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Tom Coyne

After a 36-year career in broadcasting, Tom Coyne admits he’s getting old. Coyne is a former North Dakota TV sportscaster who worked in Williston, Bismarck and Fargo for the KX Network from 1980 to 1991. The past 24 years were spent as a broadcasting instructor at Sanford-Brown College (formerly Brown Institute) in Mendota Heights, Minn. Born in south Minneapolis and raised in Golden Valley, Minn., the University of Minnesota journalism graduate has been a teacher, sports director, newspaper reporter, radio broadcaster and advertising copywriter. He also enjoys freelance writing and poetry. He taught more than 20 different classes at Brown and saw hundreds of his students take to the airwaves. Coyne was the North Dakota Sportscaster of the Year in 1987 and a Broadcast Instructor of the Year in 2000. Still, he’s probably most proud of his now 27-year-old twins, Ashley and Patrick, both college grads of their own. Tom and his wife, Laurie, live in Apple Valley, Minn., with their beloved sheltie, Chase.

TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — Can Teddy Bear Up Or Is Case Your Ace?

Super Bowl LII is only 80 days away. It’s coming to Minnesota before you know it.  But if you follow pro football, you know a lot can happen in much less time than that. To properly illustrate this point, let’s go back just 65 days.

It’s late Monday night, Sept. 11. Your Minnesota Vikings have just disposed of the New Orleans Saints 29-19 in their NFL season opener at U.S. Bank Stadium. Quarterback Sam Bradford has calmed your fears about a lackluster pre-season, by looking laser sharp on this evening: 346 yards passing.  27 for 32.  Three touchdowns.

As you walk out of the stadium that night, you’re elated to think your team finally has its franchise QB. It’s time to sign old Sam to a multiyear contract and be done with it. After all, Teddy Bridgewater is still months away from returning to the field following an injury a year ago that was so gruesome, his trainers thought he might even lose his left leg. Heck, maybe Teddy will never play again. And backup Case Keenum, who was dumped by the Los Angeles Rams in the off-season, is at best, a competent second stringer.

Or so you thought.

Fast-forward the tape, and there have been a few unexpected developments, now that Thanksgiving nears. In fact, the lives of four quarterbacks have been altered so dramatically since that night, that nothing makes sense.

  • Sam Bradford: Just a couple of days after Bradford’s remarkable showing against the Saints, the Vikings began to hint that there might be a problem. A lingering soreness from left knee surgery was evident. Bradford would never look the same, remaining on the sidelines until attempting to play a few weeks later in Chicago, with disastrous results. It soon became clear that this was a chronic injury and eventually he was placed on injured reserve, ending his 2017 season. Say goodbye to that multiyear deal and sadly, maybe even his career.
  • Case Keenum: After initially looking lost when thrown into a Week Two start in Pittsburgh, Keenum hardly seemed like the answer to the Vikings’ quarterback quandary. But given a few more days to get comfortable, he rebounded impressively against Tampa Bay. Keenum pleased the Purple pessimists by putting up three TDs and 369 yards passing in a romp over the Bucs. Then he bailed out Bradford in Chicago and engineered a comeback against the Bears. And despite some ups and downs, he’s now led the Vikes to five straight wins and a 7-2 record. That includes Sunday’s four TD triumph in Washington.
  • Teddy Bridgewater: On Aug. 30, 2016, Bridgewater had high hopes as Minnesota’s franchise quarterback. But in a heartbeat, a freak noncontact injury tore tendons, dislocated his left knee and had him rushed to the hospital with serious structural damage. Even optimistic estimates had Bridgewater needing at least 18 months of rehab. Not to mention, little chance of ever regaining his previous form. Despite encouraging reports of his hard work, prayer and hours of therapy, Bridgewater was placed on the physically unable to perform list in September. That meant he would at least miss the first six games of the 2017 season. Plus, with Bradford assuming the reins in 2016 and displaying great accuracy, most figured Teddy would be traded if and when he was ready to play. But then Bradford went down, and Bridgewater’s name began to resurface. Defying the odds, he was back in uniform and activated in an emotional and heartwarming display in Washington last Sunday.
  • Aaron Rodgers:  Oh, yeah.  There’s one other major player in this signal-calling saga. Regardless of who the Vikings planned to use this season, it was generally assumed that their path to the NFC Central Division title would always be blocked by that guy in Green Bay. A perennial All-Pro with tremendous touch and amazing mobility, Rodgers had only missed nine games in nine seasons. Until linebacker Anthony Barr firmly planted him to the turf on Oct. 15, breaking Rodgers’ collarbone and quickly tilting the landscape in Minnesota’s favor.

So here we are, more than halfway through the regular season, and everything is different. Bradford out, Keenum in, Bridgewater looming and Rodgers off the radar.

In the unpredictable and often dangerous world of pro football, the Vikings have somehow taken a circuitous route into contention less than three months before the Super Bowl comes to the Twin Cities. This despite losing their starting quarterback. Their promising rookie running back Dalvin Cook. And playing with a rebuilt offensive line.

But of course, no Viking season is complete without some level of controversy. Which brings us to Wednesday’s announcement by Head Coach Mike Zimmer that Keenum will remain the starter, at least for this weekend’s home showdown with the equally surprising 7-2 Los Angeles Rams.

The decision would seem fairly obvious, given Keenum’s big numbers in Washington and the uncertainty of Bridgewater’s readiness after so many months away from the job. Yet, as it began to become apparent that Teddy would at least be activated, Zimmer has done little to quell the rumors of a possible change. Stay with the hot hand in Keenum or give the job back to Bridgewater?

For days, Zimmer has teased reporters with talk of “a plan” for the stretch drive, while sports radio talk show hosts have fanned the flames and compared the pros and cons of the two quarterbacks. Never one to open up much about game plans or strategies, Zimmer has nonetheless seemed to delight in keeping fans guessing on this issue.

Here’s my theory why:

I’m convinced Zimmer wants to play Bridgewater. We shouldn’t forget that he and General Manager Rick Spielman went out of their way to move up in the 2014 draft to land the Louisville star at the end of the first round. You don’t do that unless you believe he’s worth the investment.

Zimmer also appreciates hard-nosed, unselfish players, and Bridgewater is both. It’s hard not to root for a guy willing to make the kinds of sacrifices he has made to get back on the field. Bridgewater stayed around the Vikings while rehabbing and is clearly well-liked by his teammates. That kind of loyalty means a lot to the head coach.

Yet this is still a business, and Zimmer knows how important it would be to somehow make a playoff run this year. No team has ever won a Super Bowl in its own stadium. Yes, it’s a longshot. But the Vikings have one of the NFL’s top defenses, are staying relatively healthy and know this season’s field appears wide open.

Keenum is arguably the team’s most valuable player right now. He’s built a rapport with talented receivers like Adam Thielen and Stefan Diggs. His mobility has meshed nicely with an offensive line gaining confidence, and he’s playing at his highest level thanks in part to a good relationship with offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. The team has won five in a row, under his leadership.

No one knows how long this will last. Keenum is still occasionally prone to mistakes and was a backup quarterback in the past, for good reason. But then, who knows how effective Bridgewater will be after months of rust? Will he be able to take a hit? Will his ability to roll out of the pocket and make plays, be compromised?

Like most NFL coaches, Zimmer is also pretty conservative with a lead. In Keenum, he has one. So by making Case believe his starting job is never a sure thing, while still giving Teddy hope that a start is forthcoming, he’s not letting either guy get too comfortable.

Regardless of his approach, Zimmer knows that Bridgewater will need to play at some point. Best case scenario (no pun intended) would be a Viking blowout win or an early clinching before the playoffs start.

