Monday, November 1, 2010

Gopher Football and Leslie Frazier



First I think it's important that I let everyone know that I was happy when the Gophers decided to fire Glen Mason. Like most fans I'd grown tired of promising starts to the season (thanks in large part to cupcake non-conference schedules) that would undoubtedly fizzle into 3-5 Big Ten seasons. Of course looking at the team now many fans are wishing Mason was still here. That doesn't mean it was the wrong decision to fire him; it seemed pretty clear at the time Mason was running out of magic* and they needed to try and upgrade to take the program to the next level.

*Arguably Mason's two best players during his time here, Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney, Mason lucked into signing to scholarships. Barber was a very good high-school player for Wayzata but didn't get really any college attention. The Gophers defensive backs coach during Barber's senior year of high school saw Barber play while scouting someone else, and literally begged Glen Mason to offer him a scholarship. Mason originally refused; he didn't want to give a scholarship to someone he didn't think would ever play for him. However, after the D-backs coach begged enough, Mason finally budged and they offered Barber a scholarship. Maroney on the other hand was dead set on going to Illinois, and once the Illini offered him a scholarship Maroney was locked in to going to Illinois. However, Maroney never 'signed' and Illinois decided at the last minute to give Maroney's scholarship to Pierre Thomas. Maroney felt unwanted, reopened his recruitment and the Gophers pretty much had Maroney in their pocket from that point forward. Just interesting, if nothing else.

I remember when I first heard the Gophers had hired Tim Brewster, I wasn't a fan. I didn't know anything about Brewster, and I wasn't happy that they had fired Mason and replaced him with a cheaper, far less proven coach. However, over the next few weeks I learned that Vince Young credited Tim Brewster for bringing him to Texas, and many of Brewster's recruiting classes were considered elite during his time as a recruiter. Considering I had watched Glen Mason consistently bring in mediocre classes, having a head coach that was supposedly a great recruiter made me change my mind. I liked the hire after about two weeks of positive stories from the press. When the Gophers were 7-1 in Brewster's second year, it looked like it was a fantastic hire. Especially because the Gophers were in the running for a lot of elite recruits that year... the future appeared bright. Then they lost five straight games including their bowl game and never really recovered.

Brewster, in my opinion, did a good job recruiting. He had good classes, and he added athleticism to the roster that the Gophers always lacked under Mason. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, Brewster and his staff seemed unable to develop players. Many players that were young, key contributors during the 7-1 start either regressed over the last few years or simply stayed the same. Brewster proved he was terrible with the X's and O's during games, struggling to make adjustments, and then of course his offensive systems were terribly timed. He tried to run a spread offense with pro-style players, and then after recruiting several players that would seem to excel in a spread system, his offensive coordinator left and Brewster misguidedly decided to go to a pro-style system. That's why he's out of job today.

Saturday night's game was embarrassing. After an impressive first offensive drive the team looked terrible. Why the team didn't bench Weber late in the game in order to give the younger quarterbacks a shot is beyond me. The team seems dead-set on racking up as many passing yards as possible for Adam Weber's career total, without any regards to the future of this team. The Gophers are now 1-8 and are going nowhere this year. While I'm not saying the team should bench Weber in favor of Gray, Gray needs to be getting at least some snaps at QB. Weber is a three year starter and he isn't playing terribly, so he deserves to continue to start and get the majority of the playing time. But they need to think about the future as well, and having film of Gray to study during the off-season will be key for whoever the next coach is.

When it was reported that Tony Dungy had no interest in becoming the next Gophers head coach but he would help the team find one it seemed fairly obvious their new number one target was going to be Leslie Frazier. Dungy has repeatedly spoken very highly of Frazier and has tried to get him a head coaching job in the NFL over the last two off-seasons. Frazier has interviewed seven times for head-coaching jobs in the NFL and has been looked over each time.**

**There's really no reason Leslie Frazier should have been interviewed seven times already for a head-coaching job. Yes, he's a good defensive coordinator, but even with a lot of talent, the Vikings defense has really only had one great season, and that was last year. It would appear Frazier has gotten a lot of interviews because he fits the 'minority candidate' quotient for NFL teams. Each team in the NFL is required to interview a minority candidate for a vacant head coaching job, and since Frazier was considered a semi-hot coordinator, teams realized they could interview him and have a legitimate candidate as well as fill the need to interview a minority candidate. I hate that the NFL has this rule, but it will probably benefit the Gophers.

