President Barack Obama’s rally and Tim Brewster’s firing coming just six days earlier bring to mind the eerie similarities between the leader of the free world and the former leader of Gopher Nation.
For starters, both men landed their respective gigs by masking their inexperience with charisma.
When hired by the University of Minnesota in 2007, Brewster became a head coach for the first time since 1988, when he was Grand Poobah of Central Catholic High School football in Indiana. Brewster had never even held a coordinator position in the nearly two decades he spent coaching between college and the pros. Nevertheless, Brewster was able to charm his way to the top, billing himself to Athletics Director Joel Maturi as a master recruiter while at the University of Texas.
Convincing four-star recruits to play for Texas’ illustrious program isn’t exactly as difficult as convincing Sarah Palin that global warming is real. Still, Brewster had Maturi and the dwindling fan base Brewster dubbed "Gopher Nation" believing he could put top talent in maroon and gold uniforms.
During his primary campaign, Obama captivated Democratic audiences with rousing speeches that made people forget that he was only a first-term U.S. senator. Obama’s inspirational persona gave him the edge over more experienced competitors like then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M. In the general election, Obama’s articulate message of hope and change trumped Sen. John McCain’s, R-Ariz., awkward demeanor and more than 25-year-career in national politics.
Both Brewster and Obama made overly ambitious promises they almost certainly could not keep.
Brewster had fans and local media swooning after his first press conference as head coach when he promised to lead the Gophers to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1962. "We’re going to win the Big Ten Championship and we’re going to take Gopher Nation to Pasadena," Brewster said. "That’s my dream, that’s my goal and that’s my belief. It will happen here sooner rather than later."
Rather than a Big Ten Championship, Brewster delivered a 15-30 record and a series of sophomorically optimistic statements routinely mocked by local talk radio hosts.
As for Obama, his goal was to change the way government operates by ending a long era of partisanship that had plagued Congress for decades. Surely if he invited Republicans over to the White House for cocktails and a fireside chat his enigmatic personality would be enough to reconcile two polarized ideologies.
But instead the GOP dug their heels in for a fight and hit the Democrats harder than Ohio State linebackers hit Gophers quarterbacks.
Since taking office, both Brewster and Obama have had to significantly alter their offensive game plans.
When Brewster was hired in 2007, he brought with him the pass-heavy spread offense, which was supposed to baffle Big Ten defenses with a variety of formations. But after finishing at or near the bottom of the conference in scoring for three consecutive seasons, Brewster decided a "pound-the-rock" running attack was what the Gophers needed to assert their offensive will over opponents. Through the first seven games this season, the Gophers averaged a mere 141.6 rushing yards per game, good for ninth in the Big Ten.
Obama, too, abandoned his initial bipartisan strategy in favor of a "pound-the-rock" approach to lawmaking. Along with Democratic leaders, Obama hammered the contentious health care reform bill through both chambers with as many Republican votes as Brewster won bowl games — zero.
Obama made his desertion of any bipartisan game plan clear during his speech Saturday at the University Field House. Using a metaphor of pushing a car out of a ditch, he accused Republicans of "standing on the sidelines" while Democrats fix the problems their economic policies created.
"You can’t have the keys back," Obama said of the GOP. "You don’t know how to drive. You can ride with us if you want, but you’ve got to sit in the backseat."
Brewster and Obama have each had difficulty maintaining stability in their administrations. The White House has lost at least six high-level officials since Obama took office in 2009, including Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel who left earlier this month to run for mayor of Chicago. Brewster had three different offensive coordinators in his first three years at the University and never could establish the consistency necessary for success in the Big Ten.
Brewster’s tenure at the University was an utter failure. But Obama and congressional Democrats have made strides and deserve at least two more years in office. In an institution often condemned as being too political to be effective, Democrats passed landmark reform bills overhauling the health care and financial industries.
Amid the worst economic crisis our country has experienced since the 1930s, voters must resist the urge to take their frustrations out on the current party in power without affording them ample time to right the ship.
Obama conveyed this message in a speech that at times sounded like a Brewster pep talk.
"The last two years we’ve been grinding it out," Obama said, noting that change doesn’t come easily. "We’ve got to earn it. We’re just in the first quarter. We’ve got a lot more quarters to play."
Take Obama and the Democrats off the field too soon and our economy will remain as stagnant as the Gophers football program.
Michael Rietmulder welcomes comments at