My guess is, the former seems more likely than the latter. Minnesota has a much tougher remaining schedule than the Detroit Lions, who’ve already beaten the Vikings once and could get right back in the Central race by defeating them again Thanksgiving morning. But home games against Cincinnati and Chicago in December look like possible targets for a Bridgewater return.

In the meantime, let’s just keep our fingers crossed and savor the weeks ahead. After all, if Phileas Fogg could make it around the world in 80 days, why can’t our football team make history in a similar window of time?

TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — Walking, Writing and Wondering

When I don’t know what else to do, I like to take walks.  Or write.  Yesterday, I did both.

The walk had to come first, because I find it helps me think a bit more before attempting to just pound out random thoughts.  That’s always a good thing.

And the cool, cloudy conditions were definitely a factor in my brisker-than-normal pace, particularly when I’d already come to realize I was too far from home to go back and get long pants.

As I pondered our troubled world, a couple of miles in, I spotted a large, red sign planted on the lawn of a home in a modest neighborhood.  “Drive like your kids live here…” the message read, an obvious inference to slow down in this residential area.  Soon I noticed others just like it, dotting the street.  It made me wonder if something had happened there recently, possibly involving a careless driver and an innocent child.

Forgive me for jumping to conclusions.  Like everybody these days, I want answers to questions even when they aren’t readily available.  Knee jerk reactions are always easier than thoughtful discussion, especially in this “We want to know now!” world.

Another mass shooting last week brought no shortage of reactions.  Sadly, most of them felt recycled.  We all know the routine by now.  The shock and disbelief followed by thoughts and prayers followed by anger.  The Second Amendment lovers going toe to toe with those convinced America needs greater gun legislation.  Or if nothing else, at least the opportunity to discuss the matter.

But 58 more people are gone.  Over 500 injured.  Countless others affected by one man’s decision.  Oh wait…even that becomes debatable.

Before long, the conspiracy theorists will present all sorts of possibilities: The shooter wasn’t alone.  He got help from ISIS.  He was a Democrat who wanted to take out Republicans at a country concert to ultimately promote gun control.  He was a Republican who loved guns.  He was lonely.  He was a psychopath.

Don’t get me wrong.  I like intelligent, curious people not afraid to ask questions.  So all of these possibilities are fair game for discussion.  It’s not the theories I oppose.  It’s the conclusions we like to draw, based on our already biased agendas.

It feels like the perfect storm.  We want answers and there are plenty of places to find them quickly.  We particularly like being right.  So we gravitate to websites, blogs or TV channels that tell us what we want to hear, even if there are questions that can’t be answered immediately.  We feel empowered now to post “Click if you agree” messages, seeking greater confirmation of our superiority.  Find enough people to like it and there’s no stopping us.  Disagree and face the sudden insults and humiliation of your “ignorance” from our internet posse.

That’s where we are now.  Civility is long gone.  We’re too fearful and distrusting of opposing views because we’ve been told there’s so much “fake news.”  Yet we’re too impatient and defensive to find out we might occasionally be wrong.

I was struck by the public’s response to three stories last week, all of them involving women.

NFL Quarterback Cam Newton made headlines when he smirked and laughed at a female reporter’s question regarding the “physicality” of his wide receivers’ route running.  Newton took enough heat to lose one of his sponsors and days later issued a video apology.  While I appreciated the fact that he seemed contrite and the message was unscripted, I had little sympathy for him.  Her question was legitimate, her approach professional and she was simply doing her job.  In my eyes, Newton was smug, sexist and unfairly embarrassed the woman.

Yet reaction was surprisingly mixed.  Many blamed the reporter.  Some felt she was seeking attention or should have had a thicker skin.  Fans of the star athlete complained that he was “getting picked on.”  Others simply had no time for the media, in general.

Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was also under fire, following a New York Times report that detailed nearly 30 years of sexual misconduct.  Like Newton, Weinstein admitted his bad behavior, sought forgiveness from the public and immediately began to suffer some consequences: officially dismissed from his own multimillion dollar company with more serious charges forthcoming.

Again, reaction varied, but this time producing a silly political spat that took attention away from the real point: That unsuspecting women had been subjected to inappropriate and in some cases, criminal behavior by a sleaze bag who used his power to curry favors.

Instead of focusing on the victims, many dug up the usual dirt.  Tying liberals to Weinstein and wondering why their condemnations hadn’t come faster. Or tying conservatives to Trump and seeing their condemnations of Weinstein as hypocritical following the President’s discretions that came to light during the campaign last fall.

Even more disturbing though, was the tired, old belief that somehow some of these women were only “getting what they deserved.”  Weinstein is a liberal, rich, white guy.  Trump is a conservative, rich white guy.  Bill Cosby is black, Bill Clinton is white.  Forget which side you’re on for a moment.  ALL of them should be condemned for their bad behavior.

Finally, my last observation involved a happier story, but in my mind, deserving of greater recognition.

A week ago, the Minnesota Lynx won their fourth WNBA championship in the last seven years, a remarkable achievement for any pro franchise.  Their clinching victory came just one day after our local baseball team, the Minnesota Twins, had their surprisingly successful regular season end abruptly with a playoff loss in New York.

As a former sportscaster and big fan of both squads, I was thankful for the joy they brought this summer to a market seemingly always starved for success.

It is indisputable that the Twins draw more fans, have been around much longer and generate far more revenue than the Lynx.  I own Twins’ partial season tickets, while I seldom attend Lynx games.  The difference is evidenced by the reality that is women’s basketball.  They play second fiddle to the men’s teams, get pushed around to whatever date and location is available and often perform in nearly empty, outdated arenas.  Nobody is debating that.

So it’s apples to oranges.  But what continued to surprise me was how often many were quick to dismiss the latter’s accomplishments following the elimination of the former.  Mostly men.

“Nobody cares about the Lynx,” wrote one guy on a Facebook post.  “Yawn,” was another.   I even had one friend seem almost ashamed to admit he’d attended the game.  Wow.  I wondered why this level of hate.  Was it about gender?  Race?  Just disdain for the game as a whole?

I covered women’s basketball in the 1980s, at all levels.  The product was nothing like what it is today.  If you caught any of the five games in the final series, you know what I mean.  Minnesota and Los Angeles were evenly matched, had two games decided in the closing seconds and delivered high-level excitement and entertainment.

Admittedly, we all have our own tastes and interests, so my goal is not to convince you to tune in.  But you might be surprised if you did.

Which brings me back to that red sign I noticed on my two hour, head-clearing walk.  I kept thinking about those words… “like YOUR kids live here.”

I wondered if you might be more inclined to slow down and listen to as many viewpoints as possible, if those had been YOUR kids at that Las Vegas concert.

Regardless of your perspectives or biases, I wondered if you’d still feel Cam Newton was being picked on, had that reporter been YOUR daughter.

I wondered if you’d be so quick to post political perspectives or blame victims if that had been YOUR daughter auditioning for Harvey Weinstein.

And I wondered if you might be inclined to begrudgingly share more pride in those four WNBA championships, if by chance it was YOUR daughter on that team.

By the time I turned the corner and caught a glimpse of our driveway, I realized a few things had changed.  The sun was out, it was warmer and I no longer needed those long pants.  I was also walking much slower.  Eight mile strolls will do that to you.

TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — Purple Pain Just A Part Of NFL’s Bane

A chilly Sunday morning gradually blossomed into a gorgeous, late summer afternoon. But being a golfer of marginal talent and fully aware that our local football team had an enticing matchup in Pittsburgh, I still wondered if I’d made the right choice. Our annual fraternity scramble was on tap at the University of Minnesota course, and I’d reluctantly agreed to once more expose my shaky game to all those alums eager to sneer at my worm-burning iron play.

