After 10 years as J Robinson’s head assistant coach on the Gophers wrestling team, the time has come for Dave Grant to move on.
Last week Grant accepted a head coaching job at Northern Illinois, which is a Division I school located about an hour west of Chicago.
Grant will officially leave the University on July 15, but he is on vacation right now in Alaska.
He said his decision to leave was about a dream and a chance to move ahead in his profession.
“I had to go with a career choice,” Grant said. “It’s very hard to leave Minnesota, especially when we’re getting Brandon Paulson and Zac Taylor back next year.
“We’re going to have one of the best year’s ever next year, so it’s very hard to leave. But I’m leaving Minnesota to pursue my dream of becoming a head coach.”
Grant said he and Robinson are good friends and he will use Robinson’s teachings when he starts at Northern Illinois.
Robinson said he realizes it is every assistant’s vision to become a head coach and that Grant has earned the right to realize it.
“He’s been with me since I came here, and he’s seen the program come a long way,” Robinson said. “Everyone wants to become a head coach, and I’m happy to see him get his chance. It’s a good opportunity for him.”
Grant and Robinson were indeed a good tandem. The two coached 10 Big Ten individual champions and 21 All-Americans. As a team, the Gophers have finished above .500 in the Big Ten seven times under Robinson and Grant.
Current assistant coach Marty Morgan, who recently was beaten in the final day of the Olympic trials and missed his chance at making the Olympic team, is the leading candidate for the job.
The former NCAA champion with the Gophers has been coaching under Robinson for the past four years.
When asked if Morgan will take Grant’s position, Robinson said it hasn’t been decided what will happen.
“That’s probably what we’ll do, but we’re not for sure yet,” Robinson said.
Kempainen might not run at Olympics
Olympic marathoner and University doctor Bob Kempainen, who made news at the Olympic trials in February when he won the race despite vomiting while running, said his bad knees might keep him from running at the Games on Aug. 4.
The pain comes from an inflamed band of tendon that connects his knees and hips. Kempainen said he is already three weeks behind in his training.
“I haven’t run consistently for at least a month,” Kempainen said. “It’s bad timing, I guess.”
Kempainen continues to work out, but is resting his legs until he feels he can run again. Usually he runs about 100 miles per week.
If Kempainen cannot race in the Olympics, new Gophers cross country coach Steve Plasencia will take his place.
Plasencia took fourth at the trials, but only the top three finishers go to the Games.
Sauer to play in NFL
Former Gophers running back Chris Darkins, who was drafted by the Green Bay Packers, is not the only player from last year’s Gophers team to make the pros. Linebacker Craig Sauer will also get a chance.
Sauer was picked up as a free agent by the Atlanta Falcons and impressed the coaches enough to be added to the team. He will probably be assigned to special teams for next season.
As a senior on the Gophers’ squad, Sauer was named the overall team MVP last season. He led Minnesota in solo tackles (55) and total tackles with 76.
Skarda rejoins Blast
Former Gophers hockey defenseman Randy Skarda signed a one-year free agent contract with the Arctic Blast roller hockey team last week.
Skarda, who played with the Blast in 1994, competed in 40 games with the NHL’s St. Louis Blues. He also spent two years in the IHL where he was a two-time all star.
The native of West St. Paul led the Blast in assists (59) and penalty minutes (109). He was also second in points with 77 behind John Young, who had 79.
Skarda, 28, will add size and grit to the Blast’s defense. While with the Gophers, he was known for his rough play and still ranks eighth on the team in career penalty minutes with 270.
During the 1987-88 season, his sophomore year, Skarda scored a single-season Gophers record of 19 goals as a defenseman. He was named a second-team All-American that year.
Roethlisberger takes second
Former Gophers gymnast John Roethlisberger placed second in the U.S. Gymnastics National Championships in Knoxville, Tenn., last week. The four-time overall champion was competing for his fifth title, which would have been a record.
Roethlisberger started slow in the compulsories and began the meet in 26th place. He fought back and eventually took the lead before the compulsories were over.
Gophers gymnastics coach Fred Roethlisberger, John’s dad, said he was impressed with John’s comeback.
“He competed like a steel trap,” Fred said. “He showed me how high a level he can compete at.”
But Ohio State’s Blaine Wilson edged Roethlisberger in the all-around finals by .175 points with solid efforts on the still rings and parallel bars.
Despite missing his chance at five national championships, Roethlisberger is still a favorite to make the Olympic team and be a top competitor.
His opportunity to prove that will be on June 27-30 at the Olympic Trials in Boston. The top 14 finishers at the national championship meet will vie for the seven spots on the Olympic team.
Men’s track receives commitments from five athletes
The Gophers men’s track team announced the names of three athletes who signed contracts and two who agreed to walk on with the team next season.
Duluth’s Jeremy Polson and Adam Freed, and Mark Johanssen from Miller, S.D., inked national letters of intent, while Eric Hartmark, who is from Duluth and Sam Severin, who is from Bismarck, N.D., accepted offers to walk on.
Polson was the runner-up at the 1995 state cross country meet and Hartmark took fourth.
Adam Freed is a two-time state champion in the 200-meter dash and also took second in the 400 during Saturday’s state meet.
Severin won the 400 and took second in the 800 last week in the North Dakota state meet. And Johanssen won the 1996 high jump title in South Dakota with a personal best leap of 6 feet, 10 inches.
Shudlick makes the cut
Former Gophers women’s basketball star Carol Ann Shudlick is one of 122 players eligible for the ABA draft after surviving the final cut at a tryout in Seattle.
The field of athletes started at about 500. Another former Minnesota player, Cara Pearson, did not make the list.
Former Gophers pitcher dies
Former Minnesota right-hander Dan Morgan died May 31 from a bacterial infection he developed last year. Morgan, 40, underwent heart surgery six weeks ago.
The Duluth, Minn., native pitched from 1975 to 1977 with the Gophers and held a 22-2 record with a 1.97 earned-run average. His .917 winning percentage is still a school record.
Morgan was named a first-team All-American after his junior year when he helped Minnesota get to its last College World Series appearance.