Leidner, Gophers like what they have in Weber
DETROIT — Adam Weber shares stories about Peyton Manning and Debbie Weber.
Both protagonists — a future hall of fame quarterback and Weber's mother — resonate with Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner.
Before Weber was Manning's teammate on the Denver Broncos, he was the Gophers' record-setting quarterback from 2007-10. But Weber's road from Mounds View High School to stints in the NFL, as many fans recall, was not paved in gold and free of debris.
So, Weber, a U graduate assistant turned acting quarterbacks coach, had the perfect story for Leidner during a low point this season. Fans had booed the Gophers during their underwhelming 10-7 win over Kent State on Sept. 19 at TCF Bank Stadium. It was a rough day for Leidner, who had 184 passing yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Freshman backup QB Demry Croft had warmed up on the sideline.
"(Adam) was like, 'I couldn't tell you how many times I've been booed in that stadium. My mom didn't make it too many times,' " Leidner recalled Thursday, before the Gophers (5-7) play Central Michigan (7-5) in the Quick Lane Bowl on Monday at Ford Field.
Sometimes, when Weber would throw an interception or miss receivers, fan criticism would reach a nerve with Debbie Weber, and she would just leave The Bank.
Adam Weber's unflattering story about petulant fans comforted Leidner.
"It's nice to have a guy that has been there before to be able to bounce off thoughts like that," Leidner said.
Leidner's season, which has had more flows than ebbs, will come to an end Monday against the Chippewas, who had the best pass defense in the Mid-American Conference this season (190 yards per game).
He generally is satisfied with his body of work in 2015, which included 218 completions, 377 attempts and 2,478 — all top-10 single-season marks in program history.
"There were some milestones, I would like to say," Leidner said. "To be able to up my completion percentage from last year was huge for me."
Leidner has completed 57.8 percent of his passes, up from 51.5 percent last season. He remains irked by his 16-for-37 and three-interception outing in a 31-21 loss to Wisconsin on Nov. 28.
When the Gophers got into a bowl game Dec. 6, Weber was thrust into the acting role of QB coach. He stepped in for Jim Zebrowski, who was fired the day after the loss to the Badgers.
"We get so much more time together in our meetings," Leidner said. "He's running the show, and we are listening to what he says, and I enjoy it so far. He brings a lot of knowledge and good things to the table for us."
Last season, Leidner admitted, he would be preoccupied with how the Gophers' defense was playing.
"I would stand up there and watch the defense," he said. "I would let the defense dictate my emotions. 'Oh, great, we got an interception' or 'Dang, they scored, and now we've got to go score.' "
Weber, who also had a stint with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has gotten Leidner to unplug from those external forces.
"We've just got to take an NFL approach," Leidner said. "We just sit on the bench, and we just go through the game plan together and figure out what needs to be called on the next drive. That's what I really like and admire about him."
Weber, who was not made available for interviews, is finishing his first year as a graduate assistant, but he handles himself like a coaching veteran.
"You don't have to sit and talk to him very long to realize he is very sharp and kids relate to him really well," Gophers coach Tracy Claeys said. "We are very fortunate to have him here as a GA and for him to have some more time here. He's definitely a plus for the University of Minnesota."