After watching the Vikings cruise past New Orleans in surprisingly easy fashion last Monday, it was tempting to leave my cell phone on when we gathered at the first hole for our late morning tee off. But I’d convinced myself that I would avoid all distractions and forget about football … for at least a few hours.

Before long, we were sharing old stories, shedding our windbreakers and even making a good shot or two. So it wasn’t until we were returning our golf carts and sipping on beers, that someone mentioned the Purple. “They were losing big, the last I checked,” said one of the brothers.

Suddenly it hit me. I’d managed to spend a Sunday afternoon away from the Red Zone Channel and hadn’t suffered NFL withdrawal symptoms. In fact, I found myself grateful to have reconnected with old buddies and gotten some much-needed exercise and sun, in the process.

What should be worrisome for Roger Goodell and the rest of the league’s cronies, is that my revelation about life without pro football is happening to many others these days. And that spells trouble for a business already too greedy for their own good.

Let me attempt to connect the dots by starting at the bottom of the food chain of a multimillion dollar operation that has been captivating Americans for years. Or conning them … depending on your perspective.

Ruben is an avid pro football fan. We’ll call him “Rube” for short. He loves the Vikings, wears everything purple and shells out thousands of dollars to occupy a nosebleed seat at US Bank Stadium. Rube watches NFL games Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays. He plays in six fantasy leagues. But lately, Rube has been angry and frustrated for a variety of reasons.

First, there were those annoying preseason games where he was forced to pay full-price for tickets in Row Z. The games where the teams played mostly third stringers to protect their stars from getting injured, since they still figured the studs would get battered around in weeks to come.

Then Rube put in months of planning to prepare for his fantasy draft and was thrilled to land the top-rated running back, David Johnson, of Arizona. But a couple of days later, Johnson went down with a season-ending injury. In fact, many top players were dropping like flies, tearing ACLs and separating shoulders.

Speaking of injuries, Rube was really down in the dumps when he learned his favorite quarterback, Sam Bradford, also had to sit out for the Vikings on Sunday. Why, just a few days ago, Bradford had displayed laser-like accuracy in carving up the Saints, only to come down with a mysterious swelling of the knee prior to the Pittsburgh game. No wonder the Steelers throttled our boys, 26-9.

And remember, Sam was supposed to be replacing Teddy (as in Bridgewater), the previous Viking QB who suffered his own major injury just a year ago. Poor Rube had envisioned a dream where his squad would be the first NFL team in history to play a Super Bowl in its own stadium, since Minnesota will host the event this February. Now, in Week Two, that already seemed highly unlikely.

Realistically, Rube already knew he’d never be able to afford a seat at the Super Bowl anyway. Most of those would go to rich folks or corporations. Now his team might not win half its games, with a worst Case (as in Keenum) scenario at quarterback. His fantasy teams weren’t looking much better with all those injuries.

So here’s what’s unfolding: The Rubes of the world are beginning to notice a few things. Their wallets are lighter. The endless games they’ve been watching seem less interesting. Every team in the league lacks depth, at one position or another, resulting in poorer execution.

An obvious sign of trouble is already evident in Los Angeles. Since departing from San Diego over the winter, the Chargers made their home field debut in La La Land Sunday. Capacity for StubHub Stadium is 27,000 and only 25,381 purchased tickets. Far fewer actually showed up. Fittingly, the home team lost in the closing seconds when their rookie kicker blew a 44-yard field goal attempt, more evidence that rosters are short on competency.

For Minnesota fans, at least misery loves company. Their biggest rivals, the Green Bay Packers, got blown out by Atlanta last night. Already missing their two starting tackles, the Pack had six more players leave due to injury. Defending champ New England was beaten at home by Kansas City last week and is without several key players. Both have stellar QBs in Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady yet are no better than 1-1 thus far.

A watered down product due to countless injuries, skyrocketing ticket prices and numerous off-the-field issues are penalties that have NFL owners losing ground with followers. Too many games on too many nights have made even important contests seem less significant.

As we walked off the golf course Sunday, one of my buddies mentioned how happy he was that he didn’t “waste another weekend” watching football. Another said he’d taped the Viking game but now planned to skip reviewing it, after learning of the result.

It’s only September. Maybe when the snow begins to fly and we’re cooped inside, I’ll be glued to my television. Watching Case Keenum engineer a comeback to help the Vikes finish at 8-8. Then again … there’s always bowling.

TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — As Hopes Peter Out, Twins Become Sellers

The dog days of August have arrived and our favorite baseball team is apparently “rebuilding” again.

For the better part of four months, the Minnesota Twins teased local fans with a brand of ball just good enough to make us believe there was hope. In fact, as recently as July 20, the Twins were within a half-game of first place Cleveland in the American League Central Division standings.

Never mind the numerous warning signs. Despite a 48-46 record on that day, the club had one of the worst home marks in the majors, had been outscored by more than 60 runs and owned an unsightly team ERA near 5.

But after losing 103 games the previous season, who could blame boosters for feeling optimistic? New front office moguls Derek Falvey and Thad Levine represented fresh faces after frequent failures … five of the previous six seasons, to be exact. Veteran pitcher Ervin Santana was having an All-Star season, the defense appeared much-improved, and youngsters like Miguel Sano, Jose Berrios and Byron Buxton all seemed headed in the right direction.

Then came the disastrous West Coast road swing, as Minnesota’s bullpen blew one game after another, losing five of six games to the red-hot Los Angeles Dodgers and the middling Oakland A’s.

When I climbed out of bed on the last day of July, the Twins were suddenly seven games out of first place. Baseball’s annual trading deadline had arrived and a good deal of grumbling had returned to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

As she gulped down her coffee and headed for work, my wife had a couple of reasonable questions for me. “Is it true the Twins just traded that guy they picked up a couple of days ago? How does that make any sense?” She was correct about the first part. It’s just that my answer to the second would need more time than she had available.

“That guy” was Jaime Garcia, a solid, if not spectacular, left-handed pitcher the Twins had acquired in a trade with Atlanta for a minor-leaguer earlier in the week. In fact, Garcia was the only Twin to win on that cross country crusade to California. And that wasn’t all. By day’s end, Minnesota had also unloaded their All-Star closer, Brandon Kintzler, for cash and a no-name from Washington.

Knowing the Garcia swap to the hated Yankees would be difficult enough to explain, I was especially thankful I wouldn’t have to break down the logic behind Kintzler’s departure as well. Laurie was already out the door by then.

Meanwhile, on Facebook and Twitter, there was the familiar frustration from Twins’ fans who had seen this act before. Even veteran infielder Brian Dozier publicly expressed his disappointment with the moves, as others lamented how the big money teams like the Yankees, Dodgers and Cubs predictably got richer while the “have-nots” were forced to start planning for the future again.

But sprinkled amidst the dissenters, was the equally predictable call for calm from those who like to think they know better. At the risk of coming off like a baseball snob, you can include me in that group.

In response to our slugging second sacker, I would like to suggest to “Doz” that perhaps his five strikeouts Sunday may have contributed to this housecleaning.  Then again, the moves by management were already happening. And they should’ve been.

Convincing casual fans like my wife, and even more passionate ones simply sick and tired of seven seasons of mediocrity, would seem more difficult. But let me try.

To begin with, if you want to be upset, the anger should be directed more at major league baseball in general rather than the Twins. Teams like the Yankees and Dodgers make mountains of cash from both national and local TV deals. Even with attempts at parity, the clubs with more money will spend it. Recently, the Yankees signed nine of the top 25 international prospects. Because they could.

So when the Bronx Bombers scoop up players like Sonny Gray, David Robertson, Todd Frazier and Jaime Garcia, it shouldn’t be surprising. Or the Dodgers snatch the biggest prize at this year’s deadline, pitcher Yu Darvish. They clearly have a competitive advantage.

