Thursday, January 5, 2017

3 Things about Firing Tracy Claeys and the Minnesota Gopher Football Coaching Search


And clearly one AD Mark Coyle has wanted to make. There were national reports as far back as August that Coyle wanted to select his own coach. This article from's Pete Thamel looks downright prophetic now:
Look for new athletic director Mark Coyle to execute the same game plan he did in his last year at Syracuse. He'll keep an extremely low profile, quietly observe the football program and then make a change at the end of the year... The bottom line here, however, is that the entire industry expects this job to open and it would be stunning if it didn't. New athletic directors aren't brought in to keep the status quo, and Claeys's contact affirms the perception he's a placeholder.
Emphasis is mine but the point stands: Claeys was never Coyle's guy, and as many have already said, the whole boycott fiasco opened the door for Coyle to make a move. Otherwise, there was zero chance he was firing a coach after a nine win season. Still, firing Claeys was the right decision, and frankly, I can't believe it wasn't made sooner. By all accounts, Claeys agreed with President Kaler and Coyle about the suspension of his 10 players. While I have no idea what exactly was said in that meeting, I have a very hard time believing reasons weren't given to Claeys as to why. Regardless, Claeys then went to his players and went completely against his bosses and his own decision and then supported his players in their boycott. That is insubordination at shocking levels and I can't believe he was even allowed to coach the bowl game.

This is not to say Claeys is a bad person or even a bad coach- the defense he brought here has been the best since the glory years of the 1960's, and his ability- along with Dbacks coach-turned-DC Jay Sawvel- to turn little-known defensive recruits into serious stars was impressive.

The defense can't help but take a step back now, but hopefully the next coach improves the offense and talent level to offset that. Bottom line though is Claeys showed his inexperience with the way he completely mishandled the boycott, and there's not an employer who would stand for that kind of insubordination. That said...


Things got bad for the university because of the player boycott. The players were frustrated because they were blindsided by the news that 10 teammates were being suspended indefinitely and the administration (and their head coach) gave them no explanation for why. They boycotted because they felt their teammates were being treated unfairly and were not given due process. Once the report leaked out, they backed down and went back to practice, but the stain was left on the program and the university that the entire football team threatened to boycott a bowl game...because their teammates were accused of sexual assault. Regardless of the reason, that's a terrible look for everyone involved.

My gut feeling after this happened was that a veteran coach like Jerry Kill never would have allowed the boycott to happen. And while I've never been a big supporter of either Dan Barreiro or Glen Mason, the former Gopher football coach was on Barreiro's show Tuesday night and confirmed my suspicisions. You can listen to the entire interview here (interview with Mase starts about the 90 minute mark, this comment is about 106:40) but what Mason said is this about he would have handled the boycott situation:
"If Mark Coyle would have told me, 'hey listen based on this investigation we're going to suspend these players', I would say I want to see the investigation, I have to see the investigation, I have to see the facts. I have to know the facts to know where I stand on this whole thing...
...If you think your players are in the right, you have to go to the wall for them. But if they're wrong?...If I would have seen that report that subsequently came out, that information, I would have gone in there and told those players 'You're not boycotting anybody. I'm not going to support it.' ...If I would have read that report there's no way that (I) would have endorsed that boycott and I would have taken control and say to them 'you're not going to dictate to us. I don't care who you are- Wolitarsky or anybody- I've got the facts and you are wrong. And you can choose not to practice, and if you choose not to practice then you're not going to play in the bowl game.'"
Barriero then asks an excellent question, basically that even though it's a Title IX investigation, does that entitle the head football coach to need to see the report? Mason's response:
"If Kaler is privileged to that information, if Coyle is privileged to that information, why wouldn't I (as the head football coach) be? And if they said I didn't have the correct title I would tell them well change my title because I have to see it because this is important."
It's a really good conversation, and while I don't often agree with Mase, I did here. Claeys failed his players by not getting the necessary information and by not being informed himself, which did not allow him to help his players make an informed decision so that the boycott never happens. Title IX or not, privacy laws or not, the head football coach of a B1G institution needed to know what was in the report and Claeys didn't do enough to find out and did nothing to take control and educate his players about what was happening and why. Even if he didn't totally agree with the findings (and I'm not saying the players are guilty. Sawvel and others have stated at least one player wasn't even there), you still need to explain to your players what is happening, why it happened and how the process plays out from here. He let the players be in control and it led to an ugly boycott. Not only that, he went against his bosses in a decision they all agreed to make. Mason wouldn't have allowed that to happen, and I believe neither would have Kill or a more experienced coach.

That said, as Mason also states in the interview, Kaler and Coyle are to blame here too. You cannot expect to give this kind of ruling and suspension and then give ZERO explanation for it to the players and not expect a mutiny. Title IX rules or not, they needed to work together with Claeys to get the team a clear message of what the results of the investigation were, why it's different than a legal proceeding, and what happens from here. Nobody did that.

The players needed an adult in the room and nobody- not Claeys, Coyle or Kaler- stepped up and filled that void. That's a failure of leadership across the board, and the stain of that boycott on the University falls on all of them, not just the football coach. I believe Coyle and Kaler made the right decision in suspending the players based on the report, but they could not have presented that decision in a worse, more damaging way.


