A room for improvement

Players and parents are entertained in TCF Bank Stadium’s new recruiting room.

Mike Mullen

About an hour before the kickoff of MinnesotaâÄôs Sept. 19 game against California, a father and son sat alone, as they had for the previous half hour, at a table in the recruiting room at TCF Bank Stadium. Without prompting, Adonis Lewis, wife of Minnesota tight ends coach Derek Lewis , approached their table and introduced herself. Lewis shook their hands and chatted with the father and son. She smiled at them, and they smiled back. With its flat screen TVs and leather chairs, the room is meant to impress on its own, but it is also a slick backdrop for personal interaction. Both the facilities and the personalities, the father said later, would factor into the decision of he and his son, whom NCAA laws dictate cannot be discussed by the University of Minnesota until Signing Day. The father said Minnesota had top-notch facilities, but his son would make his decision based on whether or not he would be happy there. Lewis said that creating a family atmosphere was no accident. On more than one occasion, she has spoken with playersâÄô mothers and told them that she and other coachesâÄô wives would do their best to make players feel at home, she said. âÄúWe can never be their mothers but we can be excellent fill-ins,âÄù Lewis said. âÄúYou need that wonderful home-cooked food and everything? WeâÄôre the people to get it done.âÄù In functionality the room replaces an outdoor tent which had been set up outside of the Metrodome. The father said that TCF Bank Stadium lacks the nostalgic power of other stadiums, but it is still a huge upgrade. He said the Metrodome was in some ways detrimental to the recruiting process. Later, the same father sat alone on a leather chair as his son took advantage of the recruitsâÄô chance to spend some pregame time on the field. Within five minutes, he was joined by an assistant coach, who chatted briefly with him. A few minutes after, a pleasant woman with Event Staff reminded him that there was plenty of food left at the buffet, which included eggs, sausage and bagels with four kinds of cream cheese. The room has row after row of plush leather seats against each wall. But the most desirable chairs might be the cloth ones that face mounted flat screen TVs hooked to an XBOX 360, with the newest college football game turned on and ready to play. As two recruits sat, enthralled, before the game against California, they considered skipping the chance to go on the field. Then a father shot his son a pointed look, and the two players paused their game and joined the group heading toward the field. The digital contest was abandoned in the third quarter, with the score Minnesota 21, Minnesota 14. Though the real Minnesota lost a close game to California, one of those recruits, defensive tackle Josh Tauaefa from Corinth, Texas, committed to Minnesota later that same day. Gophers head basketball coach Tubby Smith also met with a recruit in the room that day, and said he would do so again. To Smith, the new facility is one step toward the University proving its commitment to athletics. The UniversityâÄôs previous facilities showed that it had been somewhat behind in the commitment to athletics, he said. Smith said that friends, strangers and other college coaches have raved about the stadium. Smith said that it rivals any facility he has seen. âÄúItâÄôs as impressive as any place IâÄôve ever been,âÄù Smith said. It may also have impressed his recruit: three days after meeting Smith in the recruiting room, standout shooting guard Austin Hollins from Germantown, Tenn. gave a verbal commitment to play at Minnesota.