Stipulations on Wacker’s contract do not faze the Gophers football team

by Jeff Sherry

Saturday’s 35-33 upset of Syracuse kept the Gophers football team unbeaten this season. It also got the team a step closer to keeping its coach.
A previously unknown clause in coach Jim Wacker’s recent contract extension was revealed last month, and it calls for Wacker to resign at the end of the year if Minnesota doesn’t win at least five games.
The University’s legal department inadvertently released the contract clause to the Star Tribune, and the newspaper promptly reported its findings. According to the contract, men’s athletics director Mark Dienhart can refuse Wacker’s resignation if he chooses.
Thus far, Minnesota’s players and coaches have looked at the win-or-else scenario as a non-factor. Five wins may be their new benchmark of success, but the Gophers say they aren’t feeling any added pressure.
“I don’t think anybody’s really talked about it,” tight end Troy Duerr said. “We’re confident it won’t ever become an issue. We’ve just got to go out and do what we’re supposed to each week. We’re going to try to win regardless.”
Wacker, 12-32 in his first four seasons at Minnesota, said coaches understand they must win to keep their jobs. It’s something that comes with the territory, and something they can’t worry about.
“Everybody knows that — that’s coaching,” Wacker said. “And in your fifth year, you’ve got to turn the program (around). That’s to be expected. If you don’t win, somebody else gets a chance. That’s the way the game was meant to be.”
The Gophers can make the whole point moot by simply continuing with their winning ways. But with the Big Ten schedule on tap, that may be difficult. In fact, only one of their three wins so far has come easily.
That win came in their Sept. 7 season-opener against Northeast Louisiana. The Gophers took control with their running game and routed the Indians, 30-3, in Monroe, La.
Freshman running back Thomas Hamner led the way with 158 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. The Gophers also had no turnovers and only one penalty. The three points allowed by Minnesota’s defense was the lowest in 50 games.
“I think we just had a better football team than they did, obviously,” Wacker said. “We dominated up in the offensive line and really ran the ball well. Our overall level of execution was the most impressive thing in that ball game.”
The Gophers were expected to dispose of Ball State in similar fashion the following week. Instead, they came out flat and needed a miracle comeback to pull out a 26-23 win at the Metrodome.
The Cardinals ran all over Minnesota, totaling 234 yards on the ground. The Gophers were also hurt by turnovers. They fumbled the ball three times in the fourth quarter and trailed, 23-18, with no timeouts left and 1:33 remaining in the game.
Starting at its own 27-yard line, Minnesota moved all the way to the Ball State 18-yard line. Quarterback Cory Sauter then squeezed a pass through three Ball State defenders for the winning touchdown to Tutu Atwell with 15 seconds left.
Afterward, Minnesota’s players said they knew they’d win all along. In fact, they probably had a little too much confidence.
“I think Ball State is a very good team, better than a lot of people expected,” Hamner said Thursday. “And I also feel that deep in our minds somewhere we kind of underestimated them a little bit, because of how we dominated them (31-7) last year. They took us by surprise. They’re a very good team.”
Just how good of a team Minnesota is remains to be seen. Although the Syracuse win provided the Gophers with a legitimate confidence boost, they still had problems with run defense (301 yards) and turnovers.
But right now the Gophers believe they can overcome anything. Their consecutive fourth-quarter comeback wins have convinced them they’ll never be out of any game.
“We just need to keep focused and take it one game at a time,” Atwell said Saturday night. “Eventually, we’ll come up successful.”