Well, this is awkward. This week we feature Jeff Horton, the head coach for the Minnesota Golden Gophers…for the time being. If you’re not up on the news, here’s the scenario: Entering the season, Minnesota was led by Tim Brewster, who was entering his fourth season as head coach of the Gophers. After winning their first game, Brewster’s team dropped their next six in a row, leading to the coach’s untimely firing. Enter Horton, who previously held the post of offensive coordinator and was charged with taking the team forward over the remaining five games of the season.
Initially this may seem like a golden (no pun intended) opportunity for a coach. Sure, your newly “acquired” team is struggling, but that just means you have nowhere to go but up! You’re suddenly at the forefront of a major college program, you’ve got nothing to lose, and you can essentially treat things as if you’re starting from scratch. This is one perspective. The following is an alternative perspective: You’ve suddenly been given an impossible task, or at least something pretty close. Your team’s morale is at an all-time low. You’re not sure what type of support you’re going to have over the remainder of the year. And your last five games are against Penn State, #10 Ohio State, #5 Michigan State, Illinois, and #18 Iowa. This might be a no-win scenario. Literally.
Horton got things started with a loss at the hands of the Nittany Lions, and to add insult to injury, JoePa didn’t really even know who he was (apparently because Horton wasn’t “involved with the Nike people”). Despite the perspective that any win would be a huge surprise at this point, Horton considers the latter part of the season to be his version of a job interview. Horton is not expecting to be around next year, and has publicly stated that he wishes the best of luck to the next guy.
How is a team to cope with this type of atmosphere? Well, by giving it all they’ve got, and returning to the love of the game that drove them forward to begin with. For his part, Horton is trying to keep spirits up. The approach he’s adopted is to instill confidence in his players as much as possible, and get them to play as hard as they can for as long as they can. It seems to be working to some extent, as his tactic of playing loud music at practice has gotten players excited and running around with renewed energy, according to player Ryan Grant.
Since the purpose of these posts is to focus in on the coach of our upcoming opponent, we really need to look outside the context of the Gophers in this case and consider Horton’s past experience and future prospects. Horton’s past has primarily focused on quarterback development, and he has met with some significant success in that realm, particularly as an assistant at Wisconsin. On the other hand, Horton’s success in the head coaching spot has been limited, posting an overall losing record while leading the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels. It’s hard to say that Horton is a stellar candidate for promotion elsewhere, as he’s been fired “only” three times (officially, that is), and one of his other departures, while voluntary, is commonly called the Red Defection. Indeed, it is interesting to speculate how much Horton may be to blame for the firing of Brewster, as a head coach doesn’t hold the sole responsibility for the performance of his team. Did Brewster get a bad deal simply because he happened to be the figurehead? Horton certainly seems open to this possibility, although the school’s administration couldn’t be expected to can the assistants and retain the guy ultimately running the show.
One thing’s for sure: Jeff Horton can afford to gamble a little bit with this team over the remainder of the season, and despite expectations, Ohio State had better be prepared. Although Horton will likely be checking his emails for new job openings between games, the Minnesota team will be giving it their best shot, and nothing can be taken for granted.