Search begins amid much speculation

MINNEAPOLIS — Joel Maturi said he wanted to restore the fun to Minnesota football, and he's accomplished that much already — for the fans. Because few things are more enjoyable for university boosters, TV viewers, radio callers and ticket buyers than a coaching search.

After a more than a month of disappointing football and Brewster-berating, cyberspace was alive Monday with a very public debate over a decision that will largely be made in private. Everybody has a suggestion, the pool of potential coaches being floated numbers in the hundreds, and rumors rocket from accepted fact to shot-down fabrication in a matter of hours. The entertainment will last for weeks, before a decision — and maybe a surprise ending! — is reached.

"Everybody in the world thinks they know who should (be the) coach," said Glen Mason, who once actually was the Gophers coach, "and then everybody in the world thinks they know more than the coach."

Day 1 of Maturi's coaching search proceeded with already conflicting news reports, with one website reporting that the athletic director had hired coaching headhunter Chuck Neinas to assist in identifying candidates, and the Associated Press reporting that Maturi had not. University officials said no contract with Neinas, known for enabling such pairings as Mark Dantonio with Michigan State and Bob Stoops with Oklahoma, has been agreed to by the school.

Neither, for that matter, has a revamped contract for interim coach Jeff Horton, who will conduct his first practice with the 1-6 Gophers on Tuesday. But the school is in the process of increasing Horton's compensation for agreeing to finish out the season following Sunday's dismissal of Tim Brewster.


Meanwhile, a few of the more notable names rose to the surface once again. Former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, who is host of a satellite-radio program, was asked on the air about the Gophers' opening, saying: "I haven't given it much thought. But it's a good program — it's in the Big Ten."

A Montreal newspaper reported without naming a source that St. Louis Park native Marc Trestman, coach of the CFL's Alouettes, is a candidate.

And Vikings coodinators Leslie Frazier and Darrell Bevell heard their names thrown into internet speculation, too, partly because of their local ties, and partly for other reasons. Frazier has been recommended for head coaching jobs in the past by Tony Dungy, who Maturi said "is willing to do everything that he can to help us find the right leader." Bevell, a successful NFL coach for a decade, played for Wisconsin, where he quarterbacked the Badgers to victory in the 1994 Rose Bowl during Maturi's tenure there as assistant athletic director.

The Badgers are widely considered a model for turning around a moribund Midwest program, and Maturi specifically mentioned his former employer on Sunday.

"I'm proud to say I was at the University of Wisconsin when they were in a similar condition to what we are in," Maturi said. "Proud to say I was there when they won their first Rose Bowl. So I know it can be done. I think I have a clue as to how it was done."

And while Brewster was frequently criticized for Rose Bowl ambitions, which the Gophers have not fulfilled in 29 years, Mason said the opportunities aren't as rare as that history makes it seem. His 1999 team lost its conference opener to Wisconsin in overtime; reverse that outcome, he points out, and the Gophers would have tied for the league title and gone to Pasadena, probably ranked in the top 10.

"I never had a doubt in my mind that those things are achievable," said Mason, now an analyst for the Big Ten Network. "This place isn't different than any other — you find a guy who is well organized, a good manager, someone with a philosophy that he believes in and who isn't going to be rattled by bumps in the road. You can definitely win at Minnesota."

Still, it's a major challenge, as the Gophers' 43-year drought without a Big Ten title — it's 24 years without even a top-three finish — illustrates. Maturi will try to entice a new coach with a lengthy contract, probably paying significantly more than Brewster's $1 million annual paycheck, and a chance to recruit to a beautiful new stadium, but there's a decent chance that some of the hottest young coaches might consider Minnesota a coach-killer.


After all, the Gophers have played under eight coaches since their 1960 national championship, and only one — Lou Holtz, who went 11-12 in two seasons and left for Notre Dame — wasn't eventually dismissed.

"They fired Murray Warmath, they fired me, they fired Tim Brewster," said Mason, who went 64-57 in a decade in Minneapolis. "They're not losing a lot of coaches to retirement."

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