Recruiting to Minnesota is always going to be difficult, specifically outside of the Midwest, but it can be done. Tim Brewster proved that, but staff instability and his lack of experience and leadership as a head coach (he was never a coordinator or head coach at the collegiate or professional level before being hired by Minnesota in 2007) caught up with him.
It seemed early on that Brewster's enthusiasm and work ethic was going to pay dividends. Minnesota landed a top-25 recruiting class in 2008, which had prospects from 10 different states including Texas, California and Florida. The Golden Gophers cast the recruiting net out wide and had some success. They were able to keep many of the state's best players home, with the notable exception of five-star OT Seantrel Henderson, who ended up at Miami, and then supplemented the roster with speed from across the country at skill positions. While they didn't have a top-25 class outside of that 23rd-ranked class in 2008, their classes had above-average grades in 2008 and 2009, before slipping to just an average grade in 2010.
This year's class of 15 verbal commitments is deep at linebacker and offensive line and roughly half of Minnesota's class consists of players who can help a team win at the BCS level. There is far more focus on the Midwest, which will allow for quicker and more in-depth evaluation by the new staff, provided all or most of the 15 stick with the program. Still, that seems unlikely given the amount of time between now and February. A big factor will be how quickly Minnesota acts to name a new coach.
Minnesota's administration expects winning seasons and bowl games, fairly or not, because the Gophers tasted it with Glen Mason, and this was before the facilities upgrade and the newly built TCF Bank Stadium were in place. This may be why Minnesota can't afford to take a chance on an unproven coach, or make a risky hire this time around with an unproven commodity. Instead, it will likely rather go after a proven head coach, one who has recruited well and won consistently and, in a perfect world, had success at a place that is tough to get it done. Obviously Mark Mangino and Mike Leach are two coaches who come to mind, but both would be controversial hires by a program that can't afford to miss again.
Maybe it would best serve the administration to hire a coach with a Wisconsin-like mentality, one who brings a tough, hard-nosed philosophy predicated upon success in the run game and building the team from the inside out up front on both sides of the ball. A tireless recruiter is an essential component to any head man leading a program, but also recruiting the right guys for your program and creating an identity is crucial.
Creating continuity and consistency will be key as well. It's hard to win when you have three offensive coordinators in three years. And recruits notice that as well and want to make sure they're going to a program that has coaches who will help them succeed and develop, not one that will be making changes every year. Plus it's hard to develop relationships that are so vital in recruiting if coaches aren't there for more than a year at a time. That kind of turnover makes it that much harder to consistently recruit well, which could be why the Gophers' classes started slipping little by little.
Weather, location and lack of a winning tradition and identity are all difficult factors to contend with for any coach and whoever comes in here will have expectations of success placed on him immediately. But Brewster showed it is possible to recruit well at Minnesota, so that can't be the reason why the Golden Gophers have struggled. The bottom line is if Iowa, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Purdue can consistently win, Minnesota is certainly capable of landing good recruits and being a .500 or above program every year with a few eight- and nine-win seasons sprinkled in.
Tom Luginbill is ESPN's national director of football recruiting.