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Minnesota Gophers’ slow play of offensive coordinator hire could pay big dividends

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Coaches come and go, it is a reality of the college football world — but it is a reality that is just hitting a program and a coaching staff that has known nothing but stability since 2011.

Of course, we’re talking about the Minnesota Gophers, who hired defensive coordinator turned interim head coach — Tracy Claeys — as their replacement for Jerry Kill. It was the right move, but it was just the first on a staff that hadn’t seen a lot of change for the Gophers era, let alone most of Kill’s career as a head coach.

With Claeys firmly in control, he surprised a lot of people by letting go of long-time offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover and quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski.

Since that time though, it has been crickets and more crickets on the hire front. Not many names have leaked out, let alone a flurry of interviews being set up. In a season with 30-plus head coaching changes, offensive coordinators were coming and going like quarterbacks from FCS programs to Oregon.

Minnesota was nowhere in the mix in the past few weeks, yet it could be to the Gophers’ advantage. How so?

First off, let’s get one thing straight — Minnesota wasn’t going to be out there splashing the cash and hiring a sexy name. That’s not what Claeys was thinking or wanting to do in making this decision.

It also wasn’t in the cards because the Gophers administration wasn’t about to get in the crazy escalation of assistant coaches salaries that have happened.

Lastly, Claeys’ plans from the beginning was to do the one thing most head coaches weren’t going to do in their searches — turn over every stone to find the right fit for himself and his vision.

What exactly is that vision? He laid that out in announcing the firing of Limegrover and Zebrowski, per the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

“Had it been structured with one guy in charge and doing all that, I could’ve lived with it, I really could’ve,” Claeys said. “That was structured where Coach [Kill] was the buffer in between the two play callers. [Kill] was on the offensive side of the ball all the time. I don’t want to be on the offensive side of the ball all the time.”

Claeys also had a strong worry about the double duty of offensive line coach and play calling as the offensive coordinator.

“I think it’s too hard to be the offensive coordinator and the coach of the offensive line,” Claeys aid. “I think the offensive line coach should be in the trenches with those guys during the game. He should worry about helping them be successful and not worry about calling the plays.”

While everyone and their brother in the college football coaching circus has gone crazy in trying to one-up the latest hire, Minnesota is the lone exception to that rule, likely not having its coach in place until January.

Could that mean dipping in to the NFL coaching pool? Maybe, but it could also mean giving his team and coaching staff in place the time to focus on the bowl game and then turn attention elsewhere.

As with most decisions, some worry what this would do to recruiting. The answer is simple — absolutely nothing.

Claeys knows exactly what he wants his offense to look like and when talking to recruits that is almost as important as the actual person doing the play calling. It also means most recruits on the offensive side of the ball are not going to bail, or that his team is going to need to overhaul its entire philosophy and start from scratch with the type of player needed to make a new system work.

That’s born out so far on the recruiting trail, where few committed players have bolted away from the program.

While we don’t know the names or really anything, that doesn’t mean it is a bad thing. In fact, in an age of everyone rushing to get out a name on Twitter before anyone else, a coaching search done under the radar is pretty refreshing.

So, while other schools jump to one-up each other, the Gophers are sitting back and looking to get the right guy instead of the sexy one. Who knows, the right guy could actually end up being the sexy one as well.

Just don’t expect Claeys or the program to care much about what the outside world thinks of his hiring process.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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Buckeyes Hockey

2017 NCAA Hockey Tournament: A Big Ten Primer

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The creation of the Big Ten hockey conference shook collegiate hockey to its core. Some believed the league would be too top-heavy and others believed it would ultimately kill the sport.

If the 2016-17 season has taught us anything, it is that it appears Big Ten hockey is alive and well. Three teams are in the 2017 NCAA tournament, including the once upstart Penn State Nittany Lions.

Penn State earned their way in thanks to a victory in the Big Ten tournament finale, one that PSU didn’t necessarily have to win to get in, but one that made their tournament appearance a lock.

As the tournament draws near, let’s take a look at the details for the three Big Ten teams in the tournament.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Seed: No. 1 seed in Northeast Regional (No. 4 overall seed)
1st Round Matchup: vs. Notre Dame
When: Saturday, March 25; 3:30p.m. ET
TV/Streaming: ESPNU/watchESPN

Other Teams in Regional: Cornell and UMass Lowell
Regional Championship: Sunday, March 26; 3:30p.m. ET (ESPNU/watchESPN)

You would think the Big Ten regular season champion would get some more love. However, off to New Hampshire are the Gophers. No matter, because there isn’t a more dedicated group of hockey fans in the country (sorry, not sorry, North Dakota). There’s also the fact that Minnesota is the last of the No. 1 seeds in the tournament. You aren’t going to get your choice of places to play in that scenario.

