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Monday, October 18, 2010
Minnesota rebuilding not easy, but doable

By Adam Rittenberg

It's painful enough to fire your coach only six games into a season, as Minnesota did with Tim Brewster.

But here's what might be more painful: As athletic director Joel Maturi stepped to the podium Sunday in Minneapolis, the party in Madison still raged as Wisconsin celebrated its win against the nation's No. 1 team. And down in Iowa City, the Hawkeyes were welcomed back after scoring the highest points total in team history against Michigan (38) in a win over the Wolverines.

Gophers
Under coach Tim Brewster the Golden Gophers were 15-30 and 6-21 in the Big Ten.
As Minnesota admitted failure Sunday -- and to Maturi's credit, he did so in candid fashion -- its two biggest rivals celebrated their latest successes.

Minnesota received another reminder of where it is, and where it needs to go.

"It only emphasized what I think we can do," Maturi said of Wisconsin's big win Saturday. "I'm proud to say I was at the University of Wisconsin when they were in a similar condition to what we are in. 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 why it was done, and I'm here to do what I can to have it happen at the University of Minnesota."

Whether or not you believe Maturi can help restore and enhance Minnesota's football program -- many ADs don't get a chance to hire a second football coach -- his reference point is a good one.

After winning the Big Ten in 1962, Wisconsin went 31 years before claiming another title. Minnesota is in a 43-year drought without a championship, tied with Indiana for the longest in the league.

So it can be done, but it's far from a guarantee.

A large portion of Minnesota fans are rejoicing because Brewster is gone. That's their right as fans. But coaching change is never easy, and the really hard part comes next.

The Big Ten gets better in 2011 when Nebraska joins the league. Minnesota will be in a division with Michigan State and Iowa -- currently ranked No. 7 and No. 15 in the BCS standings, respectively -- as well as the aforementioned Huskers, a Northwestern team consistently making bowl games and a Michigan program that will restore itself to powerhouse status at some point.

Oh, and the Gophers still get to face Wisconsin every year in a protected crossover game.

"We're also at a significant time in the history of the Big Ten Conference," Maturi said in his opening remarks Sunday. "There are many exciting changes taking place -- expansion, divisional play, a conference championship football game -- and I believe it's critical that the University of Minnesota be in position to take advantage of those opportunities of those changes."

How prepared is Minnesota to take advantage?

Becoming the first FBS school to dump its coach this season give Minnesota a head start on looking for a successor.

Minnesota now can dream a little and make a run at a big name. Maturi certainly landed one for the Gophers men's basketball program in Tubby Smith.

"We were prepared to pay more for the coach when we [hired Brewster] four years ago," Maturi said. "Now can I pay the dollars that Urban Meyer are making? No. Nick Saban? No. We cannot go down that path. That's not a path that we can go down. But can we pay more than what we're paying, yes, we can. We can pay competitively."

The Minnesota job always will have its challenges, namely the location and the distance from many of the nation's recruiting hotbeds. But Wisconsin and Iowa face the same obstacles. And let's face it: recruiting didn't lead to Brewster's downfall; it was one of his strengths.

Minnesota also has a beautiful on-campus facility in TCF Bank Stadium, a major selling point for Maturi in this process.

There's no reason why Minnesota can't be a consistent bowl team and occasionally compete for Big Ten championships.

"Everything is here," Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber said Sunday. "The university gives everything a student-athlete needs to be successful, not only academically but athletically. It's just a matter of time. We will win football games here at the University of Minnesota. It's too bad that we haven't had the success, but ultimately, we will.

"That's a promise. It will happen here."

It needs to happen soon.