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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
|AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt|
|Coach Tim Brewster "couldn't be more pleased with the progress" the Golden Gophers are making on defense.|
Tim Brewster came to Minnesota talking Big Ten championships, Rose Bowl trips and restoring the program's long-forgotten place among the nation's elite. Though the Gophers set records for losses (11) and yards allowed (6,224) in his first season as coach, Brewster hasn't changed his tune at all.
He's a coach, a historian and an eternal optimist who remains convinced Minnesota is on the brink of special things even though the program has gone 41 years without a share of the Big Ten title and 47 years without a Rose Bowl appearance. It's an attitude that hooks top recruits but could soon wear on the Gophers faithful without better results on the field. Brewster rattles off Minnesota's accomplishments -- six national championships, 18 Big Ten championships -- like they happened yesterday, and as I found out, he doesn't like suggestions that his current players might be disconnected from the program's glory days.
You've always been such an optimistic guy. Did you ever feel the need to taper off last year when things were going so badly?
Tim Brewster: That's who I am. I wake up every day and I'm very blessed to be the head football coach at Minnesota and to have this opportunity. I feel really good about the day and what it presents, so yeah, that's who I am.
Was is hard to keep that up last year? You obviously came in right away and talked about the Rose Bowl and the program's past.
TB: Our goal each and every day we come to work at Minnesota is to win a Big Ten championship and go to the Rose Bowl. That has not changed. That'll be the goal as long as I'm the head football coach and we certainly believe that can and will happen as long as we're taking the proper steps toward making it happen. We have great confidence that we are taking those steps. It will happen eventually.
What type of effect does your optimism have on the players? Do they feed off it?
TB: Every football team takes on the characteristics of their head coach, and I want to be a very strong-willed, confident guy that our players know that they can depend upon in times of trouble, in good times, bad times, whatever times they may be. I want to be somebody our players can definitely lean on and who can lead them. Without question, I'd like to think that our team is starting to really understand the type of confidence that I'd like for them to play with. I even use that term swagger. We want to play with a swagger.
Did the bar need to be raised at Minnesota? The team had several winning seasons and had gone to bowls, but the Rose Bowl was the first thing you talked about.
TB: I just know that it's my expectation of the program. The bar was set well before I got here. Six national championships. There's not very many schools in the country that have won six national championships. That's something tangible that we have that a lot of schools don't. Eighteen Big Ten championships. It's been a while since we've connected with that type of success, but we certainly feel it's well within our reach for the future.
For the players who weren't born during that period, have you hammered home those points, connecting them with the past, because they don't have that reference point of, 'Hey, Minnesota went to the Rose Bowl and won a Big Ten title?'
TB: That's not a true statement at all. That's a very uninformed statement by you. Our players know we've won six national championships, our players know we've won 18 Big Ten championships. They know the greatness that was the University of Minnesota. Each and every day, we want to study history and make sure our players do understand and respond and know what it means to be a Minnesota Golden Gopher.
I was trying to get at the fact that none of them were born during that time. How much do you bring that up to them?
TB: There's a lot of people that need to be educated about the tradition and the history at the University of Minnesota. And it's a great one. It truly is one of the greatest traditions in college football. So it's my obligation as the head football coach to be certain that that message is conveyed.
What's been the biggest surprise for you so far on defense? Who has stepped up on that side after so many problems last year?
TB: I couldn't be more pleased with the progress we're making on the defensive side. We've added some really good players and we've taken the players that were already in the program and gotten them bigger and stronger. [Defensive coordinator] Ted Roof has come in and really been a valuable asset to us. I'm really pleased what he has brought to our kids, a really fundamental approach to playing great defense. And our kids are really buying into it. But it's a players' game, without question, and the reason why we'll be an improved defense is that we've improved our athleticism. We've gotten faster on the defensive side of the ball.
The junior college guys, Tramaine [Brock] and [Traye] Simmons and the others, how are they coming along on defense?
TB: They're coming along great. Tramaine's really had a great camp and Cedrick McKinley's playing well. Marcus Sherels has just been absolutely outstanding at corner. Traye Simmons is another JC guy, Simoni Lawrence, Rex Sharpe, these are all guys that are really doing a nice job, and particularly up front. Eric Small is a kid who last season played at 260 and now he's playing over 300 pounds. We feel really good about the change in our defense.
Sherels obviously has a legacy there with his brother [Mike] playing. What's been the biggest difference in his game this year?
TB: He's got tremendous quickness. He's made a very seamless transition from wide receiver to corner. A very smart kid, diligent in his work ethic. He's an extremely committed football player, and when you match that with his athleticism, the end result is you've got a really good player.