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Eric Kaler’s departure will leave questions for Gophers athletics

November 18, 2018

On Friday the Star Tribune reported that the University of Minnesota had settled on nine candidates to be the new president of the school after sitting President Eric Kaler retires in July.

For Gophers fans, one has to wonder if there is any chance that the new president will be as supportive of the athletic department as Kaler has been since he was hired in 2011.

While many people point to the fundraising push to construct an athletics village on campus as the defining athletic achievement under Kalers watch, the simple fact is that Kaler stood by and supported the athletic department while it dealt with scandal after scandal and also suffered through some pretty tough seasons in the revenue sports of mens basketball, football and mens hockey.

Will the next president OK $114 million in operating expenses, the University of Minnesota athletic budget in 2017, if success doesnt show in the major sports?

Coaching on steady ground

You would have to say that Kaler is leaving the university on what seems to be a positive trend in athletics.

The University of Minnesota Athletes Village is up and running, even if there is still some fundraising to do.

The football team is showing signs that hiring coach P.J. Fleck was the right decision.

The mens basketball team under Richard Pitino is off to a good start this season with high expectations following injury-plagued 2017-18.

The mens hockey team is struggling at the start of this season, but most hockey people in the state believe that bringing in Bob Motzko as the new head coach was the right decision after Don Lucias 19-year tenure.

In the nonrevenue sports things are really looking bright, and womens volleyball and womens basketball are probably bringing in more money than they ever have with the volleyball team being run by one of the best coaches in the country in Hugh McCutcheon, and Lindsay Whalen making big waves in ticket sales as the new womens basketball coach.

Will Kaler miss collegiate athletics?

Im not going to have to stop being a fan and being a spectator, he said. But I wont miss some of the decisions that come with being the president of a large institution with a very visible athletic program.

Grades, story lines improve

Over the past few years the Gophers have become leaders when it comes to public universities and educating student-athletes.

This week it was announced that a school-record 93 percent of student-athletes who began school in 2011 had graduated, according to the NCAA Graduation Success Rate. That was an increase of 25 percent from the universitys first GSR 13 years ago.

We are the best public institution in the country from an academic progress point of view for our student-athletes, Kaler said. We are very proud of that. That takes a lot of work by the student-athletes, and I am very proud of what they have done.

What did he think turned that around?

Its a view that the athletic director [athletic director Mark Coyle] and his staff have brought forward as a very high priority, Kaler said. The coaching staff appreciate that its a high priority. Minnesota has historically done well in this space, but to be the best in the country is a strong achievement.

Yes, maybe the most important move of Kalers career was getting Coyle from Syracuse to serve as athletic director.

Turnovers doomed Gophers

The Gophers have certainly improved following their 0-4 start in the Big Ten and a disappointing loss at Illinois. They beat Purdue in a game no one expected them to win, and they actually challenged Northwestern on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium, losing 24-14 because of three turnovers, two first-quarter interceptions and a fumble in the fourth quarter.

Former Gophers coach Glen Mason, who was calling the game for the Big Ten Network, said the Gophers played Northwestern about as well as any Big Ten team has this season.

The two turnovers in the first half really hurt them, Mason said. But you have to credit Tanner Morgan in being a young quarterback and having those turnovers to come back and play the second half the way that he did.

I was impressed with the Minnesota defense and how they really stifled the run of Northwestern coming down the wire.

The Wildcats are one of the biggest surprises in recent Big Ten play.

The amazing thing about Northwestern, to put things in perspective, they have now won 14 of their last 15 Big Ten football games and that is their eighth straight Big Ten victory on the road from Northwestern, Mason said. That is something special.

Does Mason see any way that the Gophers can win at Wisconsin next Saturday and earn a bowl game?

A couple of weeks ago they ran Purdue right out of the ballpark. That is why you play the game, Mason said. Wisconsin has a lot of injuries. They are running a long streak of wins against the Gophers, and it just may end this year.

JOTTINGS

Dalvin Cook looked fantastic two weeks ago against the Lions when he ran for 89 yards and caught four passes for 20 yards. Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said Cook is full-go for Sunday against Chicago. How is Cook feeling? Around this time last year I was on the couch, wishing I could compete and be out there, he said. Now that Im here, I have to take full advantage.

DeFilippo was coaching in Oakland when the Raiders drafted Khalil Mack fifth in 2014. How does he view the No. 1 Bears defense? I know [Mack] up close and personal, how good he is and how good his skill set is, he said. We have our hands full.

Since center Pat Elflein returned to the lineup the Vikings are averaging 104.5 yards rushing per game.

A loss to Chicago will put the Vikings 1andfrac12; games behind the Bears in the NFC North with six games to go. Has head coach Mike Zimmer seen a different sense of urgency from his squad? I think there is still a long ways to go, he said. I havent noticed any difference in the way they are. They are not uptight or anything like that.

Vikings special teams coach Mike Preifer on Bears punt returner Tarik Cohen. Ive had him in my brain for a couple of weeks, Preifer said. Great punt returner, probably the best we have faced this year. We have to protect. We have to get off blocks. Our gunner has to show up.

The Bears are first in the NFL in the turnover battle as they have forced 24 turnovers while committing just 11. The Vikings are tied for 16th with a margin of plus-1.

The combined record of the teams the Bears have beaten this season: 19-38.

Pro Football Focus predicts the Bears, who are 2andfrac12;-point favorites, will beat the Vikings 22-21. Among all the experts at sites such as NFL.com, Pro Football Talk,and CBS Sports you find almost no one picking the Vikings to win.

Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. shartman@startribune.com

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