shared a story with me about a team whose players weren't having fun and how he felt that he let the situation go on for two long.
At the high school level, I can't imagine a better philosophy for an Athletic Director to have and in my opinion those priorities are in the right order. Yes, kids need to have fun, but athletics is about discipline and competition, and improving in those arenas is fun.
Now what if we apply this philosophy to college athletics? Putting athletic budgets aside, I would add a couple of caveats to these priorities.
First, yes, the athletes should have fun, but my assumption is that if you are heading to a major college athletic program, you should assume that winning is the priority. I am sure the coaches and the AD want you to have fun, but it probably isn't in their top two priorities.
But the first priority of showing improvement from the beginning of the year to the end should certainly be a priority. And I would add to this that, because of a college coaches ability to recruit, something that can't be done at the high school level (and please, spare me the stories and usual BS about how high schools do recruit... that is not what this is about), the program overall should improve from where it is at when you take over.
So let's apply that premise to the Gopher football program. And we'll go back to the Mason days first.
Did the Gopher Football program improve under Glen Mason?
The answer is yes, and I don't think that this point can be disputed. Mason took a perennial cellar-dweller in the Big Ten and turned them into a perennial bowl team that could be counted on to win 6 games almost every year. (Again, please spare me the "cream-puff" schedule discussion, I get it. Again, that is NOT what this is about.)
Has the Gopher Football program improved under Tim Brewster?
This is a more interesting question. We know the records: 1-11, 7-6, 6-7. If we go back to the original priority of whether or not the teams improved from the beginning of the year to the end, I think we can all agree that none of Brewster's teams have improved throughout the year, and it's possible to argue that they all regressed.
Now certainly there are several ways to measure a college football program and its success. Facilities, recruiting, strength programs, etc. They all matter, and I think it would be tough for anyone to argue that Tim Brewster has done great things for the U of M football program in those areas. Those are all improvements, and they are all important.
But none of them matter if it doesn't translate to the almighty W.
I work in sales, and in my job those above me are constantly telling us that activity doesn't matter, results do. It doesn't matter how many business trips I make, how many prospects I visit, how many phone calls I make, or how many demos I do. All that matters is how much I sell. It's a harsh reality of my job, but it is a fact.
It's no different in major college football. All of the facilities, luncheons, recruiting trips, recruiting successes, camps, training programs and practices don't amount to a hill of beans if you aren't getting it done on the field.
We believe the off-season programs have improved, but it hasn't lead to more wins.
The attitude around the program has changed and no longer are we told that we can't expect to win at Minnesota, instead the attitude from the coaching staff is that we can win at Minnesota. But it hasn't lead to more wins.
We believe that the recruiting has improved because we've seen higher star-rankings than we've ever seen in the past, but it hasn't lead to more wins on the field.
If the litmus test is that the program improves under a coach's watch, the best thing that we can say about Tim Brewster's time at Minnesota is that the program hasn't gotten worse (and some people might want to argue about that, but I digress). The program has NOT improved. Everything else that should be feeding the results on the field has improved, and by virtue of that fact, the results on the field should have as well. But they clearly haven't.
People will say that you have to wait for the coach to be able to work with his own recruits, and essentially, Tim Brewster IS working with his own recruits. Adam Weber is really the only player left that was recruited by the previous regime that gets significant playing time under Brewster... but even that isn't worth mentioning, because if Brewster wanted to he could bench Weber in favor of his prize recruit, MarQueis Gray.
I know that GN has implored us to move on, and I agree, but the loss to South Dakota is glaring, and it wasn't an anomaly. The South Dakota coaching staff absolutely out-coached Tim Brewster and his staff and it isn't the first time that this has happened. Even with all of the resources and significantly better recruits that Minnesota has to its advantage over a program like South Dakota, the coaching staff could not make it happen in the game that should have been the one gimme on our schedule.
There is a problem here. How long it is allowed to go on is up to Joel Maturi.
Speaking of which, Joel Maturi is another topic for another time, but I can tell you this: after talking with him on Saturday, if my high school AD was in charge of hiring the next University of Minnesota football coach, I'd be a lot more confident in our future.