Thursday, October 21, 2010
The Men Who Could Bring a Rose Bowl to Dinkytown (Seriously)
In the winter of 2007, many a good football coach walked through the doors of the Bierman Athletic Complex aspiring to become the next leader of the Golden Gopher football program. Tim Brewster, unfortunately for those faithful followers of the Maroon and Gold, was not one of them. Now, after three-and-a-half rollercoaster seasons with the biggest windbag in Dinkytown's history, the University of Minnesota's football program will once again commence its search for a new head football coach.
As usual, the list of names being compiled is a long and lofty one, with names like Dungy, Leach, Frazier and Fulmer at or near the top. As usual, none of those high profile names would both be willing to accept the challenge of Minnesota's downtrodden program AND be offered the job by the Maturi/Bruininks regime. After hearing the sports talk banter for the last couple of days, I came to the conclusion there will only be three candidates truly in contention for the Gophers' vacancy following the regular season. Barring an unforeseen contender (the sheriff?), one of these three men will be named the seventh Golden Gopher football coach since 1980.
Before I spell out the three candidates and their resumes, I wanted to touch on the important factors that the University needs to keep in mind during their search.
1.) He should have significant head coach or coordinator experience - No matter how right or wrong this requirement is (see: Ferentz, Kirk), there is no way in hell that Maturi or Bruininks will hire someone without a strong coaching resume like they did with Brewster. This could also help to create more of a "buzz" around Golden Gopher football if they can snag a higher profile or up-and-coming coach. And let's be honest, as of today this team is no higher than sixth in the Twin Cities area when it comes to popularity and they are headed in the wrong direction....they could use some good publicity.
2.) He should be committed to running the football - When you look at Iowa and Wisconsin, the two programs most often compared with Minnesota's, the blueprint for success becomes clear: Run the ball, control the clock, and play stout defense. Both the Badgers and Hawkeyes are built with ball-control offenses and strong defenses which both caters to the talent pool of the Midwest, and also the realization that Ohio State, Michigan and now Nebraska will always have more athletes. Another factor working against an offense built on speed and a crafty passing attack is the climate. And as much as the Mike Leach fans would like to discount this dilemma, it definitely would create issues in a passing game in November. Thus, any offense that needs more than two or three pro-caliber skill players to be extremely successful should probably be taken out of consideration.
3.) He should have ties to Minnesota, the Midwest, or the Big Ten - The worst thing that could happen with the next coach, outside of a Brewster Re-Deux, would be a Lou Holtz Re-Deux. With the amount of candidates likely to apply for this gig, there should be a coach which would not jump to a higher profile job at the first chance he gets. And if the university finds the right guy? I think quarterback Adam Weber said it best,
"... Everything is here," he said. "The university gives everything a student-athlete needs to be successful, not only academically but athletically. It's just a matter of time. We will win football games here at the University of Minnesota. It's too bad that we haven't had the success, but ultimately we will."
Candidate #1: Troy Calhoun, Head Coach at Air Force
Career FBS: 30-16, three consecutive bowl game appearances
2007 Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year
2010 Salary: $750,000
Calhoun, the fourth-year head coach at the Air Force Academy, would likely get a look from the U's search committee because of his success at a school with a limited football (athletics) budget and limited enrollment. In other words, he's done more with less in his four years in Colorado Springs. Prior to taking the job at the Air Force, Calhoun was offensive coordinator at Ohio University, Wake Forest University, and in the NFL with the Houston Texans.
In addition to his experience, another thing Troy Calhoun has going in his favor is his offensive coaching strategy. In both his coordinator stints at Ohio and Wake Forest, Calhoun's teams were among the best in the FBS at running the football. Obviously, coaching at the Air Force he has adopted their traditional triple option offense which has allowed him to continue his squad's propensity to run the football. This commitment to an offensive strategy would be a refreshing change after four years of no offensive identity under Brewster.
Unlike the other two candidates on my list, Calhoun is from Oregon and has never played or coached in the Big Ten or even the Midwest. In fact, he is an AFA alum and getting him to come to Dinkytown could be tricky. Also he probably does not have ties to any recruiting hotbeds around the country, which could be a potential hurdle to success at Minnesota.
Candidate #2: Kevin Sumlin, Head Coach at Houston
Career FBS Record: 21-12, two consecutive bowl game appearances
2009 Conference USA Coach of the Year
2010 Salary: $1.1 Million
Kevin Sumlin is widely viewed as THE up-and-coming African-American head coach in the FBS. Last off-season, he was rumored for the Cincinnati, Texas Tech, and Louisville. He is in his third year at the helm of the Cougars and has strong ties to the University of Minnesota, having coached there under both Jim Wacker and Glen Mason. His Minnesota roots, coupled with his success at Houston should be enough to get him on the short list for this job. Sumlin also had successful offensive coordinator stints at Texas A&M and Oklahoma before heading to Houston.
Sumlin is different from our other two candidates in the sense that his style of play is uptempo and pass orientated. The Cougars run a spread offense, with four and five wide receiver sets frequenting the turf. Because of this, Houston has ranked first and second in passing offense during the first two seasons under Sumlin. In 2010, the Cougars rank 16th in passing offense even with their top two quarterbacks having been injured early this season. Like Troy Calhoun and the triple option, Sumlin's commitment to an offensive strategy would be a refreshing change after four years of no offensive identity under Brewster. Whether the spread passing offense could be a feasible and effective offense in the Minnesota cold is another question. For the Gophers to snatch Sumlin, who just signed a contract extension last offseason, it will likely take a package of upwards of $2 million per year and it is unknown if the administration will be willing to pony up that amount of cash.
Candidate #3: Al Golden, Head Coach at Temple
Career FBS Record: 23-21, 2009 bowl game appearance
2010 Salary: Est. $1.1 Millon
The former Penn State tight end has singlehandedly turned Temple from a garbage FBS program that won three games from 2003-2005 and turned it into a top-tier team in the MAC. He is in his fifth year as head coach at Temple and his teams have shown improvement in every season. Prior to Temple, Golden was the defensive coordinator at Virginia from 2001-2005.
Al Golden is a defensive minded football coach, using a 3-4 scheme to produce some effective defenses at both Virginia and Temple during the last decade. On the offensive side of the ball, from the looks of things he has run a very traditional offense with a successful rushing attack and sub-par passing. He is also a very solid recruiter, having produced the MAC's top class in four of his first five years in Philly. From the looks of it, his main pipeline would be to the Northeast and Pennslyvania, which is no surprise considering his Jersey background.
Golden is the youngest of the three candidates and the one most likely to be the second coming of Lou Holtz. It has been rumored that he would be in line for the Penn State position once JoePa hangs up the coaching shoes. That being said, one would think Golden would give serious consideration to a job in a BCS conference with a new stadium and passionate fan base. If the U wants him, however, they would have to pay him $2 million or more, much like Kevin Sumlin.
**One thing that warrants mentioning is the success Sumlin and Golden have had recruiting in a large metropolitan market. This is constantly a problem for Golden Gopher coaches because of the fact that their athletes are not the #1 attraction in town. Being a big fish in an even bigger pond is often a tough sell when going up against the likes of Madison, Iowa City, and Lincoln, where the student-athletes are constantly front page news. Hopefully, the administration recognizes this quality in those two leaders.**
Each candidate is be well-qualified to become the next head football coach at Minnesota, and I have the utmost confidence that one of these three coaches will take the reigns of Gopher football in the coming months. Whether or not Maturi, Bruininks and the rest of the University feels the same way remains to be seen.