Thursday, December 20, 2007

Year In Review: Maturi Hires Some Guy He's Never Heard Of

A little more than two weeks after Glen Mason was shown the door, Athletic Director Joel Maturi and University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks found the man they wanted to bring a new vision to Gophers football. The new coach was a new name to the vast majority of Gophers fans.

On a blustery Minnesota morning in mid-January, we learned Tim Brewster would be having a press conference to announce he had agreed to terms with the University. In unison, much of Gopher Nation scratched their heads. Who is Tim Brewster? Why did we hire someone with no head coaching, or coordinator experience? If Brewster has never been anything more than a tight ends coach, why is he the best coach to take a high-major, middle-of-the-pack football program and oversee its ascension to the top of the Big Ten?

In short, Gophers fans were stumped. Maturi finally stepped up and pulled the plug on the Glen Mason era. But with the AD's first big hire at the University, he goes for a no-name coach, one we later learn our AD had never even heard of himself. A startling decision to say the least.

There were some positives. Brewster was pegged as a top-notch recruiter. He had landed Vince Young while on staff for Mack Brown at Texas. And under Brown at North Carolina, Brewster took some credit for landing Julius Peppers. There were others too: Brewster was tight ends coach for the NFL's Chargers during Antonio Gates' rise to stardom. He had most recently worked under one of the NFL's most respected gurus in Mike Shanahan. While his resume lacked in some areas, it looked good in others.

So, the decision makers told us that Brewster would work to build a fence around the state of Minnesota. We would no longer lose homegrown products to Notre Dame, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan. Here is Maturi, via Chip Scoggins at the Star Tribune, introducing Brewster to his new fanbase:

"Coach Brewster has a great reputation as a man of integrity, vision and energy," Maturi wrote in an e-mail. "He is known as a tireless recruiter and he wanted to be a Gopher. From the dozens of people we talked to around the nation, Coach Brewster stood out as a person that could take us to the next level."
Later on January 16th, Brewster took to a podium in Minneapolis, Maturi cheerleading at his side, and professed that this was the beginning of a new era in Minnesota football. He talked of the storied history of the program only our grandfathers can recall. He talked about how this current team can win now, and he talked about taking "Gopher Nation To Pasadena."

Brewster immediately set the bar very high:
"My expectations from Day One is that we are going to win the Big Ten championship," he said. "We're going to take the Gopher Nation to Pasadena (the site of the Rose Bowl)." He was asked if he had concerns about his lack of head coaching experience. "I don't have fear. I don't have anxiety. I have total exhilaration," he said in a mild Texas accent despite having been born in New Jersey. "If you aren't prepared, then you have anxiety. ... For 19 years I've been an assistant coach [and] I've always made great decision on who I worked for. ... What I chased was knowledge [rather than] what my title was."
The man entered the Minnesota sporting world with bravado.

Later in the Year In Review, we'll look at how Brewster performed during his first season on the sidelines. But for now, I want to concentrate on the coaching search. As I suggested in the previous post about the dismissal of Glen Mason, the coaching search was made to be hurried by the poor timing of Mason's dismissal. Had Mason been fired at the end of the regular season--before the Insight Bowl debacle--the Gophers would have had a month or more to find a coach instead of two weeks. But a quick decision had to be made because the early signing period was imminent.

As in any coaching search there was rampant speculation about who would be the next coach. The names varied from the never-going-to-happen (think Tony Dungy) to the PLEASE! department (Think the degree-less Mike Tice and Eden Prairie High School coach Mike Grant). But other names were out there: former USC coordinator now Oakland Raiders Coach Lane Kiffin, UCLA Defensive Coordinator DeWayne Walker (former Gopher), Wisconsin Offensive Coordinator Paul Chryst and North Dakota State Head Coach Craig Bohl. Each of those five names appealed to me for different reasons.

Each of those names had something Brewster doesn't: big-time coaching experience. Bohl has built a program. Kiffin has been part of greatness at USC. Chryst has run a Big Ten offense (for our arch rival, another plus). Walker brings a BCS track record and a Minnesota tradition. Brewster, well, Brewster had coached tight ends and been a recruiting coordinator. Suffice to say, the name Tim Brewster came out of left field.

I might be overly skeptical, but I fail to see why Maturi and Bruininks couldn't have sought a coach with both a coaching and recruiting track record. But I already know the answer to that. They weren't so much looking for a coach. They were looking for a salesman. They were looking for someone who could boost ticket sales and interest as the University pushed to raise millions of dollars for its new outdoor, on-campus, football stadium.