That still doesn’t guarantee a pennant. But it does mean teams like Minnesota must always be creative and savvy to compete. It’s becoming clear that Falvey and Levine see pitching as their club’s greatest need. The roster is already blessed with a number of young, everyday players ready to contend at the plate and in the field.

For starters, let’s be realistic. Minnesota was going nowhere with this shaky staff. Garcia was viewed as a rental player, needed solely for the remainder of this season. Both he and Kintzler are eligible for free agency and could re-sign with any team next season. Both are over 30. What’s more important is to examine what the Twins got in return:

  • Zack Littell: Picked up in the Garcia trade, this 21-year old has been tearing it up in the Yankee organization. The right-hander is not overpowering but has great control, profiles best as a long reliever and is 14-1 in stints at High A and AA levels.
  • Dietrich Enns: Another former Yankee, this lefty is much closer to being ready for the major leagues. The 26-year old from Central Michigan has a good curve and changeup and should help in the late innings.
  • Tyler Watson: Acquired in the deal with Washington, Watson just turned 20. A big southpaw at 6-foot-5 and projected to be a back end of the rotation starter, this kid has potential breakthrough stuff.

If you agree that the Twins are still in dire need of pitching, then you should welcome any fresh arms to the system, even if it means those players may be a few years away from contributing. Considering that only Cincinnati and Baltimore have given up more runs this season, that would seem to be a logical deduction.

Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing Santana traded as well. He will turn 35 in December, is having a better than expected 2017 season and would likely yield more young arms from a contender desperate to win now.

Also lost in the shuffle was an interesting side benefit to the Kintzler trade. Remember that stat I mentioned about the Yankees and their ability to sign players overseas? Washington has included $500,000 in international bonus pool allocation, giving the Twins a better chance to compete on that level, too.

Yes, our boys have emerged from the cellar, only to become sellers one more time. But as Andy told old Red in “The Shawshank Redemption,” it’s either time to “get busy living or get busy dying.”  For now, the Twins need to die first to live later.

TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — The Bittersweet Experience Of Growing Old

It’s been a busy last few months, as a part-time job has become more “full” than “part.” At 64, there’s this ever-growing struggle between the need for self-worth and the realization that it might not be wise to put off retirement too long.

Senior discounts and AARP notices have already become staples for several years. At this age, we begin to listen more carefully to those commercials we tuned out in the past. Cremation Society? Annuity Rates? Assisted Living?

OK, well, maybe I’m jumping the gun a bit on a couple of those. But for every time I’m told how much smarter it will be to work into my 70s, I read about a friend who’s left us before they even got the chance to “walk off into the sunset.”

The reality is, we just don’t know what the future holds. My parents both worked full-time jobs into their 60s. But Dad battled health issues and died at 73, leaving the two of them little opportunity for much deserved vacations after retirement.

The advent of social media has given us the opportunity to keep up more on the lives of classmates and friends. There’s something satisfying about seeing our contemporaries sharing old memories, posting Throwback Thursday photos and growing old together. But sometimes the more we know, the more we’re not ready for those updates we’d rather not hear.

Just last week, a former colleague shared the prideful news that he and his wife were celebrating their 36th wedding anniversary. Although he and I hadn’t been close friends, we’d worked together as television news people many years ago. Somehow, through Facebook, we’d renewed our acquaintance about five years ago and had begun to catch up on each other’s lives.

His last post told of a quiet, yet romantic dinner, followed by a champagne toast just before bedtime. I remember clicking “Like” and adding the obligatory “Happy Anniversary!” message to his thread.

Two days later, a childhood pal was displaying a photo of the two of them on his page. Quickly scanning the daily news feed, I spotted the phrase “will be terribly missed.” Tragically, my friend and colleague, had died in his sleep just hours after celebrating their anniversary. Sleep apnea or heart attack were mentioned as possible causes. He was 62.

This wasn’t the first time I’d felt the shock of sudden disease or unlikely departure. Three of my fellow instructors at Brown College have died recently, two of them from cancer. One was only 59. A close buddy I’ve known since grade school has seen his life turned upside down following his wife’s out-of-nowhere diagnosis of acute lymphoma leukemia. Another great friend has watched his granddaughter fight a similar battle before the age of five.

None of this should come as a major surprise to anyone. We all have heartbreaking stories to tell about loved ones gone too soon. Or lives altered drastically by unexpected major illnesses or injuries.

That’s not all. Unemployment. Divorce. Bankruptcy. Changes we never saw coming can put a dagger in those grand schemes we envisioned not that long ago.

Earlier this month, the Coyne family celebrated its first wedding in 30 years, as my sister’s daughter, Elizabeth Ullyot, would marry Mike Borneke on a steamy Saturday on Boom Island, overlooking the Mississippi River. It brought out a flood of emotions, particularly since the last wedding happened to be ours.

As Laurie and I later paged through photos from both events, we were struck by the similarities. A warm weekend in June, the joy and anticipation of what might lie ahead. Friends and family members gathering to dance and celebrate the union of two people with great plans for the future.

But it also brought back bittersweet reminders that life goes on, with us or without us. Just seven years after our 1987 wedding, my dad would be gone. A few years later, one of my groomsmen would pass, too. Many of the guests we welcomed that day wouldn’t be around to celebrate Lizzy and Mike’s big moment in 2017.

Perhaps the photo that hit home the most, though, was the one near the back of our wedding book. It featured a group shot of the bride and groom, my sister Cheryl, her husband, Jim, and their 1-year-old daughter, Elizabeth.

Thankfully, the five of us were all there to celebrate again some 30 years later. But this time it would be that little girl’s turn to own the spotlight.

Oh, yeah … one other thing. I had a chance that day to work overtime hours and make some extra cash. Bolster that self-worth. Build on that retirement nest egg.

Forget that nonsense. To borrow a couple of lines from a Kenny Chesney song: “Don’t blink. Life goes faster than you think.”

TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — Walking The Twins’ Tightrope

The Minnesota Twins lost 103 games last year. Their pitching has been among the worst in the major leagues for several seasons. Fan interest has plummeted, as they approach their eighth season at beautiful Target Field.

So in the offseason, the club made significant moves in the front office, hiring young and promising executives Derek Falvey and Thad Levine to seemingly cleanse the organization of its stale ways of the past. Both are big on analytics, come from previously successful systems and place much value on building a competent stable of good arms.

Meanwhile though, the Twins seem to have done little in the offseason to make significant changes ON the field.

They acquired light-hitting catcher Jason Castro, a free agent known for his ability to frame strikes with the best of them. That little-known attribute was apparently garnered from analyzing Castro’s influence on Houston’s pitching staff the past few years.

They picked up well-traveled Craig Breslow, an extremely bright but aging reliever, who has toiled for many teams during his long career, including the Twins. The left-hander is one of those veterans who doesn’t throw hard but tosses enough to the right places to get most lefties out regularly. Breslow also has a degree in molecular biophysics from Yale and spent $3,000 recently, purchasing a device designed to change his arm angle and prolong his career.

Intelligent, generally inexpensive tweaks. No big name signings. Few adjustments to that shaky staff that struggled frequently last summer. In fact, one of their hopeful starters, Trevor May, blew out his arm in the early stages of training camp, which means an already questionable rotation has one less option in 2017.

On the offensive side, it was more about what the Twins didn’t do, in the offseason. They didn’t trade Brian Dozier, whose big bat last year might have procured a quality starter from a team looking to add a second baseman who can hit 40 homers and play solid defense.

They didn’t add any extra power themselves, although briefly showing interest in Jose Bautista, a guy known for bashing balls regularly when his Blue Jays would visit Target Field.

