In the wake of the Gophers football team’s victory over Wisconsin, dozens of the program’s fans — perhaps every one of them — have reached out to me with kind words and suggestions.
They think it’s time to congratulate the coach who made this 3-6 Big Ten record and fifth-place divisional finish possible. Who could disagree?
I don’t even mind making this personal, and offering my thanks to a coach who transformed the Gopher program, taking them from a bunch of non-tackling underachievers to a team that is mathematically bowl eligible, just two years after the Gophers finished 5-4 in the Big Ten and won an established bowl. The transformation has been spectacular.
In college football, when a team wins, you credit the coach. So let me hesitate no further before I congratulate the man of the hour in Dinkytown, Mr. Joe “J.P.’’ Rossi.
When the current head coaching occupant took over from Tracy Claeys two seasons ago, he hired Robb Smith as his defensive coordinator.
This season, the Gophers won three games against the usual nonconference fodder, then went to Maryland for their first Big Ten game.
Maryland would finish the season 3-6 while dealing with the worst kind of scandal, one that cost a player his life. That day, Maryland’s coaches devised an offensive scheme so simple in its design it evaded all of the Gophers’ attempts at comprehending it.
Maryland handed the ball to its backs, and the backs ran forward.
That was all it took for the Terrapins to beat the Gophers, 42-13.
In the next game, the Gophers gave up 48 points to Iowa. After losing by just 30-14 at Ohio State, the Gophers lost 53-28 to Nebraska, which had entered the game 0-6 while failing to score 30 points in regulation in any previous game.
The Gophers beat Indiana 38-31, then lost 55-31 at Illinois, as the Illini shrewdly stole from Maryland’s game plan: Hand the ball off and try not to trip over the yardage markers on the way to the end zone.
Finally, Smith was fired, and Rossi, the Gophers’ MVC (Most Valuable Coach) was promoted to defensive coordinator.
In his three games running the defense, the Gophers beat a pretty good Purdue team, 41-10, put up a fight against Northwestern in a 24-14 loss and won at Camp Randall Stadium for the first time since 1994, shutting down star back Jonathan Taylor in a 37-15 victory.
Had Smith remained on the job, Taylor would have rushed for about 400 yards.
Rossi has saved a program that was headed nowhere. He has engineered a signature victory. There is a word for his performance in the last three games. It begins with an ‘‘E.’’
Sadly, Rossi has not learned how to operate in the new, new college football world. He has yet to trademark a silly slogan. This one would seem to be on point: Slow The Back.
If only the Gopher football program had hired someone who could identify a quality defensive coordinator, one who could have hired the right person in the first place, the 2018 Gopher football season could have been a success. This team could have finished 5-4 and guaranteed a warm-weather, close-to-New Year’s bowl.
Oh, well. Gopher fans will always have Madison, and they can feel confident in the future knowing they have a transformative coach in their midst — Joseph Rossi, a defensive coordinator who would make Claeys proud.