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Wednesday, March 7, 2007
Updated: March 8, 11:57 AM ET
Brewster aims to take the Gopher Nation to Pasadena

By Bruce Hooley
Special to ESPN.com

Like every seller, Tim Brewster needs a buyer.

Way more than one, actually, although one for his house in Denver would be nice right now.

That way, Brewster could dispense with a needless mortgage payment and shed any remaining vestiges of his old job as the Denver Broncos' tight ends coach that are holding him back in his new position as the head coach at the University of Minnesota.

Tim Brewster
Tim Brewster plans to point the Gophers in the right direction.
Not that the old house, or anything else, seems to be deterring Brewster these days.

Already one week into spring practice, Brewster radiates the zeal of an evangelist and the optimism of a lottery-ticket buyer.

Good thing, because he'll need both.

Brewster says the early start -- well ahead of other Big Ten programs -- is to carry momentum from last season into 2007, give players some separation between football and final exams and provide any injured Gophers more time to heal before the next season begins.

But from talking to him, you get the idea he simply couldn't wait any longer.

Since his hiring on Jan. 16, Brewster has been selling a vision unseen in these parts for a long time.

"We're going to take the Gopher Nation to Pasadena," he said that day, and many times since. "We have great tradition here. There's no reason what happened before can't happen again."

Maybe so, but the cold truth -- and at this time of year, there's no other kind up here -- is Minnesota hasn't been to the Rose Bowl since the 1961 season.

Every Big Ten school has been there at least once since. Yes, even Northwestern (1995) and Indiana (1967).

Minnesota won three of its national championships in the 1930s, claimed two more in the 1940s and grabbed its last title in 1960 -- the same year the 46-year-old Brewster was born.

To recruits these days, that's not tradition.

It's ancient history.

From the time the Big Ten began allowing more than one member to play in the postseason in 1975, Minnesota went to three bowl games in 22 seasons before hiring Glen Mason in 1997.

Mason took the Gophers to seven postseason berths over the next decade, including five straight trips on the back end of his tenure.

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Then came the second half of the Insight Bowl in December, when Minnesota blew a 38-7 lead in the final 20 minutes and suffered a 44-41 overtime loss to Texas Tech.

Mason, who had received a four-year contract extension exactly one year before, was dismissed the next day in either a panic firing by athletic director Joel Maturi or an act of bold brilliance.

Right now, it's safe to label the move a risk, the same sort taken by Ohio State in 2000 when it axed John Cooper because the Buckeyes wanted more than two wins over Michigan in 13 years.

Jim Tressel's hiring, a subsequent national championship in 2002 and five wins over the Wolverines in six years show the wisdom of that decision.

Then again, Maturi's decision to bounce Mason for the unproven Brewster could be a repeat of Indiana easing Bill Mallory out of a job in 1996.

IU's brass thought a newer, fresher approach would make the Hoosiers a first-division fixture. Instead, IU has gone 35-76 in the 10 seasons since and hasn't made a single bowl trip.

At Minnesota, Brewster has no on-campus stadium -- although one is on the drawing board for 2009 -- and the worst recruiting base of any Big Ten school.

Many of the elite in-state athletes grow up wanting to play for the Golden Gophers.

They just want to play hockey, not football.

Amir Pinnix
Amir Pinnix rushed for 1,272 yards and 10 TDs in 2006.
"I think that's a fallacy," said Brewster, who played tight end at Illinois and served as Mack Brown's top recruiter at North Carolina and Texas before stints in the NFL with the Chargers and Broncos. "I think we have great high school football in Minnesota. We're thoroughly impressed with the in-state kids we've offered for 2008. This program just needs to be sold. We're going to recruit the state hard from top to bottom and we're going to recruit nationally, from California to the East Coast and down to Texas and Florida."

Think kids from the Sun Belt will get in line for those December and January recruiting visits to the Twin Cities?

Well, perhaps. After all, Brewster has already proven he can close the deal in his own household.

His son, Clint, was headed to Illinois to play quarterback until dad talked him into coming to Minnesota.

He'll report in the fall and compete with four holdovers for the job vacated by four-year starter Bryan Cupito.

"I don't think it will be awkward at all," Brewster said. "I've been very clear with Clint. He knows how matter-of-fact I am about winning. He's a good football player. That's why I recruited him. It has nothing to do with him being my son. On the field, we'll have a player-coach relationship. Off the field, I'll be dad."

Tailback Amir Pinnix, who rushed for 1,272 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2006, is the top offensive returnee.

On defense, the Gophers bring back nine starters, including leading tackler Mike Sherels at middle linebacker.

What Minnesota will need to avoid collapses like the postseason debacle in the desert is more size, more speed and more athleticism than the handful of legit defenders it has now can offer.

Minnesota needs guys like those recruited by Texas, Florida and LSU.

Guys like Brewster's other son, Nolan, a strong safety who's already received offers from those three powerhouses as a high school junior.

"Recruiting is 24-7, 365 days a year," Brewster said. "We're going to recruit every single day. We're going to wake up talking about recruiting and we're going to go to sleep thinking about recruiting and we're going to dream about recruiting. We're going to bring talented athletes to the University of Minnesota like hasn't been done before."

The altar call has been issued.

Bruce Hooley has covered the Big Ten for 18 years and now is host of a daily talk show on WBNS-AM 1460 in Columbus, Ohio.