Ask the Sportswriters

Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times  editor-sports editor Gary Larson, reporter Luther Dorr and former Times intern Logan Marxhausen. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.

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•Question:  The New York Giants tipped the New England Patriots 21-17 Sunday in Super Bowl XLVI. What are your thoughts on the game?

-Dorr: Who knew that the NFL’s leading receiver (Wes Welker), a very sure-handed guy, would drop a pass on the New York 20-yard line with four minutes to go that hit him in both hands? That was the biggest play of the game. If Welker catches that ball the Patriots would likely have gotten the clock under two minutes, might have scored a touchdown, and, at worst, would have had a short field goal try to go up by five points. I couldn’t believe he dropped that ball. I would not have picked the Patriots to win if I had known their tight end, Rob Gronkowski, wasn’t able to go full speed. He’s been such a big part of their offense and his lack of mobility really played into the outcome. But, I wanted the Giants to win, and give them credit for their last drive. I missed the first quarter, with the unbelievable safety because of a play by a quarterback of Tom Brady’s stature. It was a good game to watch. We had a bunch of ho-hum Super Bowls for awhile but the last few years have been good.

-Marxhausen:  The game was competitive and kept viewers on the edge of their seats throughout the entirety of the game. The game could have been swayed by a single play at any point. I picked the Patriots because of the success they had with tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez on the field at the same time. Tom Brady was usually more protected and both Gronkowski and Hernandez had been consistent receivers. The Giants’ defense came up with some timely sacks while the Patriot receivers dropped some timely passes. When the Patriot receivers could not reel in the victory, I felt the Patriots defense played above expectations causing big hits and disruption in the Giants’ offense. The player who was able to get the ball where it needed to be proved to be the elite quarterback, Eli Manning, not Tom Brady. Manning had a phenomenal game as he completed 30 of 40 for 296 yards and one touchdown. I found it funny when Ahmad Bradshaw felt guilty for scoring a touchdown. Manning and coach Tom Coughlin are Brady and coach Bill Belichick’s kryptonite.

-Larson:  It’s been said that quarterbacks determine the outcome of most big games in the NFL and no game is larger than the Super Bowl. Both Eli Manning and Tom Brady piled up completions and yards that, alone, were deserving of a Super Bowl victory. In this game, though, two receivers accounted for the game’s biggest plays. One, as Luther alluded to, was Wes Welker, whose dropped pass likely cost New England a victory. The other receiver was New York’s Mario Manningham, whose tightrope catch near the sideline between a pair of defenders picked up 38 yards and a first down late in the fourth quarter. Eight plays later Ahmad Bradshaw crossed the goal line for what would be the game and season’s final points.

I saw parts of the game live, then fast-forwarded my way through a tape of the game, ignoring the annoying commercials. I was able to get through the game in little over a half hour. Over 111 million people watched the event. I’m guessing one-third or more of those wouldn’t know a football from a hockey puck. The commercials and halftime show were the attractions for them. And, they got what they deserved. The NFL and TV marketing crews turned the game into an event many years ago and they have been laughing their way to the bank ever since.

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•Question:  It was announced Feb. 2 that Joel Maturi, University of Minnesota athletic director since July 2002, will not be rehired to that position when his contract runs out June 30. Maturi will remain at Minnesota in a special position where he will raise funds for athletics and teach some classes at a salary, that, with benefits, will total approximately $468,000 per year. His pay will come from the University of Minnesota Foundation, which would be money from fund-raising funds and not taxes. How would you judge Maturi’s 10-year performance as athletic director and what do you think of the decision to retain him in the new position?

-Dorr: Retaining him for a year is the kind of thing that is done at universities and corporations,  it seems. If the  money doesn’t come from public funds, it’s not a big deal, although it seems too sweet a deal, no matter whether the person did a good job or a bad job. Maturi will be remembered by many for hiring Tim Brewster as football coach,  a hire that turned out to be a disaster. He also hired Tubby  Smith and there are quite a few people who think that was a good hire, especially at the time it happened. Coaches of the minor sports at the U of M think very highly of Maturi and that’s also part of the equation. I have no big feelings either way about Maturi, although the Brewster thing will likely be what many will remember about him. As I’ve said many times before, Glen Mason should never have been fired as the football coach. And Maturi didn’t make that decision.

-Marxhausen: The University of Minnesota feels that Maturi has brought a lot to the athletic program and does not want to lose him as an asset. However, the compensation he will be receiving in his new position is a travesty and should be an outrage to every student that has to pay those high tuition fees. The legislature should be questioning if the University is spending its money wisely, regardless if it is public tax money or not. Whatever he is going to be doing next probably will not be as important as running the athletic department. I will judge Maturi as a man who is doing his job for himself rather than the athletic program, least of all the students.