That said, the Gophers are also in the second-most loaded regional in the tournament. Blue blood names like Notre Dame and Cornell is bad enough, but UMass Lowell are quickly becoming a powerhouse and a mainstay in the NCAA tournament over the past 6-7 years.

Getting out of this group likely makes the winner a favorite to take home the national championship.

As for the Gophers’ chances, well they haven’t seen any of the teams in its regional yet this season. They are 7-4-1 against fellow NCAA tournament teams though, while first round opponent Notre Dame is just 7-6-1 and come out of the equally loaded Hockey East. However, the Golden Domers come in to the tournament having gone 5-1-2 over the last 11 games of the regular season before dropping a game to UMass Lowell in the Hockey East semi-finals.

It will also be a matchup of future Big Ten teams, and one that will likely come down style of play. Minnesota and Notre Dame are both averaging over three goals a game and come in with top 25 defenses as well. Something is going to have to give and it could be the most intriguing of the first round matchups in this year’s tournament.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Seed: No. 4 in West Regional
1st Round Matchup: vs. No. 1 Minnesota Duluth (25-6-7 overall record)
When: Friday, March 24; 6:30p.m.
Where: Fargo, North Dakota; Scheels Arena
TV/Streaming: ESPNU/watchESPN

Other Teams in Regional: Boston University vs. North Dakota
Regional Championship: Saturday, March 25, 6 p.m. ET, ESPNU/watchESPN

When you are one of the last at-large bids, draws like Ohio State got are what will happen. Being unable to play in Cincinnati was a big blow, but there wasn’t a whole lot of choice for the selection committee.

As a result, the Buckeyes are off to the hostile confines in Fargo, where they must face UMD. Get past that and there’s a likely date with home-state UND in the following round. To say the deck is stacked against the Buckeyes in this regional isn’t an understatement.

Minnesota-Duluth is battle-tested this season, winning a rough NCHC tournament title and coming in at No. 3 in the latest USCHO.com national poll. Oh, and that NCHC title? It came over fellow West regional squad North Dakota.

Ohio State loves to bang and loves to score goals, but this is going to be a tough regional to get through. In fact, it is arguably the toughest quartet to predict a winner out of.

Penn State Nittany Lions

Seed: No. 3 seed in Midwest Regional
1st Round Matchup: vs. No. 2 seed Union
When: Saturday, March 25; 4:30p.m. ET
TV/Streaming: ESPN3

Other Teams in Regional: Denver and Michigan Tech
Regional Championship: Sunday, March 26; 6p.m. ET (ESPNU/watchESPN)

Penn State didn’t need the Big Ten tournament title win, but it got it. Sure, it took two games of double-overtime to achieve it, but here are the Nittany Lions as Big Ten title holders in the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history.

Unfortunately it will happen in a regional with the No. 1 overall seed and against a team that historically hasn’t been kind to the Nittany Lions. Union is 4-0-0 all-time against Penn State, but they haven’t met since the 2013-14 season.

Let’s just say the Nittany Lions are no longer a building program like they were back then, while Union is back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since winning the national championship that same season.

Penn State comes in to this tournament as one of the best offensive teams in the country. The team is tied for second nationally, averaging 3.97 goals per game. Defensively the team is just 22nd and gives up 2.68 goals per game as well. Union features a Hoby Baker Award finalist in Mike Vecchione, and he too can score — notching 29 goals alone this season.

Doubting the upstarts has been a bad idea most of this season, but this is one of the harshest spots the Nittany Lions could find themselves in. Can they make a run like they did last weekend and rep the Big Ten in Chicago for the Frozen Four? That certainly will be interesting.

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Badgers Basketball

2017 talking10 Big Ten Men’s Basketball Awards Special

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The Big Ten may have its awards, but what is the point of watching endless hours of Big Ten basketball without putting our two cents in, right?

Welcome to the 2017 taking10 Big Ten Men’s Basketball Awards special. Our hope is to educate you on the names that dominated our conversations and the hardwood across the Big Ten this season.

So, sit back and enjoy our special for your viewing pleasure.

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Minnesota and P.J. Fleck’s First Order Of Business: A New Slogan

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“Row The Boat” is sooooo 2016. And with the hiring of P.J. Fleck as the Minnesota Golden Gophers’ new head man, it’s time to usher in the sparkle and shine for the new year.

Fleck has gone on record to state that Row The Boat will continue on with Ski-U-Mah in the Twin Cities, but we here at Talking10 couldn’t help but ponder what a new slogan could be now that the man who loves to get his oars in the water, has now backed the U-Haul up to Minneapolis.

