Tim Brewster’s Third Year Full of Question Marks

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By Mike Gallagher

Tim Brewster did not have big shoes to fill when he stepped into the head-coaching job at the University of Minnesota.  He followed a man that could muster more than eight wins out of his football program just once and never finished higher than fourth in the Big Ten.  A man that consistently let top name talent walk right out of the state of Minnesota to go to any number of legitimate big name programs.  Brewster’s predecessor Glen Mason was not the greatest coach, but he managed to get a lot from a program that could offer very little.

People were very quick to rip Glen Mason left and right when he would produce another 4-4 or 3-5 conference season, but let’s take a minute to see what the man had to work with.  Obviously, the first thing that comes to mind is the Metrodome.  Mason had to lead recruits into a stuffy, cheap, out-of-date, off campus stadium that would consistently draw 40,000 per game in a 60,000 seat tephlon bubble.

Secondly, the University of Minnesota did not have much to offer as far as an academic institution goes.  Only in the last few years has the University been upgrading it’s standards and starting to approach the academic excellence of some of the other Big Ten institutions like Wisconsin and Northwestern.  The ever present concern of weather is one that all coaches will have to face, and Mason suffered for that as they all do.  Anyone working against these odds is faced with the constant challenge of getting top talent into their program, and while he is not blameless for this fact, recruiting was more like a minefield than a stroll on campus.  For all the negatives, Mason still managed to lead the Gophers to 7 bowls in 10 years.

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On the other side of the heavily weighted coin is Tim Brewster’s first 2 seasons in Minnesota.  Brewster has had the advantage since he arrived in Minnesota, of either showing recruits where the stadium would be, showing them the remarkable progress that has been made in the last three years, or, more recently, showing them the finished product.

It’s an immaculate sight, the open air arena will surely sell out for years to come, and you don’t have to walk far to find it, it’s right across the street from Williams Arena, home to Gophers basketball.  The academic element has fallen right into place, with nearly 25,000 students a year being turned away, the U is fast rising within an already strong academic conference.  Brewster also has strong connections in the NFL, which is sure to entice those with pro football dreams, as he was the tight ends coach in San Diego and an assistant head coach in Denver.  On top of all that, Brewster’s mentor is Mack Brown, whom he worked under for 13 years at North Carolina.  Brown, a recruiting giant among men, has since moved on to a beacon of college football excellence, the University of Texas.

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See the contrast in the tools that the two coaches had to work with?  Recruits did, Brewster netted two top 30 recruiting classes and has another on the way to TCF Bank Stadium.  Sure,  the team’s 1-11 year was their first under Brewster and left much to be desired.  But the first year under a new regime can always be thrown out and blame should never be assessed to the new coaching staff for the indiscretions of the previous staff’s holdovers.  After a red hot start to the 2008 season which saw the Gophers at 7-1 and #20 in the Coaches Poll after week 8, they crashed and burned, losing their last 5 games, including a 55-0 drubbing in the regular season finale at home against bitter rival Iowa.

Although the end of last season was a tough learning pill to swallow for Brewster’s club, the positives have to be focused on as much as possible.  They won seven games and made a bowl game in Brewster’s second year.  That’s a long way to come from being 1-11 the year before.

But in order to make that year mean anything, they need to follow it up with an even better 2009 season.  That brings us where we stand today, with the Gophers at a record of 1-0 having beaten the, ahem, “mighty” Orange of Syracuse.  It was a win, yes, and as any coach looking to cover up the obvious flaws within an victory will tell you, that’s all that counts.  As anyone with half a brain and a clear view of reality will tell you, that’s bull.  Syracuse is widely considered the worst team in the worst power conference (the Big East didn’t even manage a team in the preseason top 25) in America.

They had three wins last year and are starting a former Duke point guard as their quarterback.  Their best  weapon in 2008 was RB Curtis Brinkley, who graduated, and they are in the first year of what is sure to be a long and arduous rebuilding process under new coach Doug Marrone.  All that being said, the Gophers looked as if they were picking up right where they left off at the end of last year.  Their running game had one shining moment on Duane Bennett’s touchdown run, but otherwise was non-existent.

The passing game was terrible outside of the most underrated receiver in the country, Eric Decker.  The defense, after getting torched in the first half, made good adjustments in the second half and was the only thing that kept them in it.  If the Gophers were playing any of the other 120 teams in the FBS last Saturday, the Minneapolis media would’ve been mercilessly destroying Brewster and Co. via every platform available.

All this in mind, this is Tim Brewster’s third year.  The general consensus is that the third year is when you’ll really be able to tell if a coach and his system are really going to work out.  Brewster has his system in place and the guys he recruited on the field.  TCF Bank Stadium is opening this Saturday against Air Force in primetime on the Big Ten Network.  This event is supposed to be the thing that turns the page into a new, successful Gopher football era.  All the pieces are in place for this to be a big year for the Gophers and a coming out party for Tim Brewster and his staff.

The Big Ten is a very tough conference year in and year out, and therefore excitement has been tampered a bit by the fact that if you look on the schedule, you have three instant losses (at penn state, at  ohio state, at iowa).  But if Brewster’s squad can manage to win those other 5 conference games (home to Wisconsin, Michigan State, Purdue, Illinois, at Northwestern), that will get you a top five finish in the conference and the season has to be considered a success.  The non-conference game next week against California will be a good one, if the Gophers find a way in that clash, nine wins is within their grasp.

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BUT, if the Gophers produce more porous efforts like the one against Syracuse, it doesn’t matter how many pieces are in place or how many people are at TCF for each game, all the critics that say an 8th place conference finish is in their future will be absolutely right.

Tim Brewster has no excuses this year, eight wins is a perfectly reasonable expectation.  It’s his top 30 recruiting classes, his system, his stadium, his campus, and now it’s on him to put it all in place and have a successful year.  After all, Glen Mason managed eight wins his third year without all of that.

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Comments

  1. I think 5-7 sounds about right in 09

  2. They have to go better than 5-7, don’t they Paul? I agree with Mike here. The Gophers need to win 8 games this year. They can’t regress from what many thought was a stepping-stone year in 2008. Good recruiting class, third full year as head coach, new stadium… this team needs to be at least as good as it was last year.

  3. I would agree, but I just don’t think they will. I agree that i order to stay in MN’s good graces he needs 7 wins or better. I just think they’re going to be bad, and go 5-7

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