Big Ten Wonk
Friday, December 01, 2006
Monson resigns
Dan Monson resigned yesterday as head coach of Minnesota. Assistant Jim Molinari will replace Monson and serve as interim coach. The Gophers are 2-5 and had lost five consecutive games to Iowa State, Marist, Southern Illinois, Montana, and Clemson.

Forgive the following lengthy excerpting of myself but, as it happens, 99 percent of what I have to say on this topic this morning I already said eight months ago, almost to the day....

Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead--and Dan Monson's still the coach

The Minneapolis Star Tribune, like most papers, now has a reader's representative. (Can you imagine a reader's representative "back in the day," say, when Ben Hecht was responding to slow news days in 1910s-era Chicago by digging a trench across the Oak Street Beach, having it photographed, and then running a story the next day on the big earthquake that had hit town? Just a thought.) In this morning's Sunday column, reader's representative Kate Parry looks at the sequence of events that led the Star Tribune to publish a story on March 22 saying that Minnesota coach Dan Monson was "not expected to return next season."

Of course, as well all know by now, Monson is in fact staying on. So how'd this story get into print? The Star Tribune's position is actually quite simple: according to the reporters and editors quoted by Parry, the story was correct at the time they decided to run it, late on the night of Tuesday, March 21. "I believe it was accurate at the time we made the decision to publish," says managing editor Scott Gillespie a week later.

Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi denies that: "I can assure you before the final game started that I knew Dan Monson was going to return." The game Maturi refers to is the Gophers' season-ending loss against Cincinnati in the NIT. Maturi was contacted that night by the Star Tribune. Instead of saying what he now says he knew then ("Dan Monson is going to return"), he instead gave only an evasive "I'm not going to go there."

Maturi now says he was evasive because the season was still in progress: "I try to be sensitive about what I say about coaches' contracts." That's one explanation. Another is that when he was contacted by the Star Tribune on March 21, Maturi in fact did not know whether or not Monson would return. Personally, I incline toward the latter. It fits the facts better. But it's a judgment call.

Speaking of judgment calls, at the top of her column, Parry quotes an email from a reader: "Either name the specific source and the readers can decide its credibility, or wait until you hear it directly from [Minnesota athletic director] Joel Maturi or Dan Monson as an official public announcement before reporting it. Otherwise, start a blog."

I couldn't disagree more. The March 22 story by Jeff Shelman was clear about the story's sources ("people outside the university with knowledge of the situation") and about Maturi's uncharacteristic evasiveness. That's what reporters do: they put two and two together. Nor, surely, are readers such fragile chalices of trusting naïveté. If anything I want the larger newspapers in Big Ten country to give me more of this kind of reporting on breaking news, as long as it's properly labeled.

As for Monson, he is in the worst situation I can recall seeing inhabited by any Big Ten basketball coach. And by that I specifically mean worse than Mike Davis's situation this year (not even close) and worse even than former Penn State coach Jerry Dunn's situation in 2003.

Indeed he was.

The other one percent. The above link to the original March 22 story stopped working almost immediately, as the Star Tribune hurriedly pulled the story down from their server.

They should put it back up now.

First as tragedy, second as farce
Jeff Shelman reports this morning that "Wednesday's blowout loss to Clemson prompted a Thursday morning meeting between Maturi and Monson during which a decision was made that a change was needed." Monson's buyout should net the coach about $1.3 million.

So was it really a resignation or perhaps something a little less voluntary? Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press asked Monson that very question:

Q. Is it safe to say you didn't go to Joel Maturi and say, "Let's put an end to this."

A. No, I don't think you ever do that. But we do meet once a week. He's been very upfront with me with where we're at and what his concerns are. He's been one of my biggest supporters. And when he said, "Hey, Dan, I think this is what we may need to do," I said, "Joel, I respect your opinion. You're my AD, so if you think this is what we need to do, then let's look at it."

Monson-at-Minnesota retrospectives here (words) and here (by-the-numbers). Profile of acknowledged defensive guru Jim Molinari here. List of potential replacement candidates here. (Detroit Pistons coach and former Minnesota player Flip Saunders says he's not interested.) The next coach will have to overcome the "apathy" of the alumni.