I'll be disappointed if Fleck isn't named the new Gophers head coach by the end of the week. Joe Schmit of KSTP confirmed the following yesterday...
Fleck's not only the hottest name available, but the best fit too. And while mouthbreathers who believe Fleck is the next Tim Brewster do not deserve your time or attention...I can't help it. Fleck has a real, actual track record of success as a head coach. He's 30-22 in his four years at WMU, with the conference title this year, two division titles in 2015 and 2016, and was also named MAC Coach of the Year this season and in 2014. Just as importantly, he's recruited well at a place that is difficult to recruit. Despite going 1-11 in 2013 in his first year at WMU he still pulled in the best recruiting class in the MAC. His class in 2015 was ranked 36th in the country (!!!) by 247 sports.

That matters a lot at a place like Minnesota which, in my opinion, is the most difficult P5 school in the country to recruit at since we have so few D1 recruits in-state, and no P5 school is farther away from good recruiting states than we are. Sure, coaching up players once you get them here is vital (as the current staff showed), but why not start with better players and coach them up from there? And that's just it; Fleck not only out-recruited everyone else in his conference (and some in the B1G too), but he got results out of those recruits too: since the 1-11 start in 2013, he had two 8 win seasons in 2014 and 2015 (if you haven't heard, 8 wins seasons at Minnesota are a HUGE deal so) before running the table in the regular season this year. I know Fleck's "Rah rah" style may rub some folks the wrong way, but we need that kind of enthusiasm and positive energy for the program. There's zero guarantees he works out, but he's not just the hottest name, but he has the best qualifications to succeed here of any of the names being thrown out.

That said, if Fleck doesn't end up being the guy, all is not lost. I hope. Pete Carroll was like the 5th choice to be the head coach at USC. Jerry Kill was at least that far down the list at Minnesota, and while his recent comments are boorish and completely and totally self-serving (wait, a coach at another B1G school is trashing the Gophers? What a surprise!), I'm still glad Jerrysota happened and he was the football coach here.

But seriously, just get PJ Fleck signed already so we can start rowing the boat.

Friday, December 16, 2016

A Fan of this Mess

This piece isn’t about my reaction to the alleged sexual assault (which is awful). This piece isn’t about my reaction to how the University has handled it (which is also awful). And this piece isn’t about my reaction to U of M football players boycotting team activities (I’ve experienced a range of emotions on that).

This is about my reaction to being a fan of this mess.

Information about this situation has come at us in varying ways at random times. It’s been long. It’s been drawn out. And it’s been a little bit of a roller-coaster. There have been moments of “ugh… again?” And there have been moments of “oh thank goodness it’s over.”

As I’ve considered the possible scenarios of what might come next, there are very real moments where the thought runs through my mind: “Can I keep doing this? Is this football team something that I want to continue to hitch my wagon to?”

Look, I have other hobbies. I have other interests. But the thing that has been most startling to me through this entire situation, and really through this entire season, is just how much of my life I have tied up in this football program.

From a sports standpoint, I don’t follow any other team or sport nearly as closely as this one. Don’t get me wrong, I watch Vikings games, I watch TWolves games, I watch Gopher basketball and hockey, and I dabble in Twins baseball. But I experience those teams when it’s convenient.

Gopher football isn’t a convenience for me. I never miss a Gopher football game, and if I do, it’s a major situation.

I’ve skipped the weddings of two of my wife’s friends to attend Gopher home games, and I’m currently in negotiations with a third couple who is threatening to have a wedding next fall. September 23rd would be best. I would also begrudgingly accept October 7th. Outside of those dates, all bets are off.

Once in awhile somebody will ask me why I cheer for the Gophers. Why do I care? It's hard to explain to people that in the same way you don't get to choose your family, I didn't choose this team.

You're born. You grow up. Your family is there. They are just there. They are a part of your life since before you even knew what your life was. They are there. They are part of it. That's Gopher football for me. 

I’ve got family that is tied up in this football team and the team comes up in conversation at every gathering. One of my biggest wishes is for my uncle to see us play in a Rose Bowl in his lifetime. I think I'd be more happy for him than for me.

The friends that I speak to most often are people that I experience Gopher games with. 

My mood shifts depending on what is going on with this team.

I legitimately cannot conceive of a life where this football team isn’t a massive part of how I go about it.

And then comes the guilt.

How can I care about a football team so much? 

How can I put this much energy into something that is actually so meaningless?

Why am I completely open about the fact that I will cry my eyes out if the Gophers ever beat the Badgers again?

I heard economist Stephen Dubner say that he actually thinks it’s a GOOD thing that people get so caught up and emotionally invested in sports because as a society it may very well be keeping us from acting out in other ways that would be more problematic.

So that made me feel a little bit better for awhile.

But that was before this week happened. And now I’m questioning myself again.

Suddenly last week's angst of talking about whether or not our current football coach should still be our current football coach is akin to the memory of a warm, fuzzy blanket. 

The reason I can’t think of my life without this team is because it’s not just about the team for me. I have trouble thinking of my life without this team because I have trouble thinking of a life without the people I interact with about and because of this team.

Gopher football is the thing we talk about. It’s the thing we have most in common. It’s the thing that we rally around and the thing that we commiserate over. It’s the thing that we get together for.

And in many cases, it’s the only reason we know each other.

Last night my wife and I had dinner and drinks with people who, quite literally, I would have no idea even existed if it weren’t for Gopher football.

During that dinner there was a brief discussion of what you would do with all of the time, energy and money if you weren’t spending it on Gopher football. In hindsight, that discussion ended abruptly. I’m not sure we had it in us to really consider that something like that could happen.

If something super drastic happens, and for some reason we are forced to have a life without Gopher football, I feel pretty confident that I’ll continue to be friends with these people. And of course, my family is always my family. They aren’t going anywhere.

