Friday, October 17, 2008
Happy Friday Coug Fans. I know it's hard to focus, as it is the start of the weekend. There are distractions everywhere. But I thought, you know, times like these, times that try us all, it's important to take a look around and see what else is going on in the NCAA football universe. Here we are, in the midst of one of the most frustrating, pathetic beginnings to a new era of football at WSU, staring down the barrel of a 1-win nightmare of a season. It's almost as if this is so bad, it's never even been done before.
Well, if you think this hasn't been done before, you would be wrong. And no, I don't mean Jim Sweeney's horrific 1969-1970 teams in Pullman either. I'm talking much, much more recent than that. Try, in fact, 2007. And best of all, what that team did in 2007 is all the better when you see what that same team is doing in 2008.
Do you know this guy?
Many out here in Coug-ville wouldn't know him, and for good reason. You can tell by the photo that he's got something to do with Minnesota football. In fact, this is Tim Brewster, the head coach at the University of Minnesota. But to be honest, I wouldn't know Tim Brewster if he walked into the room wearing a name-tag that said "Hello, my name is Tim Brewster". Would you?
But why oh why would I show a picture of Tim Brewster on a WSU football blog? Because, well, I want something to believe in, some beacon of hope in this season of epic disasters. And believe it or not, Minnesota might be example 1-A on the list of reasons to be optimistic for our Cougs, next season and beyond.
First of all, I don't know how many of you caught the radio show on Tuesday night. I thought it was one of Wulff's best shows of the year, and as he gets better every week, this might be the one to really feel good about above all others. Why? Because he went out of his way to describe not only his background, and all his experiences and influences. All that is impressive, for a guy who has been around the block a few times at a relatively young age, all things considered. But the thing I grabbed onto was the talk from Wulff that this team will be considerably better in 2009 compared to where it is in 2008!
How is this possible? Aren't the best players, like Brandon Gibson and Greg Trent, leaving after this year? Well, yes, some good ones are leaving. But it's the very clear manner in which Wulff laid out the reasons as to why the team will be better in 2009 made me pretty happy, and I wish you all could have heard him talk about it (you can read about it here).
So, I thought OK, maybe we will be better next year, at least better than people realize. The things Wulff said sure sounded good. But what is the precedent for improvement in the second year of a new regime like this? Is there any proof out there, any hope, that the second year will see an uptick? Believe it or not, there is, and it's happening right now.
First, some background on Brewster. Minnesota, after the 2006 season in which they went 6-7, relieved long-time coach Glen Mason of his duties. This was a controversial decision, one that was unpopular from a lot of different sources. I remember ESPN's Mark May (the same guy who talked Rien Long into going pro, by the way....ass) just RIPPING Minnesota for firing him. And Mason, after all, had a winning record at Minnesota, 64-57, and had taken the Golden Gophers to seven bowl games in their last eight seasons. But for whatever reason, they just couldn't quite get over that proverbial hump. In Mason's time at Minnesota, he won 10 games once - like Bill Doba, in the 2003 season.
Enter Tim Brewster. Like the firing of Mason, Brewster was a curious choice. He was a guy with zero head coaching experience at the D-1 level. I'll say it again - ZERO D-1 head coaching experience. Brewster had been a very good tight end in his playing days, a captain at Illinois on their 1984 Rose Bowl team.
But the thing is, Brewster wanted to be a coach, and he wanted it, badly. So much so that for his first NCAA job in 1989, he drove to Chapel Hill and met with Mack Brown, then the Tar Heels head coach, and pleaded for a job. Brown refused to hire him, but eventually agreed to let him be an unpaid volunteer assistant, just so he could show what he could do (sound familiar?? That's exactly what Paul Wulff did his first year at EWU). Brewster would go on to have a solid NCAA assistant career, and developed a rep as a strong recruiter, even credited with recruiting Vince Young to Texas back in the day. Brewster would also take an NFL step, going on to be a position coach for a few years in the league.
Still, this was a chance Minnesota was taking, hiring him without the BCS head guy experience, and a virtual unknown to the general public.
But the moment Brewster took the job, he set a new tone. A new era of toughness, discipline and fundamentals, Brewster was going to build this thing the right way. And when Brewster took the podium at the press conference announcing his arrival, he declared that his goal was to win the Big 10 and "take Gopher Nation to Pasadena".
Then, the 2007 season happened. OUCH. Left with not much of a team coming back from 2006, things fell apart quickly for Minnesota. They would only beat Miami of Ohio, in overtime no less. But that would be it. 2007 was a terrible season, finishing just 1-11, including an 0-fer in the Big 10.
While their offense was a below-average 68th in the nation in scoring offense, their turnover margin was a minus-15 on the season, or good for 115th in the country. They were playing a young QB, and he struggled in the new offense. But the defense, HOLY COW. They ranked 119th in the nation - yes, that's DEAD last - in total defense, giving up over 518 yards per game. They were 109th in scoring defense, 114th in rushing defense, and 115th in passing defense. They gave up 40 or more points in six games, including 42 to something called Florida Atlantic. Hmmm, any of this sound just a little too familiar??
Take one look at the WSU 2008, with the turnovers and mistakes and lousy defense, and you are looking at Minnesota, 2007.
So why this review of Minnesota? Well....the story takes a big turn. Have you seen the Golden Gophers in 2008? With one year under Brewster's belt, and a couple of recruiting classes in place, what do you know, Minnesota is 6-1! One of the surprise teams in the Big 10, their only loss a road game at Ohio State.
Now, grain-of-salt time. Minnesota hasn't exactly run the gauntlet with their schedule. Their non-conference foes of No. Illinois, at Bowling Green, Montana State and Florida Atlantic isn't much to get excited about. Basically cupcake city. But even after losing to Ohio State, they have rallied to beat Indiana and then won at Illinois, two teams ranked higher than Minnesota coming into the season. Illinois went to the Rose Bowl last year and is regarded as one of the better Big 10 teams, so that's a huge win for Minnesota.
There's more to the story. They still have a ways to go offensively, but sophomore QB Adam Weber is a huge reason for their '08 success. It's not a ton of flashy numbers, but offensively they are simply taking care of the football. After a rough frosh season where Weber threw 19 INT's, this year he's thrown only TWO picks. That's what an extra year of comfort in a system will do for you. But the best news is the trickle-down to the defense. See, when your offense doesn't continually play giveaway, it's amazing what that can do for a defense. In a night and day flip-flop from last year, they are only giving up an average of 18 points per game, or HALF of what they gave up in '07!
The point to this seemingly endless rant? Friends, there IS hope. Even in this dark season where seemingly everything that could go wrong, has gone wrong, there is always tomorrow. And look at how quickly Minnesota has turned it around. They went from a 1-win laughing stock to now the surprise team in their conference, all in one year. And with a guy nobody ever heard of, a head coach with zero BCS head coaching experience. But this guy brought with him a belief in a system, and that through hard work and recruiting, it will turn around. Now, Minnesota is already talking about which bowl game they will go to, not if. But who in Golden Gopher nation would have thought they could even entertain the very idea after 1-11 in 2007? ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE. Don't give up yet.
Enjoy your Friday, and as always, GO COUGS!