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Hats off to thee, Jeff and Troy

Published 8:49pm Monday, November 29, 2010

An unlikely duo lifts Gophers team, program

When Troy Stoudermire laid a crushing hit on Iowa’s Marcus Coker Saturday, forcing a fumble and preserving the Gophers’ upset of downtrodden Iowa, I forgot all about his mid-season suspension and rumored transfer from the University of Minnesota.

The electric punt returning-wide receiver-turned defensive back was the unlikeliest of heroes, especially since I didn’t think he would ever play in maroon and gold again following his early season suspension by former head coach Tim Brewster and his Facebook rant saying “Troy Stoudermire is no longer a gopher (and) ready to take my talent to a top d-1 school where I will be appreciated and respected as a player!”

Once given up on by Brewster, Stoudermire became the savior of the Gophers’ season Saturday, and perhaps program — but wouldn’t have without Gophers interim head coach Jeff Horton giving him new breath.

Horton was not the ideal interim coach, having only been with the team for seven games before Brewster was fired.

His head coaching track record was poor, going 20-47 with Nevada and UNLV during the 1990s. It’s hard to speculate what Horton’s relationship was like with the players, especially since it was his first year. Still, he seemed to win Stoudermire and the rest of his athletes over as the team concluded the season with two spirited wins.

“Who would have thunk it?” Horton asked radio broadcasters after the Gophers’ season-ending win.

He didn’t seem to take himself too seriously and in turn helped his team make the absolute most out of a dire situation. He reportedly made practice fun and played music through the loud speakers during drills. He didn’t ask his players to win, but just enjoy themselves — they did both.

While Minnesota’s football program is no where near the upper echelon of the Big Ten, the 9 1/2 month offseason leading up to the 2011 opener at USC will has less fog cast over it.

Consecutive wins to end the season and talented returners such as Stoudermire, MarQueis Gray, Duane Bennet, DeLeon Eskridge and Da’Jon McKnight should make the Gophers job attractive enough to lure legitimate coaching candidates.

Forget about Dungy, Gruden and Leach — they’re not coming — but without a lingering bad taste in Gopher Nation’s mouth, help is on the way to make the Gophers golden again.

Did I mention we have a two-year-old $289 million stadium? Get after it Maturi!