I just don’t know what the hell we’ll talk about. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Week 4: Arbitrary B1G Power Poll

Week 4 y'all! I feel refreshed after that bye week. Conference play kicked off this week. Arbitrary power poll below, blah blah blah, you know the drill.

1) Iowa (Last Week: 1): Remember when you were in elementary school and you’d get in trouble for throwing a spit-ball or setting a bathroom on fire? For my 5th grade teacher this meant you had to sit on a stool in front of the class for the entire day. No dunce cap. No beatings. Just sit there on a stool up front and let everyone look at your stupid ass all day long. This is the same treatment you’re getting, Iowa. Losing to NDSU is one thing, but struggling the very next week with BUTTgers? To top it all off, because you couldn’t adequately take care of your business, now the Iowa/MN game in two weeks is an 11am kickoff. Dicks. To the head of the class for you, Hawkeyes.

2) ASSgers (LW: 10): So I says to the guy, the guy I'm dancing with, “What kind of a bar is this anyway?!?!”

3) Indiana (LW: 12): Here’s the thing with dirt track racing, according to my friend that actually races dirt track Modifieds: It’s not necessarily the fastest car that wins, it’s the car that has the best traction. Every once in a while a car that doesn’t usually win much will suddenly be in a series of races, or maybe in a particularly big race, and suddenly their car will be unbelievable. When this happens the speculation always comes out that maybe that guy “soaked his tires.” Now I don’t know enough about it, but apparently you can literally soak tires in something that will make them more tacky on a dirt track. Anyway, I think Indiana was soaking their tires for a couple of weeks, but now their back to being shitty again.

4) Purdue (LW: 3): What color is that, honestly? It’s not gold. It’s not really yellow either. What’s that supposed to be? Sort of a cross between piss yella’ and puke green, ain’t it?

5) PSU (LW: 5): At 5:30 in the morning on a Saturday when you're still drunk from the night before there's a certain novelty to being awake. But at 6:45 when you're an hour from home and you're driving and you're still drunk from the night before, somehow the novelty wears off. Especially when you realize that normal, non-elderly, people are actually waking up around that time.

6) MSU (LW: not ranked): You had one job.

7) Northwestern (LW: 2): I once knew a guy who won enough money to build a deck on his house by winning an online Blackjack tournament. This was in like 2001 when we barely realized that online gambling even existed. And we’re talking like three grand this guy won. He wasn’t trying to win the money to build the deck. He just won the money and then decided his wife might like it if they used it to build a deck. I would assume he’s still a much better human being than I am.

8) Minnesota (LW: 4): You know that thing you do? Yeah, that thing. That thing where you just suddenly completely change? Yeah, that’s a little tough on the ticker for some of us. I mean, don’t get me wrong, having an offense that kind, like, actually do some stuff is cool. I enjoy that part. But the part where you were supposed to have a strong defense and then… well, yeah. Shit. This is about the beer sales again isn’t it?

9) Nebraska (LW: 9): There are two things that my wife hates that I would put into the category of “Stuff Lots of Other People Like or At Least Are Indifferent To.” One is Led Zeppelin and the other is Corvettes. She says Corvettes are like assholes, everybody has one. Which is funny because between us we have two assholes, but we have zero Corvettes.

10) Wisconsin (LW: 14): DIAF.

11) Michigan (LW: 8): I’ve lost interest for this week.

12-14): OSU, Maryland, Illinois. /fart noise

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

On the Preference of Death Over the Red: A Gopherist Manifesto has acquired several pages of a manifesto written by an unknown author.
Opinions are not our own.  Here's the first installment:


Struggles under full communism will be genuine. What will we do with our days? Will I one day be a warrior-poet and another a carbon-engineer? And the unlimited plenty - how will I channel my inner competitiveness? I was reading earlier about the use of money as a tool of the bourgeoisie and how they use money, power, wealth, and scarcity as wedges to drive us, the proletariat, apart. Separate from each other, we fight. We struggle. We make our talents thin and our hearts stone. We identify with the politics of division that keep us apart. It is the struggle of all true socialists to break down these barriers and join as one multi-national working people.

Also, it is my opinion that Wisconsin must be destroyed.


And so we turn to the National Football League, an organization dedicated to “merit”, where disagreements are settled on the gridiron under the sleety mist of fall. Our country has taken it as our pastime, the violence of the game reflecting perfectly the violence of our lies. But under full communism, is there a place for football? Is there a place for the insanity of competition for the sake of competition? Our society would no doubt be a better place if instead of beating each other for entertainment, we instead worked cooperatively to create new wonders in front of an audience of our peers. Imagine, if you will, a group of comrades working together to engineer castles and towers in our stadiums, rather than working against each other to destroy our very minds, bodies, and indeed, souls on the football field. The National Football League truly is in the business of “feelingsball”, as they say. Envy. Hatred. Violence. These are the feelings of the NFL. They must be destroyed so that we can flourish as a people, as must Wisconsin.

Unknown Gopherist Manifesto is a recurring(?) piece on 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Week 2: Arbitrary B1G Power Poll

Well SURPRISE SURPRISE! I made it a second week! 

1) Iowa (Last Week: 8): Seriously already so sick of you. Congrats on beating up two kids on the short bus. You're a real bully. I think the thing I’m most thankful for is that most of your fanbase still hasn’t heard of the internet so I don’t have to hear from your dumpy asses as often as the Bagder fans.

2) Northwestern (LW: 2) : What in the actual hell was that? I'm not sure what's more embarrassing: losing to an IN-STATE FCS school, or having said FCS school dwarf you in attendance. Fan bases are supposed to be excited after 10 win seasons. Must have been a wine-tasting Saturday. Seriously, pull your shit together.