They also kept small contracts and tried to rid themselves of big ones. Outfielder Robbie Grossman stayed. Byung Ho Park was initially released, after his four-year, $12 million dollar deal a year ago looked like a failure.

Park had hit a few early homers in 2016, but his average slipped and a hand injury made things worse. The Korean star was humbled by a demotion to Rochester and even cleared waivers this spring. Almost as an after-thought, the Twins gave Park a chance to make the club as a nonroster invitee in February.

They went into Fort Myers with a similar roster to the one that earned the worst record in the majors last year. There has been little fanfare, despite a respectable 17-13 record thus far in Grapefruit League play.

The one story of interest from this year’s spring training has been the resurgence of Park. To Minnesota’s surprise, he has looked like the best player in camp, crushing six homers and hitting .350. His performance has far outshadowed Kennys Vargas, the younger, cheaper player they’d hoped could DH and spell Joe Mauer at first base on occasion. With Vargas currently hitting .067, they simply couldn’t justify keeping him over Park.

So this morning, with their opener just four days away, tough decisions had to be made.  Falvey and Levine announced their tentative 25-man roster:

Starting Pitchers:

Ervin Santana

Hector Santiago

Kyle Gibson

Phil Hughes

Adalberto Mejia

Bullpen:

Brandon Kintzler

Matt Belisle

Ryan Pressly

Taylor Rogers

Craig Breslow

Michael Tonkin

Justin Haley

Tyler Duffey

Ryan O’Rourke (DL)

Catchers:

Jason Castro

Chris Gimenez

Infielders:

Joe Mauer

Brian Dozier

Miguel Sano

Jorge Polanco

Eduardo Escobar

Ehire Adrianza (DL)

Outfielders:

Eddie Rosario

Byron Buxton

Max Kepler

Robbie Grossman

Danny Santana

No Park. No Vargas. Both sent back to Rochester. An unusually large number of pitchers, with 13. It leaves Manager Paul Molitor, who may or may not have endorsed these moves, with a short bench and no real backup for Mauer.

The Twins contend that this roster is very temporary. To me, it smacks of a front office not confident in its starting rotation and unwilling to shell out too much money on a team they don’t really believe is ready to compete for awhile.

On the one hand, I understand these moves. Maybe even endorse them. That’s  because it’s becoming clear that the new analytics boys are in charge and want to place a higher priority on the club’s horrendous pitching. It reflects a philosophy  of long-term rather than short-term solutions.

I’m not sure Falvey and Levine much care that Park looked good this spring. I doubt seriously if they ever really had him in their plans. He may be viewed as just too expensive. Winning now, seems less important, than gradually stabilizing a shaky rotation and building for the future.

That all sounds reasonable.  But it also fails to take into account that a once loyal fan base has been forced to watch bad baseball for much longer than the decision-makers are now experiencing. Six years of it.

They don’t want to see more of Joe Mauer. They’ve had their fill of the bargain basement, quick fix acquisitions like Grossman. Jason Castro? Hits .210 but is the league’s best framer? Send Park down again despite being the only real feel-good story coming out of camp?

The Twins’ season-ticket sales are in serious decline, yet they did little to nothing in the offseason, to sell hope. Preaching patience to an already disenchanted and disinterested fan base is risky business. Good luck pushing new ballpark food and another round of bobbleheads, one more time.

TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — OMG! Gophers Becoming A BFD

Pay a visit to TCF Bank Stadium sometime and you’ll think you’re entering a time warp.  University of Minnesota football fans know what I’m talking about. Those banners waving in the wind atop the facility pay homage to the Gophers’ proud history.

Seven national championships. A whopping 18 Big Ten titles. Sounds impressive, right? There’s just one problem. That last maroon and gold conference flag went up in 1967, at a now nonexistent Memorial Stadium, a couple of years before Woodstock. The first Super Bowl hadn’t been played yet. The price for a gallon of gas was 33 cents.

It’s a bit better at Williams Arena but not much. You see, even though the Golden Rodents took part in a Final Four in 1997, that one got wiped away due to a cheating scandal under Clem Haskins’ watch. So that means Minnesota’s last Big Ten basketball championship goes back to 1982. The Metrodome had just been built. Gas was still under a dollar, and Ronald Reagan was our president. There have also been just four NCAA tournament appearances since 2000.

Since many of us feel we’ve witnessed more than our share of Minnesota misery in recent decades, you’ll excuse us Gopher grads for our growing giddiness. Somehow, our hoop heroes are relevant once more.

In fact, this year’s team has been so much fun to watch, I almost feel like I’m a teenager again. But one living in 2017. So it seems only fitting, that as the Gophers get ready for postseason play, I honor them with my own set of acronyms worthy of today’s social media:

OMG

That’s Overachieving Minnesota Gophers. In case anyone cares to remember, last year’s squad finished 8-23 and won just two games in the conference. There was not a preseason poll in the country that had the Gophers finishing higher than 10th this season. Yes, the team had injuries and was rocked by player suspensions in 2016. But to manage a symmetrical reversal to 23-8 in one year, almost defies logic.

WTF  

We Took Fourth! As odd as it may sound, there are now 14 teams in the Big Ten. Minnesota fans are more than familiar with “play-in” games in the conference tournament, under way this week in Washington, D.C. Those games are reserved for the bottom four teams in the league standings. Last year, the Gophers faced Illinois and were “one and done.” A reasonable expectation for improvement would have been to land a spot between fifth and 10th, thereby allowing a chance to rest on Day One and begin action Thursday of tournament week. But by climbing all the way to fourth place with a mark of 11-7, our club gets TWO days off!  Minnesota will open postseason play with a Friday game against either Michigan State or Penn State. By then, six teams will have already been eliminated.

LOL

Limit Overtime Losses.  In a year where balance never seemed more obvious, the Big Ten basketball season was littered with down-to-the-wire, nail-biting, regular season games.  So to survive, a team had to play with grit and determination.  The Gophers seemed to thrive in “crunch time.”  Playing in five overtime games and several others that weren’t decided until the closing seconds, they mustered huge wins over Purdue, Northwestern, Iowa, Indiana and Michigan.  Only Michigan State and Wisconsin managed to beat them in extra sessions.

LMAO

Lynch, Mason and Others.  How does a team win 15 more games and jump nine spots in the conference standings? It  begins with defense. Minnesota’s Reggie Lynch didn’t score much and was often in foul trouble. But the sophomore was an absolute monster when opponents tried to attack the basket. Recently named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Lynch had a ridiculous 11 blocked shots in a win against Penn State.

Guard Nate Mason sat out a portion of last season, suspended for his part in a sex tape scandal that almost led to his dismissal from the team. But the junior matured greatly after the incident and was clearly the team’s leader in this amazing turnaround. Mason ran the offense, made crucial free throws and was deservedly named to the Big Ten’s First Team All-Conference squad.

Fellow guard Dupree McBrayer was also suspended last year. Like Mason, he worked hard to restore his image and made a big contribution, particularly in the second half of the season. Power forward Jordan Murphy stands just 6-foot-7 but averages 10 points a game and is fearless inside. Freshman Amir Coffey made a big splash as a scorer and slasher and will only continue to improve as his body gets stronger.

PDQ

Pitino Doubters Quieted. A year ago at this time, Richard Pitino was under fire. After three years as the Gophers’ head coach, his 51-51 record, with no NCAA tournament appearances, was not sitting well with the Gopher faithful. But that record was a bit deceptive, given that he had been handcuffed by some of last year’s hardships. Toss out that 8-23 disaster and Pitino’s resume included a 25-win first season, an NIT championship and a much more respectable 43-28 record his first two years.