-Larson:  Let’s look at what Maturi has accomplished. He hired, then extended the contract of a football coach who couldn’t coach – Tim Brewster.  He replaced that coach with one – Jerry Kill – with little name recognition when the football program needed a coach with high-powered name recognition. He helped spearhead the drive for a new football stadium when one wasn’t needed, at least one that wasn’t to be shared by the Vikings. The football program should generate funds that support it and other programs but at the end of TCF Bank Stadium’s third season, fans were arriving late and leaving early.   There were the costly Jimmy Williams and golf program missteps.

And, the biggest measuring stick of a Division I program is how successful its teams are. The Gopher trophy case remained very bare under Maturi. That he should be moving into a position where he’s compensated nearly a half million dollars a year is very sad.

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•Question:  For several days last week we read and heard media reports about how well first-year University of Minnesota football coach Jerry Kill and his staff did recruiting. The focus was adding speed to the team and also retaining Minnesota’s top players. The Gophers signed most of the state’s top prep prospects, including quarterback Philip Nelson of Mankato West, wide receiver Andre McDonald of Hopkins and huge (6-9, 300 pounds) offensive lineman Jonah Pirsig of Blue Earth Area. Yet, Rivals.com, regarded as one of the top recruiting evaluators in the country, ranked Minnesota’s efforts last among the 12 Big Ten schools, even behind Indiana. What are your thoughts on Kill’s signings and the low grade they received?

-Dorr: I pay no attention to what Rivals.com or any other recruiting evaluators have to say about recruits at any school. The evaluators, I assume, make money off people reading about their picks. But do they really know what’s going on? And, do they have a good track record? I don’t know because I simply don’t read what they have to say. In fact, seven of the players on New England’s Super Bowl roster from last Sunday were rated as no-star recruits by Rivals.com when they came out of high school. Kill and his staff did a good job of recruiting the in-state players, something Tim Brewster didn’t do. But, are those players good enough to help turn things around? And, are the other recruits good enough to help turn things around? Kill has a good history of turning programs around but we don’t know if he can do that at Minnesota. Rivals.com doesn’t know how the new recruits at Minnesota will work out, neither does Kill, and neither do we. And we probably won’t know for at least two years. Quarterback Nelson, and standout quarterback Mitch Leidner of Lakeville South, will likely be red-shirted. And who knows if Pirsig or Isaac Hayes, a 275-pounder from St. Thomas Academy projected to be an offensive center, will be ready to play in 2012? We’ll just have to wait and see, meanwhile hoping that Kill knows what he’s doing.

-Marxhausen:  The Gophers are still in a transition period where they are trying to convince players that Minnesota has an opportunity to win. Players out of the state have not bought into the Jerry Kill run system because they have not seen enough success to feel confident and comfortable as a Gopher. They were a team picked by some to only win one game last season and they ended with three victories. Kill is very wise, securing top prospects from Minnesota. Getting his presence known and having good relationships around the state with high schools will help Kill’s reputation, giving him the potential to recruit Minnesota’s top recruits annually. If Kill is allowed the time, players will see his style of play and see the potential to succeed at Minnesota.

-Larson:  It’s great for public relations that Kill was able to sign most of the state’s top players. State prep coaches are appreciative when the University at least takes a look at their players, let alone signs them. And, some fans will be impressed by the signing of players from Minnesota. Most fans, though, will be impressed more by a winning football program, no matter where the players are from. Kill positioned himself for another rocky season or two by getting Joel Maturi to extend his contract, even before the 2011 season was over. Indications are that many of these incoming players can play Division I football. But, are they Big Ten caliber Division I players or Mid-American Conference Division I players? There is a difference.

Anyway, Kill and his staff deserve a pat on the back for working to put the state’s top players in Gopher uniforms, of which there is no shortage.

Rivals.com, and other recruiting evaluators, do know what they’re doing. Those services will miss on their individual player assessments but they are rarely too far off on their team recruiting evaluations and for the Gophers to be dead last in the Big Ten isn’t good. And, maybe ranking how schools fared recruiting isn’t so tough. Alabama won this year’s national title, and darned if the Crimson Tide wasn’t tabbed as having this year’s top class of recruits. And, right behind are the usual suspects, like Texas, Michigan, Ohio State, Florida, Florida State, Oklahoma, Southern Cal, Stanford, Miami-Florida, Texas A&M, Oregon, etc. In college football, the rich do stay rich and the poor, like Minnesota, face a steep, uphill battle.

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Do you have an opinion on any of this week’s questions? Do you agree or disagree with the sportswriters? Let us know by sending an e-mail to editor.millelacscotimes@ecm-inc.com or a note to Mille Lacs County Times, 225 S.W. 2nd St. Milaca, MN 56353. Or comment online.

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