Wed Jun 15 01:52pm EDT
The Old Guy. Tim Brewster's expectations at Minnesota were never clear — his predecessor, Glen Mason, was fired in 2006 after taking the Gophers to six bowl games and two top-20 finishes in seven years, easily the best run in Minneapolis since the early sixties — but whatever they were, he didn't come close to meeting them. In 2007, Brewster's first team finished 1-11 with zero conference wins and the worst Big Ten defense of the last decade; the next two, in 2008-09, were identical to the mediocre effort that got Mason fired, turning in a pair of 3-5 conference records and season-ending losses in the Insight Bowl.
The 2010 edition barely made it to midseason before Brewster was canned in the midst of what would become a nine-game losing streak, including flops against a I-AA/FCS team from South Dakota, a token MAC-rifice and a fellow Big Ten bottom-dweller playing without its top quarterback, top running back and top wide receiver.
It didn't help that the only thing Brewster appeared to be good at was drawing attention to how bad the team was. Besides hosting the web's most disproportionately enthusiastic Twitter feed, Brewster began his tenure by bringing a patch of Rose Bowl turf to a spring practice session, then protested that he'd never predicted a Rose Bowl after the team finished 1-11. (Presumably he didn't predict a last-place finish, either.) He also told the local paper that, with a few breaks against some of the worst teams on the schedule, the one-win season could have easily been a four or five-win season. His online bio once included wins as an assistant under Mack Brown at North Carolina and Texas on Brewster's career coaching record. Last fall, he complained about expenditure on the program barely a year after the completion of a swanky new on-campus stadium and less than one week after losing to the robber barons of South Dakota. One month and five consecutive losses later, he was fired.
The New Guy. This time, the Gophers are going for proof over potential: Besides his pun-tastic surname, Jerry Kill brings 17 years of extremely un-sexy head coaching experience at, successively, Saginaw Valley State, Emporia State, Southern Illinois and, for the last three years, Northern Illinois, where the Huskies set a new school record in 2010 with 11 wins. At his introductory press conference, he went out of his way to compliment the university's commitment to football, and his mission in the spring was to drown the excuses and rah-rah atmosphere with buckets of sweat and shame:
Minnesota wasn't very accountable last season while going 3-9, including a 24-23 home loss to Kill's Northern Illinois team. So the first-year Gophers coach set the accountability theme quickly.Some players have been forced to wear brown jerseys in spring practice with the words "Minnesota Lophers" on the front and "I let my teammates down" on the back.
That grabbed the attention of quarterback MarQueis Gray. "When I first heard about it, in my head, I was like, 'I don't want to be a part of that,'" he said. "That brown shirt with pink letters doesn't look too good."
Kill's "tough love" routine plays, for now, because of his record as a fast builder: Only one of his 16 teams as a head coach (Southern Illinois in 2005) has failed to at least match the record of the team before it, and even the '05 Salukis won a share of the Gateway Conference championship. He's only turned in four losing seasons in that span, and his career record (127-73) is more than 50 games over .500. Before he arrived at Northern Illinois in 2008, Kill's teams at SIU went on a streak of five straight I-AA/FCS playoff appearances, just two years removed from finishing 1-10 in his first season.
He's also a survivor of kidney cancer.
Immediate Impact or Slow Burn? Considering Mason's rapid descent from the school's first 10-win season in almost a century in 2003, the mandate for success here is still a bit of a mystery: Minnesota hasn't been to a Rose Bowl since 1961, the longest drought in the Big Ten, and Mason was the first head coach to leave with a winning record in Minneapolis in more than 30 years.
The good news for Kill is that the crater of the Brewster era should give him a few years to get the program back to steady contention for a bowl game. In the long run, though, if his bosses are looking for more than a steady diet of 6-6 or 7-5 marks with the occasional 9-3 run to the Outback Bowl in the best years, the going's likely to get ugly again eventually.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.