The Sweep

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T1_brewster
Second-year coach Tim Brewster has things going in the
right direction at Minnesota.
AP

While watching Minnesota's upset of Illinois on Saturday, I was reminded of my first real-life encounter with the miracle-worker known as Tim Brewster. It was July of 2007, and I was half-dozing through the first portion of Big Ten media days when they introduced the anonymous new guy from Minnesota, slotted right before the famous-but-stodgy old guy from Michigan. I stopped paying attention and began to fish for free wireless networks on my laptop, in hopes of checking my e-mail. That was until the guy in the white Gophers polo shirt spoke into the microphone, and it became clear that, for the sake of preserving our eardrums, amplifying this man's voice -- even in a Hyatt ballroom the size of a football field -- was not a particularly good idea.

Reporters near me began shooting sideways glances at each other. Their reactions were not entirely over what the guy was saying -- although he did, at one point, take a break from reiterating how excited he was to be in the Big Ten to tell Lloyd Carr that his team was coming to get the brown jug -- but rather over the sheer force with which he was saying it. I found myself thinking three things:

1. I am not sure who this man is.
2. He really is loud, though.
3. If he were recruiting me, I would seriously consider playing for him.

That was Tim Brewster, the other head coach Minnesota hired in an offseason when Tubby Smith came to town. Brewster's bio, in a nutshell, read that he was a 42-year-old, ex-Illinois tight end, ex-Mack Brown assistant at North Carolina and Texas, and ex-tight ends coach for the Chargers and Broncos. He was known as a tireless recruiter -- ex-Gopher Greg Eslinger called him the "Energizer Bunny" -- and credited with helping bring Julius Peppers to UNC, and Vince Young and Chris Simms to Austin. Brewster had no head-coaching experience outside of high school, but he appeared to be putting every ounce of energy he had into this new gig. "I love what I do, I love football," he would say the next day. "It's just who I am. I feel blessed to be where I am, and I'm going to drink it up and love it and live it every day."

Mike Sherels, who was then a senior linebacker, told me a story about the first day Brewster arrived on campus in January. Minnesota's returning players had been told to assemble at 6:30 a.m. in the football complex for Brewster's unveiling.

"A 6:30 meeting is not something any college kid is excited for in the offseason, so we get in, and everybody's tired and groggy," Sherels said. "Coach Brew walks in, and we sat up a little, and then his voice was just booming, right away. ... We sit with the younger guys in the back and the upperclassmen up front, and I started looking around, and every guy on the team was on the edge of his seat, leaning forward, hanging on every word. He just commanded respect right away, without demanding it. He just had an aura about him, that everybody believed what he was saying."

Minnesota proceeded to go 1-11 that season. And I admit, as much as I bought into the idea of him turning the program around, I sort of became a non-believer. Then in February of '08, Brewster hired a new defensive coordinator who was most recently a head coach of another FBS team that went 1-11 -- none other than Duke's Ted Roof. This didn't make me any less of a non-believer. But on Saturday, everything seemed to be coming together: Roof's revamped 3-4 defense -- led by Willie VanDerSteeg and a host of Brewster's juco recruits -- managed to give the Illini fits. The Gophers moved to 6-1, becoming bowl-eligible. And Brewster, once again, had me paying attention.

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