3) Purdue (LW: 9): I actually feel bad for you. It occurred to me that your entire existence probably feels like the Tim Brewster era. I can’t even make a joke about that. It’s awful. 

4) Minnesota (LW: 6): I forgot my flask so I had to drink your $8 beers again, but it was such a nice day that nobody came to the game so the lines were short. Our fan base is the f**king worst.

5) PSU (LW: 12): I cannot even believe how good of a fit Pat Narduzzi is for your program. A hard-nosed, defensive minded coach. Just the perfect personality for your program. And add to that the fact that he's never covered up for a child molester? 2018 is going to be so awesome. 

6) Maryland (LW: 14): Boring

7) Ohio State (LW: 4): Boringer

8) Michigan (LW: 5): Putting up 50 points on Florida is quite an accomplishment. I mean, that’s a solid opponent from a decent conf… what’s that? Oh. CENTRAL Florida. You mean, the Central Florida Knights who went 0-12 last season? THAT Central Florida? Boringest.

9) Nebraska (LW: 11): Maybe you could try to wake up in the first half against Oregon this week?

10) Rutgers (LW: 3): Hi. Remember that time you were down 14-0 to Howard? (Also, I LEGITIMATELY forgot to write about you until I couldn't figure out why I only had 13 teams listed. You're like the Big Ten's version of flossing.)

11) Illinois (LW: 10): Fedora’d

12) Indiana (LW: 13): This has seriously gotten so boring. I can’t even write about Indiana. I can’t wait for the conference schedule to start. I think next year I’m just going to start doing this once the B1G games start. Next year. Yeah, that’ll happen. I’m already taking next week off.

--) Michigan State (LW: 7): If you're not even going to bother to play a game you're getting moved down 6 spots but I won't even give you the satisfaction of a number. Still, you're not getting last place because Wisconsin still exists.

14) Wisconsin (LW: 1): Beating Akron is pretty exciting right? That win over LSU is looking less impressive by the day. I don’t know anybody who is sold on you… except you. Also, I’m putting you 14th because I just learned about someone called TSpeth5 on Off Tackle Empire. He’s like a perfect microcosm of every one of your smug fans and I now hate everything and everyone because of him.

You can find me on Twitter @jdmill

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Week 1: Arbitrary B1G Power Poll

I'm going to try to do this every week but I'll probably forget next week. Week 3 the Gophers have a bye, so don't expect anything that week either. Boredom may set in halfway through writing it following Week 4 so expect maybe half of a power poll that week. By week 5 I expect to be gargling asphalt and you're on your own after that.

So by "every week," I mean every week that is this week. This was a lot easier when there were only 11 teams.

1)    Wisconsin: Best win of week 1 and it’s not even close. Anybody who tells you they saw an LSU letdown coming is lying. Revisionist history. LSU isn’t going to be as good as a lot of people thought, and maybe Wisconsin isn’t a team that’s going to set the world on fire, but for one week, they made the B1G proud. Also, I still hate them, so don’t at me.
2)    Northwestern: I mean… a one point loss to a MAC team isn’t the worst thing you can possibly do. But considering you are the only B1G team to lose a game in Week 1 except for Rutgers, and your fan base has been claiming you’d challenge for a division championship this year… this isn’t a good look. Having said that, it couldn’t have happened to a more self-aggrandizing bunch. You’re number two because I’m still giggling.
3)    Rutgers: Says here you managed a field goal in the first half to go into halftime down 34-3. Now Washington is ranked in the Top 10. Do you see what you've done? I’m guessing it has something to do with the fact that you had to fly across the country and the time change and whatnot. Right? Oh, I’m sorry, what’s that? You scored the last 10 points of the game? Here, you’ve won the Tim Brewster Dumbest Sports “Well Actually” Award.
4)    Ohio State: I always enjoy that thing where we’re supposed to be overly impressed by a 50+ point win by a great Power 5 team over a G5 team. Just like nobody should be patted on the back for sticking around to raise their kids (because that’s your damn job), nobody should be patting OSU on the back for beating Bowling Green by 67 points (again, that’s your damn job.) But you get number 4 because I said so.
5)    Michigan: See “4) Ohio State.” You beat Hawaii. That and a nickel will get you a gumball. A gumball that your creepy coach will probably just hand off to some starry-eyed recruit which you’ll defend by saying he’s going above and beyond. Reminder: the phrase “strangers with candy” is not a term of endearment.
6)    Minnesota: Knock that shit off. Seriously. What the hell? Could we just win a game that we are supposed to win by a margin that doesn’t make me want to fall over in the fetal position sucking my thumb? At this point the only thing I can come up with is that you’re keeping these home games close to keep the beer sales respectable. Well, JOKE’S ON YOU… I’m bringing a flask to the next game. FACE!
7)    Michigan State: You’re box score reminds me of a “Friends” episode. (Pat yourself on the back if you get that joke.) You struggled with freaking Furman. Listen, I know a few people who went to Furman and they don’t even like to admit it. Their greatest athletic achievement, prior to giving you fits, was having equal numbers of men’s and women’s sports.
8)    Iowa: I’ll admit it, you looked good, and I was going to give you a Top 5, but this business with Kurt Ferentz and his contract extension is amazing. I mean, this is the Joe Mauer contract extension of college football. If Iowa gets out of Kurt, going forward, what the Twins have gotten out of Joe Mauer, I look forward to his transition to Defensive Backs coach. 
9)    Purdue: Nice win. It means nothing. Hazell has never lost a home opener and we know what kind of omen that has been. And by the way, you guys talk about how great of an engineering school you have. I recently met an engineer in Indiana and when I asked him if he went to Purdue he laughed at me. Heartily. It was embarrassing. Turns out Purdue isn’t even the best engineering school IN THE STATE OF INDIANA. Something called Rose-Hulman kicks your ass. I wonder if they play football.
10)   Illinois: Weeeeelllll. Look. At. You! A 49-point win in Lovie Smith’s first game back in college. Pretty slick Illinois. Great for you to get off to a good start. Feelin’ good about yourselves I bet. But seriously, I can’t even fathom how bad Murray State must be.
11)   Nebraska: All I’m going to say is that lining up without a Punter in tribute to Sam Foltz was a damn fine gesture. Good on ya.
12)   Penn State: The inaugural game of the 3rd Annual It-Seems-Like-This-James-Franklin-PSU-Team-Should-Be-Better campaign started a little slow, but you came around. There’s no shame in only being up by a FG to a MAC team at halftime, especially how you finished. Now, continuing to hang onto Joe Paterno’s legacy? That’s shameful.
13)   Indiana: Your defense was directly responsible for almost half of your 33 points. You were losing to FIU at the beginning of the 4th quarter.  Things seem to be going according to plan?