The Star Tribune's excellent columnist Jim Souhan made this point the day after Brewster was hired:
As the search began, the U braintrust had a rare epiphany. What this program needed was not a play diagrammer or a retread. What this program needed was a credible and persuasive salesman. Someone who could sell tickets and raise stadium funds, who could promote the program 12 months a year and attract recruits from Hibbing to Houston. The anti-Mason.
Let me suggest that the "U braintrust" was at least partially wrong. What the U needed was a salesman who could light a fire under a disinterested fan base AND diagram plays. So, Maturi and Bruninks went with a coach who they knew could do the one thing they felt they needed most: influence public relations in the short term, nevermind the longterm consequences. So, they hired a man who they had never heard of.

Maturi admitted that during the press conference introducing Brewster. Maturi said:

"Quite frankly, I'd never heard of Tim Brewster," he said. But as he checked around "everybody had great things to say about Tim Brewster. Kids love to play for him."
Never heard of your new coach!?!!??!!

To me that is astonishing. The University of Minnesota is in a big-time athletic conference. Yet when the search began for a new football coach, our athletic director hadn't even heard of the man now leading our progarm! Time may vindicate Joel Maturi but with a year behind us to look at this, the decision to hire Brewster clearly appears to be one that was A) rushed and B) made with one overriding priority in mind: finding the anti-Mason. It appears that Brewster was sold to Maturi, by a search committee, by high profile coaches and by Brewster himself.

It's too early to know if Brewster will be a failure as head coach at Minnesota. But with 20-20 hindsight, I think we can agree that Joel Maturi--by all accoutns a good man--put himself in position to take some criticism for this hire whether it works out or not.

This was Joel Maturi's first big coaching search as AD. And I sumbit he failed the test.


lonebadger said...

And before the season started, every single one of you thought Brewster was the second coming. So Maturi got sold by Brewster? So is a top twenty recruiting class after the worst year in the history of Minnesota football. Maybe, just maybe, what Minnesota needed wasn't an established coach to come in and retread the same ol' same ol' but new blood to take the team places it previously dare not go. Whether that happens or not, at least Joel tried.

lonebadger said...

I can't believe you have me, a Badger fan, defending The U.

I hate you.

PJS said...

Brewster may turn out to be the next coming. This post wasn't intended to be about Brewster's coaching ability but rather Maturi's 'search process.'

My complaints are two-fold: First, that Maturi's decision-making created a scenario that caused a rushed decision. Maturi had to find a coach within two weeks of the INsight Bowl loss. That's no way to handle a search of any kind.

Second, as Souhan pointed out, Maturi and company were looking for one thing only: the anti-Mason. I feel that was a little short-sighted. And it's completely clear that a search firm/high profile coaches sold Brewster to the U. And Maturi, and then many of us, bought what they were selling.

Could Brewster turn the program around and kick Bielema's ass? You bet.

Anyway, LB, you seem to want to cheer for the Gophers anyway. We're happy to have you!!!!

PJS said...

Oh, I told you that you wern't going to like this post, LB.

You'll like one of the coming posts where Maturi redeems himself!

J. Lichty said...

Jim Souhan excellent?

PJS said...

I know it's like one of those oil and water deals, but, I blog and I like Jim Souhan.

Clearly I'm in the minority in the MInnesota blogosphere, but I always enjoyed Soup as a baseball writer and I feel he does a good job as a columnist (though perhaps still searching for his columnist voice).

Alex said...

I have to say, and it pains me to do so, I agree with Lone Badger. I don't know if Brewster is the answer for this program, and frankly, I don't care. We needed a change, and we needed someone who could increase the talent level on this team. After his first full year of recruiting, I don't think anyone can deny that Brewster has done a pretty good job of that, even considering the abysmal record of the team last year. He's got more 4-star recruits coming in this year alone than Mason had in the past 6 years or so combined (you can check me, I remember looking this up a little while ago and this was before Pittman decided to come here I believe). If Brewster can recruit this much talent, which included landing 2 4-star WR after we lost to NDSU, with this horrible team, it scares me to see what he could do with a bowl team.

I don't know if Brewster can coach yet, but I do know he can recruit, which is always a good start.

And really, it disgusts me to agree with a Badger fan on the topic of college sports. I'll try to make up for it by ending this comment with an appropriate Wuck Fisconsin!

PJS said...

Alex, I agree with most everything you said. My complaints are about the coaching search. The verdict is still out on Brewster. His recruiting has been outstanding by Minnesota standards.

My complaints are that the coaching search was rushed because Maturi put off the firing of Mason. And that the U braintrust, as Souhan reported, seemed to be only looking for a salesman, a pitchman. And the fact that Maturi never had heard of Brewster is startling to me, and it tells me that Brewster was sold to the U.

All of that said, he COULD do great things.