Now he is recognized as the Big Ten Coach of the Year, with a program clearly on the rise. Minnesota loses only senior transfer Akeem Springs and will bring in two more outstanding players to join an already potent lineup. Whatever Pitino did in the off-season to rally the troops, it worked. The team plays with heart and unselfishness, often sharing the ball for the greater good.

BFF

Believe Final Four! OK, maybe now I’m getting a little too giddy. Realistically, the Gophers have already exceeded expectations, and anything after this would be gravy. But winning eight straight games in the Big Ten is no small feat. In fact, the Gophers found a way to beat every team in the conference except Michigan State and Wisconsin. They may get a chance to change that, too, in this week’s tournament.

There are unquestionably many teams in the country with far more talent. But the Gophers were only beaten decisively on three occasions this season: at Florida State, at Michigan State and at Wisconsin. When they are playing well, they can compete with anyone. What probably will be their undoing is an occasionally stagnant offense that can go cold for long stretches too frequently.

COYNE

Coach of Year Needs Extension! Since selfies, ego-driven tweets and YouTube videos are now the rage, I figured I needed one more acronym just about ME. So I’m seeing if COYNE catches on and brings me instant attention. Not really.

Pitino does have a contract through 2021. But his annual salary of $1.6 million is still near the bottom for Big Ten coaches.  MSU’s Tom Izzo makes more than $4 million a year. If there’s one thing you learn as a Gopher supporter, it’s to always expect a brief run of success to be quickly followed by something more Gopher-like. Maybe another scandal. Or that fear that your beloved head coach will soon depart for greener pastures. Pay him what it takes to keep him around.

BTW…it’s TBT again. Sadly, I really was alive back in 1967. IDK. Maybe the kids will just want me to STFU.

TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — More News Isn’t Necessarily Good News

My love of journalism began with my local paper. The largest newspaper in Minnesota, it originated as the Minneapolis Tribune in 1867 and the competing Minneapolis Daily Star in 1920. A few years later, the two consolidated, with the Tribune published in the morning and the Star in the evening. Eventually, they merged in 1982, creating the Star Tribune.

A similar story unfolded in St. Paul, where the Pioneer Press and Dispatch offered separate papers for many years until merging in 1985, eventually producing a morning edition only.

As a kid growing up in the 1960s in a western suburb, I looked forward to reading the Star, which usually arrived at our doorstep in the late afternoon.  There were also a handful of local television stations, typically offering half-hour newscasts at 6 and 10 p.m., and a small share of radio news options, most notably led by the “Good Neighbor,” clear channel 830-WCCO-AM.

If you were fortunate enough to earn a news position with one of those media outlets, objectivity was a high priority. There were editorial pages and a sprinkling of radio talk shows, to be sure. And locals always had their disagreements about just how right or left leaning the various outlets appeared to be. But because the options were so limited, it was important for journalists to maintain credibility by seeking several reliable sources to assure accountability. Sometimes, that meant sacrificing urgency for accuracy.

Admittedly, it was easier for reporters to take one’s time back then, simply because consumers had fewer choices. If I didn’t like what I read in the Star, I might try the Pioneer Press, but their target audience was more directed toward the east side of the Mississippi River. Just the same, a reporter’s carelessness with the facts in 1967 was far more glaring than it is now because mistakes stood out like a sore thumb.

Fast-forward 50 years. Want news today? There are endless choices. Newspapers are declining because urgency is everything. Television can provide live news coverage anywhere, anytime. But even they feel the pinch, with cellphones and internet offering far more options on-demand. Sounds like a no-brainer as to which era is better, right? Not necessarily.

Let’s begin with the premise that there is no such thing as totally objective news. We all have our own preconceived notions about “what” people need to know and “why.” That’s a good thing. The “when” we get our news is better than ever. The “where” is unlimited. The “how” choices are mind-blowing.

So why are journalists under attack like never before? The answers lie in the “who” and the “what.”

Who?

There are literally thousands of media choices in 2017, more accessible than ever before. TV, radio, magazines, newspapers can be watched, heard or read anytime, anywhere. Websites and blogs represent views on the left, middle and right. Special-interest groups, social media sites. Unlike years ago, almost everyone has a forum now. But their levels of expertise and commitment to fairness and objectivity can be all over the map.

Ironically, only six major corporations control a large chunk of the mainstream media. Comcast, Disney, News Corporation, Time Warner, CBS and Viacom compete for our money and our attention.

So regardless of the size and scope of our preferred media choices, accuracy often takes a back seat to profit and influence.

What?

Here’s where we really get into trouble. The powerful media corporations need to be cash cows to keep their operations in business. The smaller, individual voices need larger forums to be heard more effectively. So both feel the need to cut corners. Larger audiences help pay the bills. Being first to tell the story or making the biggest splash becomes more of a priority in this “need it now” world, than taking the time to get it right. The result?

1. Fast and loose information: Offering up rumors rather than facts, checking for validity later.

2. Unnamed sources: Using vague identifiers like “Some are saying” or “Sources say.” It allows for consumers to be influenced while protecting the writer from being fact-checked.

3. Misleading data: Presenting polls suggesting a large group of people feel a certain way. Give a fancy name without clearly indicating who these people are and which way they lean.

4 Selective facts: Presenting information that may be accurate but only represents one side of a story.

5. Outright lies: If it’s necessary to achieve your commitment to higher ratings, presenting falsehoods with the hope that they are vague enough or old enough, to not be fact-checked.

6. Repetition: Presenting all of the above, so frequently, that those inclined to believe you will eventually accept it as fact.

The real tragedy in all of this, is that honorable journalists who truly do care about objectivity are being lumped too easily into a large, generalized group with those who don’t. And because of the sheer numbers, it’s become a game that can be played far too easily.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a “fact” as “something that is indisputably the case.” But facts without context can still be misleading. Here are a couple of examples:

  • On Friday, a record high of 63 degrees was recorded in the Twin Cities, breaking the previous mark for Feb. 17 by eight degrees. The source for that “fact” is the National Weather Service. Yet a skeptic could argue that because it began their record-keeping in 1870, it’s possible a warmer temp could have occurred before then. And since that reading was recorded at the airport, isn’t it possible we reached 64 somewhere else in the area? That’s why journalism schools preach the importance of “reliable sources” and “context.”

Relativity is important, too.  Is it a fact that the 63 degree reading is “unseasonably warm?” Yes, if your audience is Minnesotans in mid-February.  That wouldn’t work for someone from Hawaii.

  • When President Trump proclaims, “CNN is Fake News,” is that a fact? Well, according to its webpage, the Cable News Network has over 40 editorial operations worldwide and more than 3,000 employees. Considering that it is a 24-hour channel competing in today’s ridiculously competitive world, it is undoubtedly safe to assume that there have been missteps and inaccuracies along the way.

But that’s the danger of a world without context. I could assert that all jewelry store owners in New York are crooks. And while a handful might fit the description, many others would feel their reputations were damaged yet have no chance to win a libel suit.

Lump enough people together without context. Repeat it enough times to a an audience eager and willing to believe it. Maybe even lie a little bit to increase your numbers, line your pocketbook or feed your ego.

Just because it’s become a lot tougher distinguishing fake news from the real stuff, that shouldn’t mean we should quit trying.

Take the time to get out of your comfort zone. Gobble up as many sources as possible, not just the ones you agree with. Determine who’s talking and what they’re saying. Most importantly, look for context and perspective.

Finally, don’t ever be afraid to keep challenging inaccuracies. Even if they’re coming from people you think should know better.

TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — The Pain Of Being A Gopher

It’s listed on my Facebook and Twitter pages. “Long-suffering Gopher fan.  Hopeless Gopher fan…” I admit to owning worn-out maroon slippers with the gold Minnesota logo. They’re so old, the stitching has come loose. Minnesota merchandise is everywhere. My fading gold T-shirt. The heavy Gopher jacket for cold weather games. The lighter, maroon version for early fall. Even the snazzy head gear that makes me look like I’m auditioning for a role in “Fargo.”