14)   Maryland: There’s literally nothing worthwhile to say about your win. You crushed probably the worst team that the B1G got to play in week 1. Howard won a single game in 2015 and the team they beat (Savannah State) was a 1-win team as well. 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Bear With Me

I’ve got some random thoughts. If you continue reading from here you are agreeing to bear with me. You’ve been warned.

* Tracy Claeys


Remember a few months ago when everyone was pissy with Matt Limegrover for poor play calling and poor offense in general? There was discussion about how he should be let go, but that Jerry Kill would never pull the trigger.

Then the unimaginable happened. Jerry Kill retired abruptly and the whole empire suddenly looked shaky.

Here’s the question. Let’s say Kill never retired. Let’s say that the season continued to play out exactly as it did, but that Kill was still the head coach. Same outcomes. Same wins. Same losses. Same struggles.

And then let’s say it was Jerry Kill who fired Matt Limegrover and Jim Zebrowski.

What then?

Wouldn’t we all be saying “well, yeah, it was time for a change.”

I was a proponent of hiring Claeys, but I had some concerns on Claeys assertiveness. Would he be a leader, or would he be a wallflower? Would he make the tough decisions, or would he wait for things to come to him?

Well folks, I no longer have that fear.

For better or worse, ClaeyBro made a big statement. He’s going to run this team. He’s going to blaze the trail his way. Carried around town on the shoulders of the fans or ridden out of town on a rail, when it’s all said and done, make no mistake, Tracy Claeys just pronounced: “I’m the captain now!” (h/t @MVofDT & @FrothyGopher (R.I.P.))

* Reusse

My favorite thing about Reusse is how he’ll constantly use the word “we” when talking about what’s going on with the Gophers, and then he turns around and calls the fans names (most recently: Maroon Wearing Zanies. I think we should all adopt #MWZ on Twitter, but I’m only one man.).

* Bowl Bid

Speaking of Reusse, I actually agree with him on something.

“You cannot say, ‘Our kids worked so hard; they deserve a bowl game,’ when the work produces completely negative results.

You should not say this. If you are saying this, you should not be saying it and you are being an idiot.

However, saying the Gophers deserve a bowl game isn’t the same as saying that the Gophers should accept an invitation to a bowl game.

They most certainly do not deserve to go to a bowl game. But should they accept a bowl bid if they get one? HELL YES.

And don’t give me any BS about pride and how we shouldn’t be willing to accept a “reward.”

It’s not a reward. It’s a glitch in the system. It’s an outlier. It’s not a normal circumstance. And the Gophers should take advantage of the opportunity if it presents itself. 

In the words of Steve Miller “Take the money and run.”

Monday, October 5, 2015

I Need A Hug

As a Gopher football fan, I’ve quite frequently been in throwing-my-hands-in-the-air mode, as I am sure many have.

There are plays, players, coaches, games and seasons that just cause me to lose the ability to react other than to sort of momentarily give up.

And the question that goes along with the hands being thrown in the air is always “WHY?”

Not as in, why did that player do that, or why did that coach call that, or why are we so terrible. It’s more of larger existential “why.” Like, why do I have to be so invested in this? Why do I have to care so much about THIS team? Why couldn’t I have been born into a _____ family?  Why do bad things happen to good people?

I’m going to be honest with you guys: I hate this season of Gopher football.

I hate it so much.

I hate it worse than the 3-9 season in 2011. I hate it worse than the 1-11 in Brewster’s first year.

I hate it.

I hate it because 5 games into the season, for the first time in Kill’s tenure, I can’t see improvement.

I hate it because for the first time in as long as I can remember, what’s happening on the field actually feels like regression.

Last week I wrote about having perspective. Mostly I was talking about Mitch Leidner, but overall having some perspective about the Gophers.

Well Saturday’s shutout loss to Northwestern has pretty much caused me to lose any kind of positive perspective about this team.

I’ve got College Football Depression (CFD).

The thought of watching this football team on Saturday against Purdue puts a pit in my stomach.

The thought of spending an entire day tailgating and watching them against Nebraska makes me shake my head.

The thought that December could come and we won’t have a bowl game to look forward to makes me nearly catatonic.

