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Gophers taking off in a different direction

Tim Brewster's ability to recruit and promote made him the man to hire for the U.
A new chapter in Gophers football began before dawn Tuesday when University of Minnesota Athletic Director Joel Maturi finalized a deal with Denver Broncos tight ends coach Tim Brewster to become the school's 26th head coach.

Maturi flew to Denver a day earlier and, around midnight, offered a contract to Brewster to succeed Glen Mason, who was fired Dec. 31 after 10 seasons. The agreement ended a coaching search that was both clandestine and rumor-filled and ultimately brought the school a hire who never has been a head coach or coordinator at the college or pro level.

However, Brewster is considered a first-rate recruiter who university officials say they believe will be able to sell the football program to fans, develop talent and bring new energy to a team that has struggled to move into the top tier of the Big Ten.

"Coach Brewster has a great reputation as a man of integrity, vision and energy," Maturi wrote in an e-mail. "He is known as a tireless recruiter and he wanted to be a Gopher. From the dozens of people we talked to around the nation, Coach Brewster stood out as a person that could take us to the next level."

Brewster, 46, signed a five-year deal worth $1 million annually and will be introduced at a 1 p.m. news conference today. Brewster will make $400,000 annually in base salary, $400,000 in supplemental salary and $200,000 in deferred compensation that will vest after his contract expires. He has the potential to earn additional money in performance bonuses.

A former all-Big Ten tight end at Illinois, Brewster will address his players for the first time in a team meeting this morning. Several players expressed relief that the search is over.

"I'm definitely happy and relieved," junior linebacker John Shevlin said. "When you feel you have no direction or don't know who your coach will be, you get restless."

Path to the job

Brewster has spent the past five seasons as an NFL assistant coach after working on Mack Brown's staffs at North Carolina and Texas from 1989-2001. Brewster developed a national reputation as a top-notch recruiter at those schools, landing a number of prized high school recruits, including former Texas All-America quarterback Vince Young.

Maturi said the fact that Brewster has not served as a coordinator or a head coach does not concern him. Maturi said Brewster was an assistant head coach for the San Diego Chargers in 2004 and the recruiting coordinator at North Carolina.

"Coach Brewster has a very impressive résumé and has worked with some of the brightest minds in football," he said. "He has been groomed to be a head coach."

U of M President Robert Bruininks and Maturi said in the days after Mason's firing that a proven track record of recruiting success would be a priority in the search. The loss of in-state talent under Mason was a source of frustration for Gophers officials and fans.

"I think he'll be an excellent recruiter," said Cincinnati Taft football coach Mike Martin, a teammate of Brewster's at Illinois and former wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals. "He's always had the gift of gab. One thing he'll be excellent at is sitting down in somebody's living room and talking to them and getting them to trust him."

Brewster will need to immediately draw on his recruiting acumen. National signing day for high school recruits is Feb. 7, leaving him little time to secure his first recruiting class. Holdover assistant coaches Gordy Shaw and Luke Tressel, who remained on staff after Mason's firing, spent Tuesday visiting out-of-state recruits who already have given verbal commitments to Minnesota.

Brewster also must hire his staff of nine assistants. Shaw, Tressel and several other Mason assistants have expressed a desire to stay, but it will be Brewster's decision on who will be retained.

Brewster's hiring marks a new era for the program, and school officials hope his energy and enthusiasm creates momentum in fundraising efforts for the new stadium. The school still needs to raise about $35 million in private money for the on-campus stadium, scheduled to open in 2009.

"If he can recruit, he can sell that, too," said Dick Ames, a booster and prominent businessman.

Tuesday's announcement capped a whirlwind 16 days that saw school officials and an Atlanta-based search firm whittle an original list of more than 100 potential candidates to a handful of coaches who were interviewed in at least three different cities the past week.

School officials went to great lengths to protect candidates' identity, which led to daily rumors and speculation among news media, fans and the coaching community. Only one candidate is known to have interviewed on campus. Interviews were conducted in Chicago and Dallas, and candidates were told not to discuss the interview or anything related to the search with news media members.

Names began to leak as the search drew to a close. Candidates who are known to have interviewed were Southern California offensive coordinator and Bloomington Jefferson graduate Lane Kiffin, Texas Christian coach Gary Patterson, Notre Dame offensive coordinator Mike Haywood and Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong.

Strong, in fact, was on Minnesota's campus Monday just hours before Maturi left for Denver to hire Brewster. The day ended with a flurry of news media reports and denials by university officials that anyone had been offered the job. Strong did not return a phone message Tuesday.

Ultimately, Maturi made his first significant hire as the school's athletic director.

"We felt energized by his interview," Maturi said. "He had a clear vision for taking us to the top of the Big Ten. He has an infectious personality that all Gopher fans will be attracted to."

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com

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