Star Tribune legend-in-residence Sid Hartman says Monson probably wishes that he'd taken the Washington job that was available in April 2002. Strib columnist Patrick Reusse says the next coach should stay away from Minnesota high school products transferring back home from other programs: "Spots on this roster are too valuable to be handed out to a player who runs into a few frustrations elsewhere." And Strib columnist Jim Souhan thinks Maturi's recent performance has been as questionable as Monson's: "In the past year, Gophers athletic 'director' Joel Maturi has rewarded football mediocrity, sanctioned the dismantling of the women's basketball team and left CSI-quality fingerprints all over the embarrassment that the men's basketball program has become."

Jeff Goodman of FOX Sports says success for the new coach will start at home: "Whoever takes the job will have to try and keep the top in-state talent home. Granted, there hasn't been a ton of it in the last few years--but Patrick O'Bryant attended Blaine High and ended up becoming a lottery pick after a couple of years at Bradley."

Bold historical revisionist Tom Powers, Wonk salutes you!
Monson, the new steward of the men's basketball program, is a safe, middle-of-the road choice. He's baby-faced, full of gee-whiz enthusiasm and completely non-threatening.

Just 37, he's young if not particularly dynamic. Perhaps most important, he is untainted by scandal of any kind. At Gonzaga University, his players graduated and stayed out of trouble.

Monson brings no baggage with him to Minnesota.

In town for just a few hours, he already has had a positive effect on the program....

It's really a no-lose situation for Monson. His mandate is to rebuild the team's credibility within the community. If he wins some games, hey, great. That's a bonus.
St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Tom Powers, July 25, 1999.

Monson had no chance to be successful at Minnesota.
St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Tom Powers, December 1, 2006.

Seven-year-old articles are not free at the Pioneer Press but you can read as far as "safe, middle-of-the-road" here.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Iowa plays Texas-Pan American in Iowa City tonight as part of the Hawkeye Challenge and Steve Alford says: "We need to win." Alford also says that Adam Haluska, who appeared to injure his ankle in the final minute of the Hawkeyes' loss to Virginia Tech Wednesday night, is OK and will play tonight. This evening's game may also mark the return of Iowa guard Mike Henderson, who broke his finger in practice over a month ago.

Illinois plays Arizona tomorrow afternoon in Phoenix (ESPN, 5 ET) and Bruce Weber says he doesn't think Jamar Smith will play. Smith is still recovering from a sprained ankle suffered in the Austin Peay game on November 13. "You watch the film (against Maryland),'' Weber says. "He's just not moving like he should. A lot will depend on how he feels." Weber also says his players are "humble and disappointed" after losing to the Terps Tuesday night.

Oracular Penn State observer Jeff Rice heralds the arrival of what he calls "a new and exciting era of delightfully inconsistent basketball." The Nittany Lions host Morgan State tomorrow afternoon in State College.

Northwestern officials are looking at upgrading their basketball facilities.

Ohio State coach Thad Matta says Wednesday night's loss to North Carolina will help his team improve: "I think this was a very good test for our guys. I think we can come from here and say these are the areas that we’ve got to get better at, these are the things we’ve got to do better." The Buckeyes play Valparaiso tomorrow afternoon in Columbus.

More games upcoming....
Minnesota plays Arizona State tomorrow afternoon in Minneapolis.

Purdue plays Delaware State in West Lafayette tomorrow afternoon.

Michigan plays Wofford tomorrow afternoon in Ann Arbor.

Indiana plays Charlotte in Bloomington tomorrow night.

Michigan State plays Bradley Sunday afternoon in East Lansing.

Programming note: breaking bulletins bump Butler Bulldogs' boffo blogging bonanza!
My wonking on the subject of Butler, originally scheduled for today, has been postponed until Tuesday. (Assuming no coaches resign Monday.)

BONUS all-Ohio State-North Carolina-aftermath edition of Wonk back!
Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!

About those 100 possessions
Yesterday I noted the weirdness of non-Vitale ESPN talent saying on two separate occasions during the OSU-Carolina game that Roy Williams told them he wants the Heels to average 100 possessions per game--when in fact the fastest team in the entire nation last year (Campbell) averaged "just" 78 possessions per game.