In a typical Gopher season, it’s normal for the fans to create a divide between the Twin Cities media and ourselves. Sometimes there are doomsday Gopher fans who side with the TC media, but we tend to ignore them and their foil hats. A similar sect of the fanbase also resides on a certain message board that many of us choose to ignore.

But this season is different.

Sure, Reusse and Zulgad and Scoggins have gone after the Gophers, Coach Kill and Mitch Leidner, and why wouldn’t they? Their job isn’t to come up with original takes or write anything that rational thinkers could relate to. Their job is to appease readers and garner mouse clicks.

But the thing that has me hating this season so much is how bad we’ve gone after each other. You & me. The fans. It’s not fun.

Maybe it’s Twitter’s fault because we now all get an instant opinion and we all get to hide behind a smartphone or a computer.

After the TCU game, while I was waiting to get out of the River Flats lot, I got in a Twitfight with @bighatguy. He was bashing Leidner, I was blaming the offensive line. I don’t really remember what was said, but we disagreed on the larger problem. Two weeks later I met @bighatguy in the tailgating lot and he said something to me about our fight. My response was “oh, that was YOU?”

I was so fired up by the Leidner haters that night that it didn’t even matter who I was fighting with and I didn’t even remember who it was. That’s terrible.

@bighatguy is a really good dude, and he’s a really good Gopher fan and I’m not saying that he and I should agree on everything, but I’m guilty of fighting with my Gopher Football brother over something stupid.

In person, @bighatguy and I, along with a lot of other people, had some really good and thoughtful discussion about the QB situation and the Offensive Line situation, and we had not yet as a fanbase begun complaining about the play-calling quite yet, but I’m certain we would have had rational conversations about it as well.

And what I’m afraid of, and why I hate this season so much, is that I’m not sure we as a fanbase (and believe me, I put myself squarely in this camp as well because I’ve been bipolar about Mitch Leidner and I have lashed out at my fellow fan), have the ability to be rational right now.

We’re lashing out at the quarterback, we’re lashing out at each other, and for the first time I can remember, we’re lashing out at Coach Kill.

In and of themselves, none of those things are irrational, but the way it’s been happening just hasn’t felt characteristic of our fanbase.

The thing I look forward to the most on Saturdays is heading to the St Paul lots, pulling into a parking spot, cracking open a beer way too early in the morning, firing up the grill, and going through our individual Fear Level with Tre, Frothy & MV.

Generally one of us is scared to death, one of us is certain we’re going to see a blowout Gopher win, and the other two fall somewhere in between. The Fear Level typically ebbs and flows throughout the morning depending on how well the beers are going down and how the beanbag toss games are going.

But when I think about what I might possibly be thinking the morning of October 17th when I get to the tailgating lot and we begin discussing our Fear Level, at this moment I can’t imagine feeling anything but apathy.

Think about it. If we lose to Purdue, we’re all going to write this off as a lost season (if we haven’t already). If we beat them in a close game, we won’t feel any better because, well, it’s Purdue and you’re supposed to beat them and it might be our only B1G win of the season. And even if we somehow find a way to blow them out, we’ll be even more confused because “WHERE THE HELL DID THAT COME FROM?!?!”

My wife and I own an RV and in the fall when there isn’t a home Gopher game we like to get out somewhere, but our plans are always fairly dependent on me finding a way to watch the Gopher game as I haven’t been willing (yet) to pony up for dish in the motorhome.

For the CSU game, I was able to watch it in my friend’s RV. On Saturday for Northwestern, I was able to find an internet connection so I could watch it on my tablet. (Which was a horrible decision, by the way. I think the feed was fine, but the internet connection wasn’t stable and that situation added to my angst with the game as much as anything.)

This weekend we are going to be out in our RV again and I again am faced with how I watch the Gopher game. Then this afternoon, a thought came to me: maybe I just won’t watch it.

Folks, I can’t speak for you, but for me… that’s not normal. And I know it’s not normal, and yet, here I am and as I'm typing this I’m becoming more and more comfortable with the idea of not watching the game. 

I KNOW it's not normal for me and yet I've dipped my toe into Lake Abnormal and the water is a little cool, but it seems fine. Now I'm swimming in it, and it feels kind of nice. Refreshing even. My head is still above water. I haven't gotten my hair wet yet, but Saturday is still 5 days away.

That’s how much I hate this season right now. That’s how much perspective I’ve lost.

Am I broken?

Somebody tell me I’m wrong. Somebody talk me down off the ledge. Somebody… hold me.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Perspective. You don't haz it.

I have a friend who has OCD. I mean, not like clinically diagnosed OCD, but OCD like he’s a little nuts when it comes to keeping his house and his yard and his garage a certain way.

So a couple of weeks ago, knowing full well that it would drive him completely crazy, I casually mentioned to him in conversation that I had mowed my front yard. I didn’t explicitly say that I didn’t mow the back yard, and I didn’t make a big point of why I only mowed the front yard. I was just telling him about my day and sandwiched into the things I had done that day I mentioned mowing the front yard.

When I mentioned it, I could see confusion on his face immediately, but I didn’t slow down my story to allow him to ask questions.

As it happened, we both got sidetracked with other conversations at some point and our discussion ended innocently enough.

About an hour later, after I had forgotten the conversation and the landmine I had planted, he comes up to me, and with obvious concern in his voice said: “How come you only mowed your front yard?”

You see, for him, there is no gray area. You don’t just mow the front yard and not take care of the back. You don’t even mow your entire yard unless you also take the time to do all of the trimming. For him, there is one way to do things, one right answer, and one way to go about life.