I was 12 years old when my father took me to my first athletic event at the U-of-M. Cazzie Russell’s Michigan team was in town for a basketball showdown with the men in maroon and gold. Mel Northway was the star center for Minnesota. I remember walking into that then aging facility known as Williams Arena and falling in love with the place. The raised floor, the barn shaped architecture, the intimacy of the fans with their team.

The Gophers would lose that 1965 heartbreaker and eventually finish in second place that season, trailing only those hated Wolverines in the final standings.

Little did I know that 52 years later, now ancient Williams Arena would remain standing. I would still be around to hobble my way to Minnesota sporting venues, both old and new. And the rollercoaster ride of rooting for the Rodents would remain a reluctant religion.

In between, I would develop a passion for sports, enroll at the school, live on campus and earn a degree. My daughter would eventually do the same. I’d attend countless football, basketball and hockey games, stubbornly supporting my school even when I moved out of state.

While delivering TV sportscasts in Fargo in the 1980s, I’d muster a smile while announcing a big win for North Dakota’s skating Sioux over Minnesota, all the while hiding my sorrow with a silent fist pound under the table. Or I’d wince when North Dakota State was rolling to national prominence as my gridiron Golden Gophers were dropping a nail biter to Nebraska, 84-13.

So here we are in 2017. My alma mater is still an institution worthy of evoking plenty of pride. World-class cancer research.  Alums include a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a U.S. vice president and even a Super Bowl-winning coach. Even in spite of my grumblings, the university has managed athletic success on many levels throughout the years. But let’s face it. College football is the biggest revenue-producing sport at major universities. While its significance is always subject to debate, particularly when we attempt to determine a priority list for the state’s largest land-grant institution, no one can question its potential for bringing in beaucoup bucks. Sadly, when it comes to Minnesota, we’re infamous for 50 years of football failings.

Maybe it’s better not to belabor the history. It’s simply too painful. So, I’ll keep it brief. Since that day I fell in love with Gopher sports in 1965, Minnesota has fielded 52 football squads. They’ve won exactly one conference title. And that was 50 years ago and shared with two other schools. They’ve switched head coaches 11 times. Not to mention, there have been endless embarrassments, both on the field and off.

So excuse me for being a bit skeptical about the big news that broke Friday. A diminutive fellow named P.J. Fleck is the latest to pronounce himself as savior for a program that is always in dire need of one.

Fleck claims to “eat difficult conversations for breakfast.” He will have more than a few in Dinkytown. He says he doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder, but “a crack.” He’ll need the best chiropractor in town. Fleck also promises to “change the culture.” On my old campus, change is a constant.

My early impressions of the new coach have been mostly favorable. It’s just that, for a number of reasons, good news for Gopher fans is almost always followed by something much more ominous.  Let’s call it the “Yeah, but …” factor.

1. The first note of optimism is that P.J. Fleck is definitely not Tim Brewster.  Oh, he may talk a lot like the man who made similar big promises 10 years ago, only to fail miserably. Both can sound like carnival barkers and love to employ catch phrases like “Gopher Nation” or “Ski-U-Mah.” Both spoke of Rose Bowl appearances and Big Ten titles in their initial press conferences. However, it’s Fleck with the much more impressive resume and a history of strong success in recruiting.  He took his Western Michigan team to a 13-1 mark in just his fourth season. It brought a Cotton Bowl bid and a respectable showing against powerful Wisconsin. Already, eight recruits have reversed their commitments to WMU and are coming to Minnesota. His reputation as a tireless recruiter offers a sharp contrast to Minnesota’s last-place Big Ten ranking last year under the departed Tracy Claeys.

Yeah, but … it’s already a costly hire. Fleck was lured to Minnesota out of necessity because the previous coach was fired … in spite of a 9-4 record and a bowl win over Washington State. That might seem unfair until you recognize the mess that Claeys helped create. Minnesota will pay a 36-year old coach from the Mid-American Conference a whopping $18 million over five years. They must also pay Claeys another $500,000 in a buyout to repair a major fallout from a 10-player suspension involving an alleged sexual assault. Attendance is way down, and Claeys’ reputation went the same direction after an ill-advised tweet temporarily supported a bowl boycott in the midst of the scandal.

Fleck’s sudden departure from Western Michigan also has folks in Kalamazoo questioning loyalty, with his “Row the Boat” mantra now ringing a bit hollow there. Yes, that’s the business of big-time college football.  But’s who to say how long Fleck stays at Minnesota, if another high-profile program dangles more big money in a few years? Old-timers like me still remember Lou Holtz’s sudden departure for Notre Dame.

2. New Athletics Director Mark Coyle is getting good reviews for quickly landing a hot, young coach. He’s also been lauded for his attempt to bring a change in culture that was sorely needed. Anyone who read the 80-page report on the involvement of up to 12 Gopher players in the alleged sexual assault Sept. 2 had to come away sickened by the details and the obvious attempt at a coverup. If it means Minnesota can help bring greater national exposure to the serious issue of unreported sexual assault, I’m definitely in his corner.

Yeah, but … Coyle dismissed Claeys, largely because of his shortcomings in communication and leadership, yet was hardly transparent himself in keeping the players informed about why their teammates were being suspended and the future of the program. It’s no wonder there were hard feelings and confusion before the boycott was abandoned.

3. Fleck contends he knew immediately that he and Coyle had the same vision. Both are young, energetic and driven. There is no doubt they will  boost attendance and connect better with the younger demographic that has been missing for years at Minnesota. Both said they saw Minnesota as their “dream job.”

Yeah, but … Coyle has another similarity to Fleck.  He, too, left another school quickly when big money was on the table, departing Syracuse just 311 days after promising to change that program. How long will his “dream” here last?

4. Claeys had his faults, but he and his predecessor, Jerry Kill, did establish a priority of making sure their players went to class, got reasonably good grades and eventually graduated. Now Coyle and Fleck are promising to continue that trend, while further adding expectations of more victories and Boy Scout-like behavior. Those are lofty and admirable goals.

Yeah, but … who are we kidding with that trifecta?  A big reason why there’s been such a demand to “change the culture” is a result of mistakes made by the same president and administration putting the screws to Claeys. Eric Kaler might want to look in the mirror after he and his search firm selected Norwood Teague to be the A.D. in 2012. Teague would resign in disgrace, three years later, after charges of groping women and sending inappropriate text messages. And you want 18 year olds to behave better, make the dean’s list and win bowl games?

As I look back on my early days of Gopher fandom, the future then seemed, oh, so bright. It seems hard to believe now, but the program was just a few years removed from a national championship. There had been 17 Big Ten crowns during the glory years in the first part of the 20th century. But timing is everything.

In spite of a drought that’s now encompassed all of my adult life, hope springs eternal. There’s something about unfulfilled dreams that keep gray-haired Gopher fans like me coming back. Maybe P.J. Fleck truly will be the guy who helps us book a flight to Pasadena one day. Maybe he’ll pack TCF Bank Stadium. We’ll bring back the Axe, Little Brown Jug and Floyd of Rosedale. His youth and enthusiasm will connect with new fans to join us old-timers in golden glory.  Before we die.

Yeah, but …

TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — Is It Senseless To Seek A Consensus?

It’s been just over one week since Americans went to the polls to elect a president. Somehow, it feels like much longer.

In the hours and days that followed, some have despaired. Others rejoiced. There have been protests in the streets. We should have seen this coming, regardless of the outcome.

