Go{pher} Broke

“I believe we needed someone really thirsty, really anxious to be the head coach of the University of Minnesota,” Maturi says. Translation: Someone who won’t try to jump to a bigger program if he’s successful. “We needed someone who would turn the state on again for Gopher football, rekindle the relationship with former players and alumni and with our high school football players and coaches. Someone who would be willing to go out and assist in raising money for the stadium, and who had a passion for the game and the program,” Maturi says. Translation: Someone willing and able to undo the damage and alienation wrought by Mason among influential sectors of the Gopher sports community. “Very importantly, I needed to hire someone who had a strong history as a recruiter, because the fact of the matter is we need to get better players in order for us to win,” Maturi says. Translation: No more mediocrity.

From the beginning, Brewster has been a human cannonball in the Gopher pond. Of course, that’s not difficult when you’re busy inserting both feet into your mouth. “My expectations from Day One are going to be to win the Big 10 championship,” he pledged at his first press conference. “We’re going to take the Gopher Nation to Pasadena [site of the Rose Bowl].” No matter that Minnesota’s last Big 10 crown was in 1967 and its last Rose Bowl appearance was seven years before that. “I’m ready to get on the road and recruit,” he added. “This is going to be an easy sell.”

The season then began with a trio of Mason’s patsy opponents. Brewster’s squad lost to two of them and, by the third, needed a missed field goal to win in overtime. The Big 10 part of the schedule has, predictably, been a train wreck. Still, Brewster’s spirit has remained indomitable. “I thought there was great improvement from our defense today,” he claimed after the Big 10 opener, praising a unit that yielded 504 yards of offense in a 45-31 loss to Purdue. Now here he was after the 23-point loss to Ohio State, saying, “I told our kids in the locke
r room I feel proud of our effort … And I told them: Stick to the plan. The plan is working.”

After two innocuous questions from the press, the suspense began to build as those present wondered whether anyone would point out that the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes. Finally, somebody politely asked, “Coach, when you say the plan is working, what specific areas are you talking about?” “I just feel good about the direction we are going,” Brewster replied, without missing a beat. “I feel good about the direction of our offense, I feel good about what we are doing defensively and we’ll continue to work.” Another member of the press corps noted that the following week’s game against Indiana would mark the midpoint of the season. Without specifically mentioning all that Rose Bowl and conference championship talk, he asked Brewster if he wanted to reassess, and perhaps make new goals for the second half. “No, we just want to continue to get better each and every week,” Brewster said calmly. “Stay with the plan.”

While Brewster has become the butt of jokes from columnists and the general public, his nonstop salesmanship and reputation as a top-notch recruiter have engendered loyalty from the people he needs the most. “Trust me, we are in the middle of a renaissance with Gopher football,” insists Harvey Mackay, the founder and chairman of the board of the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, and a prominent U of M booster renowned for bringing his friend Lou Holtz in to coach the Gophers before Holtz went on to win a national championship at Notre Dame. “If Brewster was a publicly held stock I would hang up on you, call my broker, and get all the Brewster stock I could get my hands on. I would love to be talking to you in five years. Brewster has been extraordinarily creative about building this brand, and he knows he’s got a great product to sell. I think this year will be very rough. But with his recruiting skill, there is no question that he will be successful by year three. And if he isn’t, I bet he fires himself.”

Okay, maybe Mackay and Brewster are two excitable peas in a pod. But Ron Stolski is a plainspoken guy who has spent 46 years working with high school kids and is currently executive director of the Minnesota High School Football Coaches Association. “I don’t have a wait-and-see attitude about Tim Brewster,” Stolski says. “I think he is a genuine man of passion and integrity who has reached out to coaches across the state. They got the right guy.” “When it comes to recruiting a high school kid, the head coach is the one who has to be able to close the deal,” says Mike Grant, son of former Vikings coach Bud Grant; father of Ryan Grant, who has committed to playing for the Gophers next year; and, as the longtime coach of the highly successful Eden Prairie High football team, a person very familiar with the major college recruiting process. “I have talked to Brewster and I think he has that ability to close the deal. It is not a rah-rah thing at the end; it is taking the time to know who you are and looking you in the eye. That’s recruiting and that’s a big part of it. Now the other big part of it is coaching. And that’s what Brewster has to prove he can do.”

Maturi couldn’t agree more. “I have told Tim on more than one occasion, ‘If you can coach then you’re the real deal, because you’ve done everything else right.’ I’m impressed with his entire approach, frankly, even the way he has responded to the losing.” Asked if he took a deep breath on the day he hired this inexperienced faith healer, Maturi replies, “I still take a deep breath. Every day.”

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