Wacker. The name alone is enough to make you smile. Throw in an infectious personality and a fruity vocabulary, and you’ll have a decent picture of the man that oversaw one of the most memorable periods in Gophers football history.
Jim Wacker came to Minnesota in 1991 promising to revitalize a program that hadn’t been to a bowl game since the 1986 season. His resumÇ seemed impressive enough, having led teams from Texas Lutheran, Southwest Texas State and Texas Christian to national prominence during his 20-year career as a head coach.
Wacker brought a fan-pleasing pass-happy offense to Minnesota. But the Gophers’ defense was rarely able to prevent opposing teams from operating at will, as Wacker fashioned a woeful 16-39 record in five seasons as Gophers coach.
Still, through it all, Wacker did his best to buoy the spirits of players and fans alike. “Geezo-beezo,” he would say. “I tell you what, this is one heckuva team.” His high hopes, unfortunately, weren’t enough.
Prior to the 1996 season, Wacker and men’s athletics director Mark Dienhart agreed on a contract stipulation that would require Wacker to resign if his team failed to win five games. The Gophers came close with near-misses against Purdue and Northwestern, but finished with a 4-7 record. Wacker resigned with two games left in the season, he said, to take the pressure to “Win One for Wacker” off his players.
In the coaching world, careers are decided largely on the basis of wins and losses. Wacker managed to improve the grade-point average of his team in every one of his five seasons, and did much to improve the Gophers’ off-field image. He ran a squeaky-clean program, but it wasn’t enough.
The Gophers hired Glen Mason away from Kansas in December to take over for Wacker. Mason in some ways seems like the anti-Wacker — he preaches the running game, and his demeanor is, well, more straight-laced.
But the Gophers’ new coach would be wise to give the program the same respect and attention as his predecessor. It’s yet to be seen if wins are in the future, but Wacker’s inimitable wit and ever-present smile will be missed.