Now, my friend isn’t much of a Gopher fan. He pays attention, but he doesn’t make a point to watch the games and he doesn’t break down the matchups. If the game is on the radio while he’s working around the yard or in the garage, he’ll listen, but other than that, he mostly just pays attention to whether or not the Gophers win or lose so he has something to chat with me about.

But there are a lot of people like my friend within the family of Gopher fans, and those people apply the same black & white thinking to their fandom.

Either the Gophers are going to the Rose Bowl, or the sky is falling. 

Either Jerry Kill is the Minnesota Bear Bryant, or he’s just another stiff on the sidelines. 

Either the University of Minnesota is completely doomed when it comes to sports, or next year is THE year. #NYITTY

And, would you believe, they take the same approach to how the view Mitch Leidner?

Last Saturday, in the midst of, quite literally, the best passing performance of Mitch Leidner’s career, people were still calling for Demry Croft.

After going 10-12 in the first half, someone to my right screamed “PUT IN DEMRY!” after a Leidner incompletion in the 3rd quarter.

A few rows behind me, someone yelled something similar after Mitch had an incompletion that went through Wolitarsky’s hands.

There was even someone in front of me who screamed after a Mitch completed a pass to Woli because there was somebody open further downfield (I believe it was Carter and to say he was more open, in my opinion, was sketchy at best but I also drink heavily).

Over and over, just a blatant unwillingness to see what is going on before their very eyes and, if even for one afternoon, allow themselves to admit that QB1 is playing a decent game.

And I didn’t even look at Twitter during the game.

But the guy who took the cake was sitting two rows behind me.

(This recollection is completely from memory. I have not re-watched the game, so the details may be a little fuzzy, but the sentiment remains.)

I believe it was in the 3rd Quarter and it was a 2nd or 3rd and long. Mitch drops back to pass, but things began to close in around him pretty quickly, so he stepped up in the pocket. Another couple of seconds goes by and Mitch doesn’t find anyone downfield, so he takes off running.

Mitch makes it back to the line of scrimmage, maybe a little further, and an Ohio player dives at Mitch’s feet to make a shoestring tackle.

And that is when I heard it…


If you want to bash Mitch for his pocket presence, fine.

If you want to complain about him not identifying an open receiver quickly enough, go ahead.

If you are of the opinion that Mitch is a slow and plodding runner, be my guest.

You can have any of those opinions and you could probably find a way to make a case, but if you’ve lost so much perspective on Mitch Leidner, that you are going to yell at him for getting tackled, there is just no hope for you.

So friends, I invite you: live in the gray with me this Saturday.

Seriously, go out and mow half your yard before kickoff on Saturday. And don’t bother trimming.

Go to the grocery store without a list.

Consider the other side of a debate.

Look, I’m not saying Mitch silenced the critics last Saturday. I’m not saying he’s over the hump, and I’m not saying he won’t have another terrible game this season. You know what, he probably will.

But maybe we can allow ourselves to enjoy a moment of reprieve from the dumpster fire of QB play we’ve seen the last… 5 years? And enjoy a nice performance without bias.

Because I’m telling you, if you can’t figure out a way to have some perspective and enjoy the good moments when this rises above our damaged level of expectations, then you are cheering for the wrong football program and you should find another team.

I’m sure there’s still plenty of room in the Fargo Dome.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Celebration of Medill: The Scrote

There's no doubt, this weekend's match between Northwestern and our Gophers is the de facto B1G West division championship game. We find ourselves here yearly against the Wildcats, where the the fate of the conference and College Football Playoff hangs in the balance. An annual game this big deserves more than the credence it gets in the press. It deserves something spectacular. It deserves a trophy.

Thus, what you see here today. Born from recognition of what Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism has contributed to our society, we give you The Scrote. 

Every year the winner of this game will be rewarded with a set if Truck Nutz in a wooden frame, symbolic of  the work of Darren Rovell other Medill alumni.

The Pig, the Axe, the Jug and now The Ol' Swingin' Sack. Let the tradition grow.

5 Reasons Why The Gophers Will Beat Northwestern

Gophers hard at work trying to find the combination for success.

Its been a bumpy ride through the non-conference schedule to say the least.  I've gnashed my teeth as much as anyone over the Gophers throughout these first few games.  However, after last week I feel fairly confident that the Gophers head into Evanston and beat the Wildcats.  Am I insane?  Probably, but that aside, I have 5 reasons why I believe the Gophers win on Saturday:

1.  The coaching staff holds back in non-conference play.  

This old chestnut is one that always comes with the Gophers under the Kill regime.  Even though it is maddening sometimes, they rarely go out of the box in non-conference play.  They keep it vanilla, so when the switcheroos and shifts and other tricks come out they blow your mind!  Look for an explosive play or two that help turn the tide on Saturday.

2.  Simplified running attack now looks great.  

Holy Shannon Brooks.  Rodney Smith and the Talented Mr. Brooks (I combined two movies there I guess) both showed up big on Saturday.  Both were explosive with long runs of 30 and 40 yards, but Brooks really impressed me with his ability to truck, juke and blow by defenders.  And guess what else?  The offensive line looked pretty good too.  Now Ohio is not TCU, nor even Northwestern, so they have a big challenge ahead, but they should come into the game with some confidence that they can move the ball on the ground.

