Enter Tim Brewster. He spent the past five seasons in the National Football League with Denver (2005-'06) and San Diego (2002-'04). Before he jumped into the NFL Brewster spent 12 years with Mack Brown at North Carolina (1989 – ‘97) and then Texas (1998-‘01). So why leave the pro ranks to get back into the college game?
"It's a tremendous advantage to coach in the NFL," said Brewster. "I tell people I went to the NFL to get my P.H.D. in football. That's why I left such a great place like the University of Texas.
"In the NFL the focus is all football. I realized my heart was in the college game because you can effect change in young people. There is also so much opportunity here at Minnesota. We are very excited about it. It's also humbling getting this job and knowing the tradition here. We are going to take Minnesota back to the Rose Bowl and win the Big 10 Championship. That's why we are here."
That's a bold statement from a man that's very serious about the job at hand, a job with an enormous amount of potential in one of the top conferences in college football.
"This conference is so strong and there is so much tradition," explained Brewster. "I get to coach against the greatest coach that ever lived in Joe Paterno (Penn State). That's an honor for me and to be in the same league as coach Paterno is amazing. Penn State has so much history and tradition.
"I played at Illinois and I know this conference. From top to bottom it's solid and it's improving and getting better. Look at Northwestern and Indiana. You have Lloyd Carr (Michigan) and Jim Tressel (Ohio State) and watch out for Ron Zook (Illinois)."
The difference between the Buckeyes, Wolverines and the rest of the league is consistency. Every so often Northwestern, Purdue and even Minnesota would challenge the perennial Big 10 powers. Even Mason had his Gophers at 10-3 in 2003. But to be a great program you have to do it each year. To be consistently good it starts and stops with recruiting.
"People don't know that Minnesota has tradition and history," said Brewster. "Minnesota is one of the best kept secrets in college football. Now we have to go out and sell this great program. We have 18 Big 10 Championships and 6 National Championships. We have to reclaim elite status. It all comes down to recruiting. We have to wake up recruiting, talk recruiting every day, go to bed recruiting and dream recruiting. That's the bottom line on how to get better and we have to do it each and every day of the year."
Brewster's right. The key is recruiting, as recruiting is the life blood to every program. In today's game recruiting is ultra competitive. With that said the dynamics of Big 10 recruiting are changing. Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan will always recruit well. Then there is Notre Dame, smack dab in the middle of Big 10 country. But now you also have to contend with Illinois and yes, Minnesota.
"I think admittedly we have to climb that hill and catch those guys," said Mike Dunbar Offensive Coordinator at Minnesota. "That's the intent. If recruiting goes as well as we think it will, we will do it and do it early."
Recruiting is still about the have and have nots. To get to the top of the recruiting chain there are several things you must have. First, one guy can't do it alone. Tim Brewster can't do it alone. The key is who you surround yourself with and Brewster surrounded himself with a very good coaching staff and each man can recruit very well.
"When I took this job I had a lot of guys in mind," said Brewster. "I quickly assembled my staff and I have to say it is the best recruiting staff in the country and they can flat out coach too. They are young and dynamic. Every coach is a great recruiter. We have no liabilities because they can all coach the game too. It's just a tremendous staff."
"The thing about this staff is that everyone has the energy and passion to go out and compete in terms of recruiting," said Randy Taylor, Director of Football Operations at Minnesota. "The ultimate goal is to win the Big 10 and go to the Rose Bowl. We will not be satisfied with just going to a Bowl game. We all feel the same way and share the same attitude. We have talked about it and it starts with the head coach and we believe it."
Second, you have to have a great product to sell and the University of Minnesota is a great product. They play football in the Big 10 and Minnesota has great academics.
Third, you have to want it and you have to dominate in-state recruiting. You have to out work the big boys. You have to recruit each and every day every chance you get. You have to own your state meaning keep the top prospects home. Then you have to go recruit against the best for the top end talent in states like Florida, California and Texas and make sure you get your share. That's the formula for success. You can explain recruiting a millions different ways but it all boils down to one simple word – relationships.
"First, we will always recruit the state of Minnesota the hardest," explained Brewster. "We want the top players year in and year out. There are a lot of good players and high school coaching in Minnesota. We want those kids to be the core and fiber of Minnesota football. Then we will go to places like Florida, Texas and California to go get the dynamic athletes that can impact change in a game on just a single down. We are out there building those relationships and we will recruit against anybody. We will do this and build those relationships with the kids. Kids make decisions based on people."
Another influential factor on recruiting will be their style of play. The Gophers will play a wide open and aggressive style of football on both sides of the ball. This will send a message to the prospects that are watching from Minnesota or somewhere out of state.
"We want to run the spread and appeal to all those great playmakers," proclaimed Brewster. "We have to go out and get receivers. We will get the 1,000 yard rusher and we will sign one great ‘national' quarterback every year. We will go national for many kids and this is exciting. We have to have the ‘wow' factor and be exciting and physical. We have to be aggressive and quick striking. Same with the defense. We will have an aggressive style and play multiple fronts."
Minnesota is two plus months into the Brewster regime. They are in the middle of their first spring practice. There is no depth chart as the coaching staff is taking their time accessing and evaluating what they have already on campus. Mason didn't exactly leave the cupboard bare and much of their success will depend on attitude and it starts at the top with the head man, Tim Brewster.
"I tell you what," said Dunbar. "It is great to be back in the Big 10. This is a great league and we certainly have our challenges ahead of us. But I look forward to those challenges and so does everyone around here. Tim Brewster is so enthusiastic about this program and it's that enthusiasm that has been so contagious for everyone here, including the players. That's why I came to Minnesota and it's so exciting to be at Minnesota right now."
Tim Brewster and his staff will pull big time prospects. It will happen and they will succeed in the recruiting battles. He just has "it" as some coaches around the country do like Ron Zook, Pete Carroll and Urban Meyer. You can see it already, where the Gophers are offering top end prospects from their backyard in Minnesota and they are everywhere in the talent rich states of Florida, California, Texas, etc.
"Everything we do is about recruiting and everything goes back to recruiting," proclaims Brewster.
This is Brewster's first head job since 1988, when he was the head coach at Central Catholic High School. Still, plenty of first time head coaches succeed in big time college football their first time out. And since 1988 Tim Brewster has learned from some of the best in the game. It also helps that he is a student of the game, always learning from those before him.
"I was a good player, not a great player but not quite good enough to play in the NFL," said Brewster. "I was always looking at the game from a coaching perspective as a player. I was always asking why?
"I love coaches like Vince Lombardi that really got after it. I have been fortunate to work with three Hall of Famers in Mack Brown, Marty Schottenheimer, and Mike Shanahan. I spent 13 seasons with Mack and he's a people person who is so well organized. Schottenheimer is a tough guy who's hard on his players. He's tough minded and he pays attention to every detail. Coach Shanahan is the best coach in football today. He's so confident in his preparation. I learned from him that if you understand how to prepare that gives you tremendous confidence. I also learned from him to attack weakness and be ruthless on the field. I am the same way and go for the kill."
Time will tell the Tim Brewster story at the University of Minnesota. He has a plan for the mission ahead both on the field and off. Recruiting will be their catalyst to achieving their goal, winning their conference and getting the Golden Gophers back to the granddaddy of them all, the Rose Bowl.
"I am most excited about taking this program back to the Rose Bowl. 1961 has been a long time. People around here have a thirst and passion for this game and it's time that the University of Minnesota gets back its elite status in college football."