Big promises, little progress

After winning six Big Ten games in three seasons, Tim Brewster has earned himself a two-year contract extension.

Scrimmage in new stadium

Matt Mead

Scrimmage in new stadium

by Josh Katzenstein

Despite compiling a 14-24 record in his first three seasons with the Gophers, Tim Brewster signed a two-year extension last week to remain MinnesotaâÄôs head football coach until 2013. Though some questioned the decision to re-sign Brewster, there is evidence that keeping the first-time head coach on board was the right move. Former Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez and current Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz both took over struggling programs. Like Brewster, both coaches won just one game in their first season. But in AlvarezâÄôs fourth season at the helm, the Badgers went 10-1-1 and won the Rose Bowl. Ferentz also broke out in his fourth season in Iowa City, winning 11 games before losing the Orange Bowl. But Ferentz and Alvarez showed improvement each of their first three years in conference or total wins. Brewster, on the other hand, has regressed from year two to three, decreasing his overall win total by one while Big Ten victories remained static. Meanwhile, his recruiting classes have slipped each year, and heâÄôs failed to maintain a consistent core of coaches. Last season his players were involved in a variety of off-field legal troubles. Still, Athletics Director Joel Maturi and past, current and future players believe BrewsterâÄôs goals of a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl appearance are within reach. âÄúIt takes a breakout year to make that difference, and it takes an identity to make that difference,âÄù Maturi said. âÄúItâÄôs kind of like the Chicago Cubs; next year is the year. One of these days itâÄôll happen. One of these days.âÄù Recruiting and its cost A major factor in Brewster becoming MinnesotaâÄôs 26th head football coach was his proven ability to recruit top talent. Brewster is credited with helping Texas land quarterback Vince Young, who led the Longhorns to the 2005 National Championship. However, in each of BrewsterâÄôs first three seasons, he has spent more money than the previous year to recruit decreasingly talented classes, according to rankings. In the 2009 fiscal year, Brewster spent more than $560,000 on recruiting, nearly 50 percent more than Glen Mason spent in his final year as the GophersâÄô coach, according to numbers from the athletics department. For Maturi, the increase in spending is something he sees as a necessity not only to improve the football program but all of the UniversityâÄôs athletics. âÄúWe have 25 sports; three of them make money,âÄù Maturi said. âÄúI want to take care of 25 sports, but I also need to take care of the engines.âÄù Football, menâÄôs basketball and menâÄôs hockey are the only athletics programs currently generating a profit. Maturi said those programs need to be afforded more funds to attract talent that keeps the entire Gophers athletics program fiscally responsible. âÄúWe all know that recruiting is the lifeline of any athletics program of any sport,âÄù Maturi said. âÄúI am not going to minimize what we necessarily have to do to recruit the people that are qualified academically and athletically to compete for the Gophers.âÄù While spending has increased each year under Brewster, the fruits of his labors havenâÄôt necessarily followed the same trajectory. After the 2007 season, Brewster turned in his first full recruiting class. The 2008 group ranked 17th in the nation, 40 spots higher than the 2007 class consisting mostly of MasonâÄôs recruits. However, BrewsterâÄôs classes have continued to fall since then. His most recent class ranked 50th in the nation and sixth in the Big Ten. Why Brewster? When Brewster received the position in 2007, he landed atop a group of lesser-known coaches. âÄúThere were no BCS head coaches that wanted this job,âÄù Maturi said. âÄúI believe Tim Brewster was the best coach available.âÄù After interviewing 14 candidates, Maturi said he consulted with Texas head coach Mack Brown and NFL head coaches Mike Shanahan and Brad Childress, all of whom had worked with Brewster. Maturi chose the Denver BroncosâÄô tight ends coach to lead the Gophers shortly thereafter. âÄúI hired Tim Brewster because I loved his vision. I loved his emotion,âÄù Maturi said. At his introductory press conference, Brewster famously declared his intentions of winning a Big Ten championship and playing in a Rose Bowl. BrewsterâÄôs enthusiasm played a large role in earning the position, but Maturi said that same gusto has been the target of the coachâÄôs critics. âÄúI think that energy, that enthusiasm, that optimism has been received negatively by some because we havenâÄôt competed for a championship,âÄù Maturi said. âÄúMinnesota has not had a breakout season in decades, and weâÄôre still looking for it and weâÄôre trying to find a way to get it done. RecruitsâÄô thoughts In 2008, Brewster signed two highly regarded recruits from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Tramaine Brock and Cedric McKinley. MGCCC head football coach Steve Campbell knew nothing about Brewster before he visited on a recruiting trip, but Campbell said Brewster was successful in making the Big Ten look attractive to kids who grew up in the heart of the SEC. âÄúThe allure of playing in the Big House at Michigan and at Ohio State and playing against those caliber of teams, he did a good job of selling that,âÄù Campbell said. While Brewster can sell the possible opponents and the programâÄôs tradition, Campbell explained that the recent run of mediocrity causes his players to look at Minnesota as a backup option. âÄú[My players] know whoâÄôs going to compete for a national championship and they know whoâÄôs not,âÄù Campbell said. âÄúIf youâÄôre not being recruited by a national championship-contending football team, they want to play somewhere where at least they know theyâÄôre going to get to a bowl game, and MinnesotaâÄôs going to bowl games.