MINNEAPOLIS — Joel Maturi knew he needed more than a football coach to fill Glen Mason’s shoes at Minnesota.
“I needed somebody who would get outstate, who would sell tickets, who would sell the program,” Maturi said Wednesday. “I needed that on the front end more than I needed an offensive or a defensive genius.”
Tim Brewster certainly got the message.
“I want to reach out to every part of this state, because I’m so proud to be the head football coach at the University of Minnesota,” Brewster said at an introductory news conference that felt more like a presidential inauguration. “I want to reach out and sell this program and it’s going to be an easy sell for me.”
Not so fast.
Brewster is taking over a stagnant program that has all but fallen off the map of local sports fans, who are tired of watching the Gophers muddle through an uninspiring regular season and finish in a third-tier bowl game.
Many of the state’s top recruits bolt for greener pastures at Notre Dame, Ohio State or Michigan thanks in part to Mason alienating the state’s high school football coaches.
Knowing all this, Maturi fired Mason after 10 seasons and went looking for a fiery, charismatic personality that would make Minnesotans forget about the prickly and aloof predecessor.
At least for one day, Brewster said all the right things. He pledged to bring a Big Ten championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl “sooner rather than later” and said he’s “not interested in any rebuilding process.”
“We’re going to wake up in the morning talking about recruiting. We’re going to go to sleep at night talking about recruiting and we’re going to dream about recruiting,” he said. “We’re going to bring talented athletes to the University of Minnesota at a level that hasn’t been done before.”
Spoken like a true salesman. Now all he has to do is back it up.
One thing he has going for him is a brand new on-campus stadium that is scheduled to open in 2009.
TCF Bank Stadium will likely be his biggest selling point and will have to offset his lack of head coaching experience and name recognition.
Maturi put it bluntly when several of his colleagues recommended he talk to Brewster.
“To be honest, I’d never heard of Tim Brewster,” Maturi said.
He isn’t the only one.
Brewster spent the last two seasons as the tight ends coach with the Denver Broncos, and also served as an assistant with the San Diego Chargers and in college under Mack Brown at Texas and North Carolina.
He’s never been a top coordinator and the closest he’s been to head coaching was a two-year stint running the show at Central Catholic High School in Lafayette, Ind. That’s a long ways from the Big Ten.
Brewster justifies his path to Minnesota by saying that he was more concerned with who he worked with than what position he held. And his list of head coaches is distinguished with Brown, Marty Schottenheimer and Mike Shanahan.
“I never chased titles,” Brewster said. “A lot of guys in this profession chase titles. What I chased was knowledge and understanding. I thought it was more important who you worked with as opposed to what your title was.”
His title now is head coach of the Gophers, a middling Big Ten program that is in desperate need of an adrenaline shot.
Defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg, for one, bought what Brewster was selling.
“He got us all pumped up,” VanDeSteeg said. “He’s talking about national championships, BCS championships. He’s got a plan. He’s got coaches coming in that he’s excited for.”
Brewster said he will take a few days for announcing his staff after meeting with members of Mason’s crew that were fired with the coach.
Then it’s on the road across Minnesota, where he will try to persuade some of the state’s top recruits who have verbally committed elsewhere to stay at home and repair some of the rifts that Mason created with the local high schools.
“The University of Minnesota is the best-kept secret in college football,” Brewster said. “What’s not here? It just takes the right guy and the right set of guys to bring it out.”
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