Sunday, December 10, 2000

UC football still tough sell




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        Rick Minter wants students who second-guess his strategy. He wants alumni alert to his recruiting targets. He wants to coach football where the stands are filled with passionate people and every autumn Saturday feels a little like Armageddon.

        “I aspire to coach at a place where people absolutely care,” the University of Cincinnati's football coach said. “If you can't take the heat, you shouldn't go into the business.”

        For seven years, Minter has been at work in a hotbed of apathy. He keeps pushing the Bearcats up the hill toward college football credibility, but the climb is still about as steep as when he started. UC went 7-4 this season, 6-0 at home, but averaged only 22,237 spectators at Nippert Stadium. They
have earned their second bowl trip of the Minter era — the Dec.27 Motor City Bowl against Marshall — yet tickets are moving like turtles.

        On a good day, UC football appeals to a narrow audience. On a bad day, it simulates the sound of one hand clapping.

        Coaching UC football, consequently, is a job for Job. It requires patience, persistence and the ability to envision an environment that has never existed at UC. Minter has lasted longer than any other UC football coach because he has won enough to attain longevity but not enough to attract a better offer. He admits he's been “frustrated” in the job, but says that word does not mean the same as “disenchanted.”

        “It doesn't mean I don't have a good job,” he said. “It doesn't mean I don't like it here. It doesn't mean I won't be here for 20 years. But we've got to join the arms race.”

        College football is a costly enterprise, and the expenses grow ever more extravagant as elite programs seek some competitive edge. UC presumes to compete at the Division I level, but its $17 million athletic budget is less than one-fourth that of Ohio State. Its football program, inevitably, must operate on a more modest scale.

        Though athletic director Bob Goin says UC football is a break-even proposition, it does not yet generate sufficient revenue to justify more elaborate indoor facilities, an outdoor practice bubble or coaches pay competitive with that at top-20 schools. Because he has qualified for a variety of performance bonuses, Minter will make roughly $320,000 this year. Colorado coach Gary Barnett, fresh from a 3-8 season, has agreed to a two-year extension worth $720,000 annually.

        Small wonder Minter sometimes feels stifled. Small wonder his 10 predecessors averaged fewer than four years on the job.

        “Rick doesn't have all the tools yet,” Goin said. “The thing that I've determined and I think the university has recognized is that we're woefully lacking in Division I facilities. We have a state-of-the-art basketball arena and a state-of- the-art basketball program. To me that's a very clear message.”

        Goin is interviewing architects to design “Varsity Village,” a proposed solution to UC's athletic space needs. Getting it built is probably at least a two-year proposition. Goin and Minter have two years left on their contracts.

        Sentiment says Minter deserves the chance to compete on a quasi-equal footing; that he has done enough heavy lifting at UC to rate a contract extension that would carry him through the completion of Varsity Village and enable him to reap some of its benefits. Goin, however, sees no reason to rush.

        Goin made it known this fall that Minter needed a big season simply to save his job. If Minter is to earn another contract, he will need to sustain this season's success. He can't afford to follow another bowl trip with a 2-9 tumble, as he did in 1998.

        “Right now, we've taken a great stride,” Goin said. “I want to make sure we stabilize next year and see how that goes. It's a tough job, but it's one that needs to be taken step by step to build a foundation that makes sense. We can't be like the stock market — up and down — we need stability.”

        Minter encourages high standards because they mean winning matters. The trick is finding a job where resources are equal to expectations.

        E-mail: tsullivan@enquirer.com.
       

       



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