Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Year In Review: Closing The Book On 2007

PJS Note: I've been falling behind in my effort to finish this series, so I'm going to wrap three final planned posts into one. This final installment will cover the Gopher and Vermin of the Year and a reflection on my favorite post during the first year of PJS.

I created Paging Jim Shikenjanski in May for a handful of reasons, but the largest reason is because I saw an opening to provide thoughts, analysis and perhaps some original reporting. The fact is, our periodicals in Minnesota don't rate interest in Gophers sports high enough to lend Gophers sports considerable coverage. Like many of you, I was turning more often to paid services like Rivals and forums like the GopherHole for broader coverage. I also saw a blogosphere that lacked voices for University of Minnesota sports. I began this blog about the same time that Tom at Gopher Nation started his blog. And I'm pleased now that others have popped up.

So long as I continue this blog, I'm going to try and give completely meaningless awards to members of the Gophers sports community. And since it is my wont, they will be both positive and negative. But I'd like to start by revisiting the post that first brought PJS to a broader audience--the post that brought a link from the Star Tribune and many well-read blogs across the country.

PJS' Favorite Post of the Year

About one month after I began PJS, I stumbled upon a thread in a Notre Dame forum where a poster going by the name of MN Irish made a startling (and humorous) claim about our new football coach Tim Brewster. At the time, almost every member of Gopher Nation was completely enamored with our new coach. With his penchant for positivity, Tim Brewster was seen as the anti-Glen Mason. He was relatively charming. He had ambitions for the program. He told us he was going to take us to Pasadena. We learned quickly that he knew how to sway public opinion. But the little nugget that I unearthed in June shed a different light on our new head man.

The allegations were as follows: At a meet-and-greet for Brewster, an Irish fan claims to have approached Brewster to congratulate him on his new post. They eventually began to talk about recruiting, and the Notre Dame fan mentioned that the Gophers and Irish were after some of the same players--an obvious reference to Michael Floyd. And then the juicy stuff from the post on the Irish message board:

"In what I can only describe as bizarre, Brewster basically went off on me, saying how sick he was Notre Dame and our arrogance, pompous attitudes, and fear of playing Minnesota in their new stadium. When I told him it was the collective opinion of ND fans that it was our athletic director who wouldn't budge the schedule, he went off on Weis of all people, called him a "slob, a disgrace to Notre Dame, with his dirty mouth and appearance" or something similar. He said Notre Dame could never recruit another Minnesota player until Weis was under 350 pounds."
Not knowing the veracity of the claims, I didn't judge Brewster in my initial post on this topic here. My post set off a mini fire storm. I received emails from Brewster-backers telling me I wasn't a Gophers fan for relaying the above information. Eventually, the viral nature of the Web took hold. The Star Tribune's Michael Rand linked to the post at the time saying something like "This can't be true, but that doesn't mean you can't read it." Eventually many other blogs sent their readers to PJS.

And while that was all good and well, what makes this post stand out to me is the following. About a week after talk of Brewtser's Weis rant circulated, the STrib's Patrick Reusse picked up the topic and decided to address it with Brewster. For the record, Brewster denied the allegations. I covered that development here. I'm proud of this post not because it made Brewster look bad or because it brought many new readers to PJS, but because the post helped set the record straight. By re-posting MN Irish's claims, many others knew that Brewster was being kicked around by Notre Dame fans. And eventually Brewster was given an opportunity to address the allegations. No matter if you believe Brewster said these things or not, I submit it was a good thing that this blog shed light on these allegations that were already out there. And I'm pleased that post might have led to Brewster giving his side of the story.

And, yes, the post was fun because, in fact, Weis is fat and the little scandal allowed me to point that out!

Gopher of the Year

I kicked around numerous possibilities for this not-so prestigious award. Tubby Smith took Minnesota by storm, and his recruiting class combined with the improvement he has brought to men's basketball is nothing short of amazing. But, Tubby hasn't put in a full season yet and he will be in position for many honors in years to come. There is wrestling coach J. Robinson and his departed star Cole Konrad; good candidates both. But my nod is going to a man who has been received his fair share of criticism here and other places: Joel Maturi.