3. NW Frosh QB Clayton Thorson vs Gophers defense.

In order to win, this has to be a match-up that favors the Gophers.  Thorson turned the ball over three times in the first half of a 24-19 win against Ball St last week on two fumbles and an interception.   He finished 18-31 for 256 yards.  He was just 9-23 with two interceptions in their 19-10 win the prior week at Duke.  He has a 53.4 QBR on the season.  He's looked excellent at times, but he's young and the Gophers need to exploit that youth and the potential for mistakes.  Justin Jackson is a stud at running back that will be tough to contain, so the Gophers need to keep the Wildcats as one dimensional as possible.

4.  Speaking of Quarterbacks, have you seen our boy Mitch lately?  

Leidner had his best game of the year and executed another great, late-game drive to get a win.  I've been as hard on him as anyone and I had mentioned to my tailgate P.I.C. @Frothygopher that the Ohio game might be the one that makes or breaks him.  He came up big, and that's great news for the season and this game against Northwestern because as good as a Demry Croft may one day be, starting on the road in the Big Ten season opener would not be a good look.  I was impressed with how much more poise Leidner had in the pocket.  His footwork seemed a lot better to me and it resulted in better passes thrown.  Plus, being able to throw a short comeback to a guy like Isaiah Gentry and have him turn around and blaze up some YAC helps too.

Leidner's QBR by game?  18.5, 36.5, 54.7, 76.0.  Blammo.  @Frothy postulates this trend means he goes 94-98 passing this week.  In fact, he just made a MODEL:

@Frothy's model predicts a 96.6 QBR this week.  For comparison, Utah's Travis Wilson had a 97.4 QBR against Oregon last week.  He went 18-30, 227 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs and ran 6 times for 100 yards and a TD.

5.  The Gophers haven't played a complete game yet. 

The Ohio game featured the strongest offensive effort and they also weren't bad defensively; but massive mistakes on special teams made this game much closer than it could have been.  This forced pressure on both the offense and defense and they both held up their end of the bargain.  Especially on offense, where even when they were punting, they were moving the ball a good chunk down the field before kicking it away.  I have confidence that the special teams will be corrected at Northwestern.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Hope, Once Again

Do you all remember the game under the Kill regime where you thought the defense was going to be pretty good? Not when you realized the defense was legit and began enjoying sustained success, which probably happened two years ago; rather, that first series of plays where you had an inkling these coaches might really know what they're doing. That first moment that you hope.

For me, it was against Iowa in 2011. It's a little odd, since, from a defensive perspective, we had just been murderballed in the previous four games (37 points allowed by [REDACTED], 58 to Michigan, 45 to Purdue(!) and 41 to Nebraska) and would proceed to get pisspounded by for most of the rest of the schedule (31 points allowed to Michigan State and 42 to the Fighting Russell Wilsons). Further, it wasn't an incredible defensive performance, since we gave up 472 yards of offense, including 252 to Marcus Coker, who rumbled for an impressive 7.9 yards per carry.

But, and maybe this is benefit of hindsight talking, there was a little something there. We had three sacks in the game, to which you might say, uh, and? But remember, we only had eight sacks for the entire 2010 season (not a typo), so that was a pretty big deal. Recall, also, that we had some grossly inferior and undersized talent playing in the defense that year, particularly in the secondary. That we were able to do anything at all in stopping an opposing team was a testament to the coaches. Yes, Iowa was pretty ordinary that season, but there was still something that seemed different enough to take note.

Of course, it wasn't a straight line to the very-good-to-great defense we have today. It was, at best, stepwise, and there were a number of missteps and regressions along the way. But there was a moment of positivity we hadn't seen in a while. We needed something to be excited about and there it was. Something to tell us that maybe the near future wouldn't be as bad as the recent past.

Well, Saturday's game was the first time I've felt that tickle of hope for the offensive side of the ball since Iowa last year and probably the 2014 Nebraska game before that.

The Gophers offense has been bi-polar through Kill's tenure, with moments of sheer brilliance followed by long, tedious periods of bleh. It's particularly vexing, because you know the coaching staff has the capability to be dynamic and trust the players to execute - you know because they have allowed it to happen and you've seen it. But, like a thief in the night, Limegrover steals your optimism and returns to the offensive morass that could sap the fun from a keg stand.

So, why is it different this time? Why am I allowing myself to love again?

To me, it is because of who the staff counted on to execute. While there were upperclassmen contributing to Saturday's offensive performance, we saw four freshmen, two of which are true freshmen, provide a spark this offense has lacked all season.

Our skill position players for the last several seasons, outside of Cobb and Maxx, could be best described as "workmanlike." Not terrifically flashy, they would try to grind you to dust through hard work, a blue-collar attitude and a willingness to sacrifice themselves for the good of the team [/end cliche generator].

Saturday, we saw a collection of talent that transcends that. Smith looked like Cobb reborn. Brooks, wearing Cobb's old number, conjured images of both Barber and Maroney, as he alternated between seeking contact against an off-balance defender and exploding into the open field for a 40-yard touchdown. Still and Gentry with their acrobatics, body control and athleticism have been absent from the wide receiver corps for nigh on a decade. Gentry, in particular, accelerates like a tremendous machine (h/t Chic Anderson) which, at 6'4", open up the deep threat potential in ways we haven't seen in some time.

Immense potential. And, for this season, that may be all that we see. Like the defense of four years ago, there will be setbacks and regressions. Youth, in the college game, rarely begets consistency. But in entrusting four freshmen to play a central role in the offense this weekend, particularly in a high-pressure, end-game situation, this staff demonstrated a willingness to take risks that were not part of the previous offensive breakthroughs.

We saw the future of the offense on Saturday. We needed something to be excited about, and there it was. Once again, we had hope.