Frazier has been rejected so often by NFL teams that he's apparently interested in the Gophers job. There are a lot of differences between coaching in college and the NFL, as you can tell by so many college coaches moving to the NFL and struggling. The most recent coach to go from the NFL to College though is Dave Wannstedt, who decided to coach at his alma-mater Pittsburgh. He's been good but not great there, which is probably better than some people expected. NFL coaches tend to have more success coaching at the college level than vice versa, but Frazier has no head-coaching experience so it would be interesting to see.

The real question is why would Leslie Frazier give up his dreams of being an NFL head coach to step down to the college level? Sure, money is a factor, and the Gophers are reportedly willing to offer $2MM or more to their next football coach if necessary. But for Frazier to give up what appears to be his dream to coach the lowly Gophers seems mind-boggling. But it really isn't. It's pretty easy to understand, actually.

We all remember in high school how our standards for the opposite sex were very high. Even in a 'big' high school, it will get around who you're talking to, who you're dating, who you hooked up with last night, etc. Nobody wants to hurt their reputation by hooking up with someone that's not in their league. But the beauty of it is that the people who's expectations were too high originally get corrected over the course of four years. Sure, some guys/girls overachieve and are lucky enough to date someone they really shouldn't be able to. But for the most part, people will get rejected, and slowly there standards will drop until they find someone who is interested in them.*** Leslie Frazier is the guy who comes into high school who's friends with all the good-looking guys. He sees his friends are getting the best looking girls, so he just assumes that's what he should be going for. He gets rejected, and rejected, over and over again, even with his older brother (in this case Tony Dungy) telling the girls what a great catch he'd be. Eventually Leslie meets one of the not-so-good-looking girls that is always in the group of good looking girls. She's nice, he's sick of getting rejected... and there goes his virginity. Leslie Frazier is that guy. The Gophers are the not-so-good-looking girl.

***This doesn't relate to sports or to Leslie Frazier's situation at all, but isn't it funny how much people's standards drop after high school? I can't speak for girls, but I can say I've seen and heard about some guys hookups over the last few years and I can say with brutal honesty there's no way those guys would have done that in high school. Most people attribute it to alcohol, but most of us we're drinking in high school too, so I disagree. I think it's because people realize they can get away with it... even though they always tend to talk about it anyways. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, we all live our own lives and are free to do what we please... it's just interesting how different things can be from high school to college.

I'm undecided on how Frazier would do as a college head coach. In general I think NFL coordinators that become head coaches will struggle, because they don't understand just how tough it is to recruit and I don't think they push the right buttons to attract a 17-year-old kid to commit. However, Frazier is intriguing. He's a black coach in a leadership position that would be a great role model for all players; but most notably the young black players they would recruit would likely feel more of a connection. I don't want this to be misunderstood, though. I'm not saying Frazier would be a good recruiter because he's black and therefore would get black players; I'm saying it would be a built-in advantage. In this country race is nowhere near the issue it was even ten years ago, but it's still an issue. Even if people refuse to admit it in fear of not being politically correct, I think the majority of young black athletes would feel more comfortable playing for someone like Leslie Frazier. That's not to say they wouldn't be comfortable playing for a white or mexican or asian coach, but rather Frazier would make them more comfortable. Frazier would be an attractive coach for many young black players. That's not racist, it's honest, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Frazier should be a great X's and O's coach, though. If he understands the NFL well enough to get seven interviews, he should have no problem explaining tendencies to college players. The Vikings don't seem to run any really complex defensive plays, so I don't think there'd be any issues trying to teach players stuff they can't handle. Frazier also would likely be here as long as he was wanted; unless he won HUGE here the chances the NFL would come calling would seem to be very slim.

I'm on the fence with a potential Frazier hire, but currently I'm leaning towards being for it. I certainly could be influenced in any direction without any real trouble, I just want the Gophers to make the right hire and watch their team head in the right direction again. Just like every Gopher fan. I don't want to watch us lose 52-10 at home on national TV ever again.