The year that was will likely be at the center of Maturi's legacy at the University. It's not often an athletic director has the chance to hire a football and a basketball coach in the same year. Maturi did just that and struck gold with Tubby Smith. Many of us wanted Maturi to jettison Dan Monson one year earlier than he did. But Maturi's patience proved wise in March when a national championship coach with a stellar resume decided the Twin Cities would be a perfect place to repair his suddenly sullied reputation.

The jury is still out on whether Tim Brewster was a good hire or not. When Maturi introduced Brewster to the maroon and gold faithful, our athletic director told us that Brewster was a recruiting guru who could bring better talent to the football program. While I haven't covered football recruiting extensively, Brewster has delivered in that area and is poised to bring Minnesota a better freshman class than Glen Mason ever did. So, Maturi was honest with us about what he hired.

Additionally, and this is speculation, I imagine Maturi had wiggle-room to make one big-money hire or two mid-level hires. He likely didn't have the money available to pay big bucks for both football and basketball. So, Maturi had to make a call. He took a risk on Brewster, but that gave him the ability to go for a high-profile coach in Tubby Smith. Maturi could have made a larger gamble, and hired a middle-of-the-road basketball coaching prospect and the same for the football team. But I believe he made the right choice in hiring one sure thing, especially considering the football program is going to receive a boost in interest no matter what with the opening of TCF Bank Stadium.

For 2007, Joel Maturi gets my nod as the Gopher of the Year.

Vermin of the Year

Once again there were quite a few people in contention for this dubious honor. We had alum Denny Neagle receive a mention in The Mitchell Report. We witnessed alum Kevin McHale trade Kevin Garnett, culminating his decade-long effort to turn Minnesota professional basketball into a nationwide laughingstock. There was Tim Brewster's blather-filled 1-11 season. And most recently Kyle Okposo ditched his teammates in the middle of a disappointing season at Mariucci Arena.

But this year's Vermin of the Year far outdid the competition by bringing bad press and shame to the University of Minnesota. PJS' 2007 Vermin of the Year is Dominic Jones. After a lengthy and annoying investigation into an allegation of sexual assault committed by Gophers football players, in July we had a development that brought just ridicule and a black eye to the University.

I wrote the following at the time here:
The Star Tribune reports today that Minnesota football player Dominic Jones has been charged with third degree sexual assault, after a lengthy investigation.

Attached here is the juicy stuff, and by juicy I mean thoroughly disgusting. This is the charging document, and it isn't suitable for those not wishing to read graphic sexual exploits. I'm not going to quote it here, but by all means read the document in its entirety if you want to know what really is alleged here.

To summarize: Lots of vodka, dorm room, passed out college student, college football players, ejaculation, DNA evidence and digital documentation. DISGUSTING!
I haven't followed further developments in the case and honestly don't know where the charges against Jones stand as I write this. This mindless, stupid act brought the required press attention at a time when Tim Brewster was preparing for his first season on the job. Jones was pegged in the starting lineup as a starting corner back, and we all know that if it were not for this shameful indiscretion, the Gophers really could have used him.

To his credit, Tim Brewster acted quickly and forcefully in his decision to suspend Jones indefinitely from the football team. That sent a message, in my opinion, from day one that Brewster was not going to tolerate lawlessness on his football team. In one fell swoop, Brewster initiated a culture of accountability.

For 2007, Dominic Jones is your Vermin of the Year. I hope at this time next year I can have more fun with this and give this honor to someone like McHale, who I'm just clamoring to hammer.


alex said...

Good post, and good choices. 2007 was fun, and I didn't even find this site until near the end.

Also, "vermin" of the year should be renamed to Badger of the Year :p

PJS said...

Thanks Alex. I'll relay your suggestion of changing the name to the PJS Awards Committee :-)

Fred said...

Great wrap up there.

lonebadger said...

Joel Maturi? WOW! You can't have him, he's mine.;-)