For months prior to the election, there were articles from Clinton supporters who couldn’t believe anyone could vote for Trump. Articles from Trump supporters equally miffed that anyone could support Clinton.

Now that Trump has prevailed, one side feels fearful and outraged … the other, defensive and defiant.

I’ve read numerous perspectives on why Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton last Tuesday. And where we’re headed as the new regime assumes power.

Battle lines have been drawn on so many levels. Red vs. Blue. Democrats vs. Republicans. “Liberal Elitists” vs. “Conservative Populists.” Big City vs. Rural.  One side may gloat but is still ultimately forced to defend a candidate with questionable character and a documented history of bigotry. The other has every right to rail at the verdict but must also look in the mirror when examining how we got to this point.

Unfriending on Facebook seems to be all the rage. I’m sure by now you’ve seen the pattern: One friend offers their view and looks for lots of “likes.” Supportive comments may abound initially, only to be interrupted eventually by a contrarian bold enough to invade enemy territory. Civility seldom, if ever, wins out. Insults fly and the name-calling begins. The next thing you know, someone is posting a plea to return to the relative safety of family photos and yummy, new recipes.

Sorry, folks. But that isn’t going to solve anything. At some point, we need to communicate and seek solutions or we’re all in big trouble. In fact, I fear that we’re already there. My wife and I have been married almost 30 years. But I haven’t forgotten those occasional disagreements that first year. Always one to defend my point of view vigorously,  I eventually learned it didn’t do me much good to be “right” if I wound up sleeping on the couch.

Here are some hard facts for all of us to digest. There are approximately 232 million eligible voters in the United States. Roughly 47 percent of them chose not to vote. While Trump easily won the electoral vote to take the election, Clinton appears headed for the larger total in the popular vote. Each candidate collected more than 61 million votes, and numbers are still being counted in a couple of states.

But regardless of those still unofficial final totals, we can safely conclude two things: 1. This was a ridiculously close election. 2. Neither candidate collected even 27 percent of the eligible populace!

That’s hardly a consensus for either side. So instead of boasting or protesting, maybe we should seek common ground.

For starters, it’s OK to disagree, even healthy. But we need to do it with far more respect and patience. I find it ironic that there are so many ways to interact today: Cell phone, Texting, Email, Messaging, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and more.  Yet none of those are really face to face. So it’s easier to be rude or insulting when we can hide behind anonymous tweets in cyberspace. Or collect multiple “Likes” on Facebook by posting controversial takes primarily toward those of like mind. We feel emboldened to be nastier then, when an outsider disagrees.

I’m admittedly a Democrat and voted for Hillary Clinton. But almost from the start, I was sickened by the partisan, win-at-all-costs mentality on both sides. Trump’s insults to other Republican candidates during the primary seemed startling at first. But by the end, they appeared to be so effective that mild-mannered Marco Rubio got desperately down in the ditch with Donald.

Clinton did little to dismiss perceptions that she, too, would do what it takes to get elected. Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned amidst charges of favoritism against rival Bernie Sanders. Then with the smell of collusion still in the air, the embattled former chair was immediately picked up by the Clinton campaign.

By late summer, Trump and Clinton had party endorsements and were slinging more mud in head-to-head debates, while conversations around the water cooler had Americans wondering why these were two of the least likable candidates in recent memory.

I’ll tell you why. We’ve condoned and even endorsed, bad behavior. For years I’ve heard complaints about negative political ads. They call it “fear copy.” But they keep on coming because apparently we believe them. Instead of emphasizing one candidate’s strengths over another, slick special interest groups use 30 seconds to tear down the opponent with any trick imaginable. Find one sound bite taken out of context and proclaim the world will end if so and so gets elected. Photoshop a picture. Connect them with someone or something else that has failed.

Name-calling was supposed to end in grade school. Instead, in America, it’s alive and well. “Crooked Hillary.” “Lyin’ Ted.” “Donald Drumpf.” “Old Orange Face.” “Killery.”  Instead of focusing on issues that might help a voter make rational choices, social media is rife with insults. It’s apparently enjoyable to get a few laughs over Clinton’s pant suits or Trump’s sniffling during debates, but it really doesn’t help us choose a president.

In 1968, I was a freshman in high school. Back then, they signed up all the guys for Shop class while the girls got Home Economics. I sang in the choir and enjoyed it in middle school, only to drop out by high school because it didn’t look good for a football player to be singing. How sad is that?

Fast forward to 2016, where we like to believe we’ve made great progress on race, gender and sexual orientation. But it’s still obvious we have a long way to go. Wonder how Donald Trump can become our president, despite a litany of complaints about his mocking of a reporter with a disability, making crude sexual references demeaning of women and that now infamous conversation with Billy Bush back in 2005?

A couple of days ago, I pulled up a story on the Yahoo home page, expressing outrage over an incident in a Michigan school. It concerned Hispanic students feeling threatened by white students chanting, “Build that wall!  Build that wall!”, an obvious reference to Trump’s plan to “guard our borders.” There was another headline that told of young girls being bullied and raped.

Yet on that same page, there was a section labeled “Trending Today,” which is designed to get as many hits as possible. Among the attention-getters:

  • Hot NFL Wives!
  • 17 Actors Who Are Gay (#12 will shock women)
  • Trump’s Leaked IQ Shocks the Nation
  • After Loosing 200 lbs. Rebel Wilson is Actually Gorgeous

For starters, they should lose the extra “o” in “loosing.” But more importantly, those headlines encourage sexism, homophobia and emphasis on physical appearance. Yet somebody knows there’s an audience for that garbage.

It can be subtly prevalent elsewhere, too.  In my men’s bowling league last week, a competitor rolled one into the gutter. “We call that a Hillary!” shouted one of the teammates. “Ugly and far left.” Good for a laugh, sure. But I wondered how well that line would work with a different audience.

On the other side, labels and generalizations can be just as despicable. At one point on election night, an ABC reporter referred to Trump supporters as “uneducated, Budweiser-drinking, rural white men.” Demographics after the race would suggest otherwise. It makes for a nice narrative, but smug Clinton backers need to wake up and look at their candidate’s failure to connect with greater numbers of millennials and minorities. Maybe it had something to do with the white working class feeling ignored, in severely impoverished areas the Dems figured weren’t important enough to pursue.

Donald Trump will take office 65 days from now.  It’s time to end the name-calling and seek solutions, not reasons for division. We need to take more time to understand each other. Here are a few simple suggestions:

1. Stop labeling people. I’ve lived all my life in Minnesota and North Dakota. As a group, Minnesotans have favored a Republican candidate for president only once since 1956. As a group, North Dakotans have favored a Democratic candidate for president only once since 1940. But we’re individuals.  Maybe abandoning the Electoral College is one way to fight that problem, although that’s another debate for another time. Just know that we are all unique and have differences worth embracing.

2. Be more civil.  Name-calling is always easier when the other side isn’t around. But when you choose to label, you may be surprised to discover that not everybody is always on your team.

3.  Seek inclusion, not exclusion. Is it fear or vigilance? Either way, I’d prefer the bridges to the walls.  We can still find ways to protect our nation, our traditions, whatever it is we think is threatened, without spewing racist, homophobic rhetoric that creates division.

4. Read, listen and empathize. Just for a change, check out ALL sources on an issue, not just those that will tell you what you want to hear.  You might actually change your mind occasionally.

5. Encourage debate, don’t hide from it.  Our twins are now 27. Following the election, both took to social media with impassioned opinions on the results. I was proud of them for getting involved in the process, regardless of their views.  But now it’s important that they be ready to respectfully argue their stands, without taking offense at those who might disagree.

The time is now, to make a difference. Those vacation pictures and holiday recipes are always welcomed. But our nation’s problems will still be there if we don’t choose to do something about them.