âÄù The Gophers have made it to a bowl game nine out of the past 11 seasons, but big-time wins that gain national respect have eluded them. Under Brewster, the Gophers are 0-2 in the postseason, with Insight Bowl losses to Kansas and Iowa State. The Cyclones had not claimed a winning season since 2005. Brewster has also struggled against MinnesotaâÄôs rivals. He has never beaten Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan or Penn State. The Gophers play all teams for different symbolic trophies, but he has yet to win a trophy game in his three seasons. Marquise Hill, a member of the 2010 recruiting class, said he chose Minnesota over the likes of Iowa, Missouri and Arkansas (where his cousin Ronnie Wingo plays) because of what a big win could mean for the Gophers. âÄúAll these schools got these big traditions, always win, always win; itâÄôs nothing new to them. So I feel like at Minnesota when we do win, itâÄôll be something new,âÄù Hill said. âÄúItâÄôll give everybody something to talk about. WeâÄôll make history for real.âÄù Growing pains When Brewster said he would take Minnesota to a Rose Bowl and a Big Ten crown, his confidence was embraced by the team, former running back Amir Pinnix said. Pinnix, who rushed for more than 1,200 yards as a junior in 2006, said he knew nothing about Brewster when he was named as MasonâÄôs replacement. Despite having to adjust to a new coach and offensive system after having a breakout year, Pinnix said Brewster convinced him that the team could achieve its goals of winning a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl. âÄúIf he says you know what, Big Ten champions and Rose Bowl, and if he believes it, then the rest of the team believes it,âÄù Pinnix said. Pinnix spent much of his senior season plagued by injuries. He was forced to watch most of MinnesotaâÄôs 2007 campaign, in which the team went 1-11 under Brewster, from the sidelines. The team failed to make the jump to âÄúthe next level,âÄù which Mason could never reach. But a 1-11 start? âÄúI was shocked. I was surprised,âÄù Maturi said. âÄúI knew there would be some growing pains, but it was more traumatic than I think any of us expected it to be.âÄù Pinnix said he was more frustrated with the lack of reward for the effort everyone put forth than with the one-win result. Expectations The breakout season under Brewster âÄî or any other coach since the 1967 season (the GophersâÄô last Big Ten title) âÄî hasnâÄôt come. The results havenâÄôt met BrewsterâÄôs or MaturiâÄôs lofty goals, but that hasnâÄôt tempered expectations for the program to succeed. âÄúI think [expectations have] increased, and I think Tim Brewster takes the credit and the blame, and thatâÄôs been kind of his AchillesâÄô heel a little bit,âÄù Maturi said. âÄúHe believes weâÄôre going to get there [the Rose Bowl], and quite frankly, I want whoever coaches this football team to believe weâÄôre going to get there.âÄù Maturi attends an annual December luncheon at which, he said, business people across the state are interested in two things: the stock market and the Gophers football record for the upcoming season. Each year, Maturi honestly predicts how the season will end for the team. Maturi initially wrote down a prediction of 6-6 for the 2009 regular season. He then changed it to 7-5 because he said he felt he âÄúhad to be optimistic.âÄù Optimism and patience go hand in hand, but the instant success demanded in the world of college coaching often pushes patience to the wayside. âÄúI think it takes at least five years for a coach to be able to build a program,âÄù Little said. âÄúUnfortunately, not enough people give coaches that much time. Too many times they want instant success.âÄù Coaching turnover Last week, Brewster announced a coaching staff shakeup. The Gophers will promote running backs coach Thomas Hammock to co-offensive coordinator while also bidding adieu to wide receivers coach Richard Hightower. With the promotion, Hammock becomes the fourth person with offensive coordinator duties as Brewster enters his fourth season. The Gophers have also had four different defensive coordinators in that time. Although Maturi said only one coach did not leave on his own accord, the instability wreaks havoc for players who repeatedly have to adjust to new systems. âÄúThere is a disappointment there because I think it negatively affects the kids,âÄù Maturi said. âÄúI think it negatively affects the continuity of who we are and what weâÄôre trying to be, but itâÄôs also a reality.âÄù Coaches have left for a variety of reasons, including taking different jobs closer to their hometowns or promotions at other programs. The exception Maturi mentions is Mike Dunbar, offensive coordinator for the 2007 and 2008 seasons. Dunbar and Brewster had a falling out because Brewster felt the offense couldnâÄôt thrive when only employing the spread system, Maturi said, which Dunbar had used successfully at California and Northwestern. Months ago, rumors began spreading regarding BrewsterâÄôs return even before the 2009 Insight Bowl. Brewster said the idea of playing must-win games at the end of the season did not faze him. âÄúWe were just trying to win football games and prepare the best we could as a football team to go win games,âÄù Brewster said last week after a press conference. âÄúThat was something that was the furthest from my mind.âÄù Brewster was not available for further comment for this story. Maturi announced he would offer Brewster an extension before the bowl game to help the recruiting process. Hill said knowing that Brewster would still be with Minnesota in 2010 helped cement his decision to play for the Gophers. Other players, who have experienced the backlash from turnover, felt more secure with the announcement. âÄúItâÄôs good to know that we have a steady head coach instead of having coaches in and out like we did this season,âÄù freshman quarterback MarQueis Gray said. Extension Although Maturi announced he would extend BrewsterâÄôs contract in late December, the final agreement wasnâÄôt signed until Feb. 3. With the extension, Minnesota signed Brewster until 2013, but many amendments were added to the employment agreement. The new contract includes a new buyout clause. If Minnesota relieves Brewster of his head coaching duties, the University will only have to pay half his base salary of $400,000 for each remaining year on the contract. Additionally, if Brewster wins seven games, he will earn an extra $100,000. For each additional win, Brewster stands to make $50,000. The Gophers had the 19th most difficult schedule in 2009. Next season will only be tougher when Minnesota welcomes Southern California for a September matchup. Despite the extension, thereâÄôs only one thing Brewster can do to secure his position: âÄúIn the end, heâÄôs got to win football games,âÄù Maturi said.