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Feature

Tubby Smith and Tim Brewster

Tubby Smith and Tim Brewster

Igniting the 'Gopher Nation'

Brewster and Smith stir up spirit in football and basketball fans

By Rick Moore

From M, fall 2007

In a two-month span last winter, U athletics director Joel Maturi changed the tenor of Gopher athletics. In mid-January, he lured Tim Brewster from the ranks of the NFL to be the new head football coach, and two months later he shocked the basketball world by hiring Tubby Smith from perennial powerhouse Kentucky. And in the days hence, U students, sportswriters, bloggers, and casual observers have taken to analyzing the moves--with almost uniformly favorable reviews. It was if the coaching hires--especially Smith--flipped on the switch that awakened a sleeping "Gopher Nation," a moniker Brewster has given Gopher fans. There was certainly reason for the slumber. While the football team enjoyed moderate success under 10-year coach Glen Mason, with seven bowl appearances and a record of 64-57, it was never able to crack the ranks of the top three in the Big Ten and had a 33-48 record in conference play. Moreover, Minnesota hasn't made it to the Rose Bowl since 1962. The back-breaking straw came when the Gophers squandered a 31-point lead in a loss to Texas Tech in last year's Insight Bowl. Two days later Mason was fired. Times have been even tougher on the hardcourt. In Dan Monson's seven years as head basketball coach, the Gophers only made the NCAA tournament once, and last season (under Monson and interim replacement Jim Molinari) they lost more than 20 games for the first time in team history.

Enter Tim and Tubby

Within two days of Smith's hire, about 600 new season tickets for men's basketball had been sold, and as of mid-August, sales had increased by about 1,100 seats compared to last year. Early indications are that the once-raucous Barn will once again be brimming with fans for the 2007-08 season. Interestingly, a short article on the University's home Web page, www.umn.edu, announcing Smith's hire attracted more notes from readers than virtually any story this year, and many of those came from Kentucky residents congratulating the University on its new coach. Said one: "I'm one UK fan who hates to see Tubby go... Best of luck to Tubby and to Golden Gophers for knowing that Tubby is a great coach." And another: "I want to congratulate UM for hiring Tubby Smith... I for one think he is an outstanding coach and was proud that he was at UK. I wish nothing but good things for him and his family." Brewster has been generating his own buzz, in part due to an internal motor that never seems to stop. Among other accomplishments in a busy summer, he made due on his promise that he or a member of his coaching staff would visit each and every high school football coach in the state by the end of the summer. And fans are feeding off of his enthusiasm; season ticket sales for football are up by 3,400 from 2006. Now the task is to convert that excitement into wins and championships. On paper, neither the football nor basketball teams would appear to be a frontrunner for a Big Ten title this year. But there's certainly hope beyond the hype. Says one U fan and blogger: "For the first time in years, Gopher football and Gopher basketball are simultaneously creating off-season excitment. Both programs have a lot of work to do to reach the expectations that each new coach brings to their respective program, but both programs can sell hope. Hope is a powerful tool and hope is back in Dinkytown."
A football player holds a helmet at his side. Taking aim at concussions

This season, the University will be one of 10 schools in the country to use a new football helmet that tetects potential concussion-causing hits. The helmet, made by Riddell, is outfitted with sensors that detect the G-forces of hits sustained to the head. If a hit is hard enough to cause a concussion, a transmitter sends an alert to a sideline computer where trainers or coaches can monitor players' conditions. The system will also keep track of the number of powerful hits players receive throughout the season.

The helmet won't prevent concussions, but it will provide increased awareness of potential dangers. Data suggests that 85 percent of concussions suffered by football players to undetected; the U hopes the Riddell helmet will reduce this rate.

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