So, without further delay, and without further whimsical nonsense, Andy Coppens, Dave Fitzgerald, Phil Harrison and Philip Rossman-Reich provide you with some corny, edge of craftiness potential slogans for the marriage between P.J. Fleck and Minnesota:

Defend The Bank-

Yep, they play in TCF Bank Stadium so…

Protect The Bank-

Again, the Gophers play in TCF Bank Stadium. Rinse and repeat.

Shovel The Snow-

Lest you forget, it’s COLD in the Twin Cities. They get a lot of snow.

Chip The Ice-

See above and add water.

Grind The Axe-

Made especially for you Badger fans.

Chuck The Wood-

Gophers aren’t wood chucks, but close enough, eh? You betcha.

Build The Dam-

Okay, okay, Gophers aren’t Beavers, but neither are wood chucks.

Dig The Hole-

Now we have the right rodent. Sounds imposing doesn’t it?

Shop The Mall-

This might be more for Fleck’s wife Heather, for the many trips to the Mall of America there in the suburb of Bloomington.

Go.Pher.It-

Sometimes it just works …

Win, Don’t Cha Know-

It’s not Canada, but pretty close. That Fargo accent has to rub off somewhere right?

Hot Dish, MMMMMM Bacon-

Literally everything is better with bacon, even big-time college football.

Secure The Trophies-

They certainly play for enough of them in Minneapolis, so why not?

Protect The Jugs-

You can figure this one out.

Clip The Mullet-

Minnesota loves hockey with its football. Hockey players love mullets. Fleck’s style is business up front, but party in back in the post game, so it all fits.

Drain The Lake-

It’s not Donald Trump draining the swamp in Washington, but Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes and its looking for a new direction.

Hit The Bull’s Eye-

Minnesota is home to mega-department store Target where you can waste hours looking at nothing, yet everything.

Walk The Skyway-

Have you ever been to Minneapolis in the winter? It’s a God-send to have the connected walkways in the air going from building to building so you don’t freeze your Gopher hiney in the brutal winters.

 

Okay, if we had the energy of Philip John Fleck, maybe we’d keep right on going. We don’t, and you’ve likely spent ten minutes of your time you’ll never get back. But hey, we had fun with it, and we hope you did too.

What do you think? Should Fleck implement one of these? Got one that you think would fit that we missed? Feel free to comment on Twitter to @BuckeyeFitzy @AndyOnFootball @RiseNU or @PhilHarrisonCFB

 

 

 

 

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P.J. Fleck’s got plenty of challenges ahead of him in building Gophers program

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A sea change is afoot in Minneapolis, as P.J. Fleck has been announced as the head coach of the Minnesota Gophers football program. Given he was at the top of the list for the administration and fans, excited is the word of the day.

However, once the initial excitement fades away the reality of the Gophers’ situation will settle in. That reality? A locker room that is a mess and players who feel hurt by the administration and the university at large.

Fleck comes in as a man with a reputation as a program builder and a man with plenty of motivational techniques in his arsenal. That’s the good news here, as Fleck faces a challenge that just about no nine-win team will face heading in to the 2017 season.

The reality is he needs to start over on and off the field. Minnesota’s offense was stagnant at best, its defense just okay and its culture clearly a mess. Fleck addressed that need for cultural change head on in his first press conference.

“I am more than football,” Fleck said, via the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “Our kids will be more than football. What does that mean. We are going to serve and give as much as can. In the new era of Gopher football it is not about us. We’re going to connect people to Gopher football who don’t even like football. … Our players will have incredible, elite actions every single day. When you watch Gophers football from this point on, it will be different.”

He is going to have to change things in the locker room first and foremost. He is going to have to change the moral culture within this group of players, while also building a program within his image on the recruiting trail too.

At least the opening moments of his tenure have been full of the right words. Actions however will speak louder, and judging by his actions at Western Michigan, there’s little doubt that his actions more than back up the words spoken.

Those needed changes aren’t always immediate though, and the question in Minneapolis has to be just how quickly Fleck can get this group of players to buy in to what he is selling.

We’ll know more when Fleck announces his staff, but perhaps the best bit of news is that Fleck will get to work with a clean slate in terms of what is around him on the field. There will have to be a new quarterback with Mitch Leidner graduated, meaning Fleck can mold the offense in his image quickly rather than slowly.

This team also has plenty of experience returning from that 9-4 team, meaning he won’t be working with a completely bare cupboard either. But, are those returning players ready for what Fleck and Co. will bring and expect from its players?

Spring football is going to go a long way towards telling us all the answers. For now, we saw a coach who understood what he was walking in to and that is half the battle of getting a program to believe in you going forward.

 

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