Many thanks to the many alert readers who emailed to point out that the Carolina-inspired Williams-Dean Smith use of the term "possession" is different than mine (and Ken Pomeroy's and Dean Oliver's). Williams treats an offensive rebound as the beginning of a new possession. I do not.

I, of course, think my way's better. (The Carolina method has the effect of treating an offensive rebound as synonymous with a turnover. I find that odd. Speaking only for myself, I cheer when my team gets an offensive rebound and curse when my team turns the ball over.) Then again he's won a national championship and I, last time I checked, have not. More importantly, everyone using the term "possession" can go their own happy way. Confusion dispelled, terminological diversity confirmed and endorsed.

There is no "D" in "Ohio State Buckeyes" or "North Carolina Tar Heels"
Even though I enjoy your blog immensely, I can’t agree with you that this game was the best in a long time. Where was the “D”? You can throw all the stats that you want at me, but I know what I saw. UNC letting OSU drive by them like the Oakland Raiders offensive line’s “Look out!” blocks. OSU trying to double-team Hansbrough and then letting him split it for a lay-up. Why so few turnovers? Because no one would intelligently pressure the ball. (The key word is intelligently.)

Yes, both teams have tremendous athletes and ball players. But give me a team that defends intelligently (UCLA or Wisconsin). It will not look as pretty but it will get the job done.

Harlan K.
Appleton, WI

Harlan, I think it can fairly be said that I myself have compiled quite a body of work in the field of splenetic where's-the-D? criticism of otherwise talented teams. In fact, I engaged in precisely this kind of criticism pretty much all last year with regard to Michigan State--and my email "In" box filled with Pavlovian regularity every time with responses from outraged Spartan fans. Now, I don't want to dwell here on who was right or wrong on that subject. (P.S. I was right.) But I will say this about Wednesday night's game....

I, for one, found it really fun to watch. And that is the nominal purpose of sports.

Also, I will be surprised if Ohio State with Oden doesn't have one of the two best defenses in the Big Ten this year (in terms of opponent points per possession in conference play), for reasons offered here.

What's this? Ohio State has some recruit named "Ogden"?
Hey, Wonk,

Did you happen to hear during the game last night that Ohio State was missing Greg Ogden, one of their best players? I sure wish that ESPN could have done a little more to alert viewers around the country that Greg Ogden was not in the line-up. Why, this guy is so good, he can shoot with either hand and he never misses free throws. Unfortunately, most viewers probably think that UNC defeated the "true" Buckeyes since ESPN failed to adequately inform them that Greg Ogden was out of the line-up.

From what I hear, though, Ogden will be back healthy in January, although he might possibly be ready for the Cincy game. Just imagine how much better OSU will be with Greg Ogden in the line-up!

William L.

Wow, nicely done, William. Kind of half Fred Willard, half Emily Latella. Kudos!

<< Home

wonk back!
email me

a very special wonk
the blog's final days

me, simmons, and 150 million other american males
the four dullest topics for a hoops blog
drama, magnitude, and finality
2007 "power"-conference velocity report
special report: in tedium's path
stop DAD: defensive attention deficit
consistency, threes, and stereotypes
they shoot free throws, don't they?
every rebound needs an adjective
fouls: call fewer or allow more
was norman dale wrong?
what's PPWS?
POT: perimeter-oriented team
symphony of altruists
mammalian theory of extreme home-court advantage
law of november weight change
scoring and preventing points: how to

tempo-free aerials
(conf. games only)
big east
big ten
big XII

geek chorus
intro to tempo-free stats
2007 big ten team tempo-free stats
2006 big ten team tempo-free stats
2005 big ten team tempo-free stats
state of the stats, april '06

canonical bloggers
yoni cohen
ken pomeroy
kyle whelliston
ryan kobliska
chris west
brian cook

November 2004
December 2004
January 2005
February 2005
March 2005
April 2005
August 2005
November 2005
December 2005
January 2006
February 2006
March 2006
April 2006
August 2006
September 2006
November 2006
December 2006
January 2007
February 2007
March 2007
April 2007
October 2007