Profiling the nation's most embattled coaches.
Minnesota raised some eyebrows by unloading Glen Mason at the end of the 2006 season, just two days after the Gophers' fifth straight bowl appearance – before his arrival in 1997, they'd only been to five bowl games in school history. OK, sure, Mason had just presided over the biggest collapse in bowl history, victim of a 31-point second half run by Texas Tech in the Insight Bowl. But his 64-57 record after a decade in Minneapolis was the best of any Gophers coach since Bernie Bierman's dominating run in the '30s and '40s, including Minneapolis' first 10-win season since 1905 in 2003. Evidently Insight Bowls just didn't cut it anymore.
In stepped Tim Brewster, a Denver Bronco tight end coach who had never served even as a coordinator on any level. In his first season, Brewster's charges flopped in at 1-11, setting a new program record for most losses. In his second season, they went 7-6 with a lopsided loss in the Insight Bowl. In his third season, the Gophers went 6-7 – and lost, you guessed it, the Insight Bowl. If this doesn't sound like what Minnesota had in mind when it went looking for a new coach, apparently athletic director Joel Maturi doesn't think so either: The two-year contract extension Brewster signed in February included no raise and, more ominously, sliced his buyout in half. Whatever criteria Maturi is using to determine Brewster's job security, he probably shouldn't lose any more Insight Bowls if he can help it.
Why he was hired. Brewster developed a reputation in 13 seasons as an assistant under Mack Brown at North Carolina and Texas as Brown's top recruiter; his final recruiting effort with the Longhorns culminated in the stellar '02 class that brought Vince Young and much of the core of the eventual 2005 BCS championship team to Austin. Evidently, Brewster also impressed San Diego Chargers head coach Marty Schottenheimer, who added "assistant head coach" to Brewster's title during his subsequent stint as the Chargers' tight ends coach in 2004.
The "Uh-oh" Moment. Brewster came in waving around a chunk of Rose Bowl turf to symbolize the program's ultimate goal. But in his first game, Minnesota had to claw its way back from a 21-0 halftime hole against would-be MAC patsy Bowling Green, and still fell to the Falcons in the end, 32-31, on a two-point conversion in overtime. 2007 was downhill from there.
The Gophers only squeaked by Miami (Ohio), gave up 42 points in a loss to Florida Atlantic and, just for good measure, lost at home to I-AA North Dakota State, which piled up 400 yards rushing in the Metrodome. They finished the year dead last in the Big Ten in every defensive category, and were 119th out of 119 in in total defense, yielding a staggering 518.7 yards per game.
Embarrassing attempt to right the ship. Some coaches inspire confidence among their fan bases by making impassioned speeches or headline-grabbing public spectacles. Brewster likes to do so through his talent for historical fiction. Last summer, Brewster's blog listed a "coaching record of 113-61-1," awfully prolific for a guy who'd only been a head coach for two seasons. Further investigation revealed that whoever was responsible for that number had taken the innovative step of including Brewster's record as an assistant under Mack Brown.
His head-coaching record at the time was a more pedestrian 8-17 – or, depending on your sources, 8-16, as just a couple of weeks before, the Gophers' embarrassing 55-0 loss to Iowa had been left out of the program's all-time results in the '09 media guide. Presumably, last year's much more competitive 12-0 loss to the Hawkeyes will be deemed fit for inclusion in the 2010 edition.
Can this marriage be saved? Opinions vary on just how much slack Brewster has left with the fans and administration. MV of the excellently named blog I'm in Love with a Fringe Bowl Team says a stout 2010 schedule will earn him some benefit of the doubt ...
The casual Gopher fan seems to be suffering from Brewster fatigue and apathy may be setting in. He came in talking big about Rose Bowls and with the reputation as a recruiting dynamo, but the casual fan sees two straight Insight Bowl appearances, players like Michael Floyd and Seantrel Henderson bolt out of Minnesota and a program that appears stuck at the same level it achieved under former HC Glen Mason.
However, the die-hards and athletic director Joel Maturi (not a fan favorite in his own right) appear on the surface to understand that patience is a virtue and the program can't afford to start over again; plus, there are positives to Brewster's tenure, such as an improving defense and better athletes across the board. They also understand that the 2010 schedule is incredibly tough and expectations should be tempered. In the end, Brewster's job is safe barring a complete disaster, such as a repeat of the 2007 season.
... while the The Daily Gopher sees the season as make-or-break:
The real problem is less about final records and continued mediocre bowl games, it comes down to the facts that Brewster has yet to beat a rival (0-7 vs. Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan), has yet to beat a ranked team and has yet to win a meaningful game in November or December (a 16-13 squeaker over South Dakota State last year being the only win in either of those months). Those kind of results begin to overshadow making two straight bowl games and the significant improvement from his first season to his second. ...
If I'm Tim Brewster this coming season is a season of great opportunity. USC, OSU, PSU and Iowa all coming to town give he and his team a chance to notch a significant win or two for the program. Traveling to Wisconsin and coming home with Paul Bunyan's Axe while ending the Badgers' hopes of a Big Ten title would endear him to Gopher Nation like never before. But that may be wishful thinking this year. It is a brutal schedule. A 4-8 season with seven straight losses to end the year isn't an outlandish scenario and it would be hard to imagine that that's a scenario where Brewster returns.
Approximate hotness of seat. A nice toasty baking temperature – about 425 degrees – and it'll only get hotter over the course of the season. In Big Ten play, the Gophers get the league's four toughest teams (Wisconsin, Penn State, Ohio State, Iowa) and miss out on two of its weakest (Indiana, Michigan); out of conference, they host USC on Sept. 18, and even games against Middle Tennessee State and Northern Illinois may not be walks in the park.
In that crucible, a 6-6 finish, even if it only leads to another Insight Bowl, probably would be seen as acceptable. But if the Gophers go 5-7 or 4-8 – hardly an unthinkable proposition at this point – it'd be hard not to envision Maturi handing Brewster his newly downsized buyout and sending him on his way.
Follow Doug Gillett on Twitter @CaptainAnnoying.