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August 8, 2007

Brewster selling new tradition for Gophers

Tim Brewster was between coaching gigs 20 years ago, so for four months he plied another trade that suited his high-energy personality.

He sold cars.

Funny thing is - now as the University of Minnesota's football coach - his job hasn't changed all that much.

He's still selling, trying to convince teenage boys the Minnesota football program isn't really a 2006 lemon prone to breaking down at the most inopportune times. Rather, the program is built like a 1960 classic.

"Like cars, you've got to know when they're on the verge and will sign on the dotted line," a smiling Brewster says in a dialect so fast and smooth that he should be leaning on a fender of a late-model cream puff. "It's the ability to close the deal that separates the good ones from the not-so-good ones."

Minnesota's inability to close the deal is the primary reason Brewster is in Minneapolis.

The Gophers squandered a 38-7 lead in last year's Insight Bowl and lost in overtime to Texas Tech 44-41 in what is depending on perspective either the greatest comeback or collapse in bowl game history.

Glen Mason was promptly fired and the Gophers' turned to Brewster, who came in teaching a different history course.

"At the University of Minnesota, six national championships have been won, 18 Big Ten championships have been won," he said. "At Minnesota, the bar has been set and it's about championships. That is our goal. That is our ambition win a Big Ten championship."

Minnesota hasn't won a Big Ten championship since sharing the 1967 crown, but Brewster is undeterred. He references precedent that indicates the Gophers can indeed go far. He points out in 1959 Minnesota finished last in the Big Ten. The next season the Gophers won a national championship.

That's not going to happen this year, but give Brewster time. After all, he was part of a major restoration project as an assistant to Mack Brown at Texas.

The Longhorns ended a 35-year national championship drought in their eighth season under Brown, primarily because Brewster recruited star quarterback Vince Young to Austin.

As a first-time head coach, Brewster is using the same strategy that made Brown successful.

Like Brown, Brewster has embraced the past lecturing players and recruits on Minnesota's history and introducing the team to former Gopher greats like Bobby Bell and Carl Eller.

At every opportunity he's preaching all the positives of the university - from the construction of on-campus TCF Bank Stadium (which is set to open in 2009) to the advantages of having Tubby Smith as basketball coach.

Brewster is recruiting his home state like a door-to-door salesman, making sure a member of his staff visited each of the 396 high schools in the state. Brewster personally went to more than 100 schools with the message that Minnesota can win big with Minnesotans.

"I believe we can and will win with the core of our football team from Minnesota," Brewster said. "What we've got to do is make sure that Minnesotans are not going to Iowa or Notre Dame or Wisconsin. If all the Minnesotans had stayed here it wouldn't be 40 years since we've won a championship."

From 2003 to 2006 the four years before Brewster's arrival the state of Minnesota produced 35 football players who were rated at least a three-star recruiting prospect by Rivals.com. The University of Minnesota signed just 13 of those (all three stars) and none was ranked among the state's top four prospects.

Brewster's first recruiting class netted five of the state's 10 prospects with at least a three-star rating, including three of the state's top four prospects.

The 2008 recruiting rankings include seven players from Minnesota that are rated at least three-star prospects. Four have already committed to the Gophers, including linebacker Sam Maresh - the state's No. 2 prospect.

Brewster then wants to take those players and put them in offensive and defensive systems that are fun.

"Our defense is going to be 11 junkyard dogs at the meat house door just waiting for the door to open," he said. "We're going to attack the ball."

Offensively, the Gophers are going to the Spread.

"We want to spread the field and create running lanes and throwing lanes," Brewster said. "The Spread allows you to recruit dynamic football players that want to play in that offense.

"The Spread fits my personality."

Offering a chance to play in a system that fits Brewster's personality should be an easy sell.

It should be easier than selling cars.

Trivia question

Notre Dame, Southern California and Ohio State have captured the most Heisman Trophies with seven each (Ohio State's Archie Griffin won it twice). But which team has produced the most Heisman Trophy runners-up? (Answer at the end of the column.)

Quick hitters

After sustaining a fourth concussion in eight months, Auburn linebacker Steve Gandy decided to quit football.

Texas running backs coach Ken Rucker has prostate cancer and is scheduled to undergo surgery on Sept. 27.

Josh Patterson, the son of TCU coach Gary Patterson will be deployed to Irag in December.

Missouri running back Tony Temple, who rushed for 1,063 yards last season, sustained a knee injury on Tuesday and had to be taken off the practice field on a cart. The extent of the injury is unknown.

Wisconsin sophomore running back Lance Smith has been reinstated to the team after getting suspended last month.

Texas coach Mack Brown suspended defensive end Henry Melton and linebacker Sergio Kindle for three games after both were arrested this summer for misdemeanor offenses.

Pittsburgh sophomore Jovani Chappel has moved from cornerback to safety. Meanwhile, senior Jemeel Brady moved from safety to linebacker.

Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman is cleared to practice after passing a pre-camp conditioning test. He missed the first two days of practice after failing the test which requires running three 300-yard shuttle runs in 50 seconds or less.

Florida sophomore running back Brandon James has pleaded no contest to misdemeanor marijuana possession charges and was sentenced to 10 hours of community service and a $226 fine.

Carlos Brown, Stevie Brown, Greg Mathews and Brandon Minor, all among the fastest players on the Michigan roster, are being considered to take over the kick return duties left open by the departure of Steve Breaston.

Washington State freshman receiver Jeshua Anderson, a record-setting hurdler in high school, quickly distinguished himself in the Cougars first practice with two remarkable catches - including one that went for a 50-yard touchdown from quarterback Alex Brink.

Senior receiver Terry Love and sophomore T.J. Williams, both starters coming out of the spring, were absent for Michigan State's first practice. Coach Mark Dantonio said Williams would not return until Aug. 27 but did not reveal why he wasn't present. Love still has academic requirements to complete.

Virginia Tech lineman Nick Marshman made an emotional apology to teammates for reporting to practice at 357 pounds. The 6-foot-5 Marshman, who is currently running with the first team at offensive tackle in place of injured Ed Wang, was supposed to come in at 340.

Freshman Alex Zendejas is hoping to continue a family tradition and win the kicking job at Arizona. His uncle Max Zendejas is a kicking legend at Arizona and uncles Luis and Alan Zendejas kicked at Arizona State.

Trivia answer

The Oklahoma Sooners have had five Heisman runners-up. The list includes Kurt Burris (1954), Greg Pruitt (1972), Billy Sims (1979), Josh Heupel (2000) and Adrian Peterson (2004). Tennessee, USC and Iowa all have had four runners-up.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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