Sunday, September 05, 1999

Minter's game face in midseason form


But fans lack his commitment to progrram

BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Rick Minter prowled the sidelines in a black, long-sleeve sweater. He was impervious to the 90-degree heat and oblivious to the stifling humidity.

        The University of Cincinnati's football coach is a man who sees the world through bruise-colored blinders, and this was the first Saturday of his season. His game face was grim. His tunnel vision was in tight focus. He was so wrapped up in his work, it was a wonder he remembered which shoe fit which foot.

        Beneath the Johnny Cash wardrobe, Minter's lack of concern for the climate conjures Woody Hayes. The fabled Ohio State coach was famous for standing in shirtsleeves while most of the spectators shivered beneath blankets. It was his way of setting a tone of toughness, and it helped to create a legend Hayes cultivated as carefully as a flower bound for the State Fair.

He's made his mark
        Minter's stage is considerably smaller, and his results comparatively mixed. He has made his mark on Bearcat football, and by season's end will have coached more games than any man in the program's history, but the program remains a hotbed of apathy. As Minter started his sixth season Saturday night, with a 41-3 conquest of clueless Kent, it was still hard to say where UC football is headed.

        Is this a program that belongs on the same field with Wisconsin's Badgers (Sept. 18) and Ohio State's Buckeyes (Sept. 25)? Or should UC be content to compete with the limited objectives of the Mid-American Conference? Or, as dissident factions have periodically proposed, should UC drop football altogether to bring greater balance to the athletic budget?

        If Rick Minter called plays in a space suit — or his birthday suit, for that matter — could he convince Cincinnati to care?

        Bearcat football is always striving to crack into the big time in college football, and forever frustrated by the constant climb. UC's victory in the 1997 Humanitarian Bowl ended a span of 46 seasons between bowl appearances, but the lasting impact of this big breakthrough has been negligible. The Bearcats finished last season 2-9 — after starting it with nine straight losses — the sixth time in 20 years UC has lost at least nine games.

        One year, Minter has a hot hand. Next year, he's sitting on a hot seat. His progress follows a zig-zag pattern, like a ship convoy trying to elude detection by the enemy. It is the kind of tedious, repetitive work that has worn many a good man down. Those UC football coaches who don't manage to get themselves fired tend to skip town at the first decent offer.

Putting down roots
        But Rick Minter has stayed on, and he has started to grow roots. He remarried this summer and his oldest son, Josh, has enrolled in UC's design school. He has remained in Clifton long enough to see some of his first recruits graduate as fifth-year seniors, long enough to sign a contract extension through the 2002 season, long enough to replace a revolving door with something more stable.

        The long sleeves are mainly for show, a coach's ploy to convince his players he will take as much punishment as he will cause; that all of them are engaged in a common quest; that toughness is its own reward. He wears the same stuff at practice, day after day, selling the idea that a little suffering leads to better football.

        The road is long. Rick Minter's legs are willing.

        Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your e-mail at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

UC 41, KENT 7
UC NOTEBOOK
Conference USA ready to welcome TCU, SMU

SULLIVAN ARCHIVE