In 1983, Minnesota Golden Gophers Football hit rock bottom. 1-10 with the lone win coming over Rice, who also went 1-10, in the opener. On the other side of things, there was the legendary 84-13 loss to Nebraska, a not-very-nice 69-18 loss to Ohio State, losses to Michigan and Iowa by a combined score of 119-20 to end the season, an alleged team-wide training table brawl, and the completely unforgivable 56-17 loss to pre-Barry Alvarez wisconsin.
There was nowhere to go but up.
Then everything fell into place. While Athletic Director Paul Giel (probably the worst AD in the history of the B1G) was out of commission recovering from surgery, University of Minnesota President C. Peter Magrath gave booster Harvey Mackay the authority to go find the next coach. Within a week, the Gophers were introducing Lou Holtz as the next coach.
It didn’t matter if Holtz was fired or resigned from Arkansas (Frank Broyles has claimed both, depending on whichever one benefits him at that particular time), because the impact was immediate. Armed with enough self-deprecation to make the average Minnesotan jealous, Holtz went to work turning the program around. The 1984 Gophers only lost to Nebraska 38-7 in Lincoln, kept Ohio State and Michigan within 40 points (37, actually), and beat both wisconsin and Iowa while going 4-7. The next year was even better, with Holtz leading the Gophers to their 1st bowl game in 8 years with a trip to the Independence Bowl to face Clemson. The team was competitive in every game except #8 Michigan (42-7 loss) and #3 Iowa (31-9), even losing to #2 Oklahoma and #9 Ohio State by single digits.
But as Gopher fans were getting ready for their trip to beautiful Shreveport for the bowl game, the bottom dropped out. Holtz left for the Notre Dame job on November 28th, 1995 and the Gophers replaced him with DC John Gutenkunst.
Decent guy, but way over his head in the B1G. This began yet another spiral into misery for the Gophers, and Gutey was replaced with Jim Wacker.
Jim Wacker, God rest his soul, was one of the best people you could ever meet. And he had absolutely no business coaching in the B1G. The late 80s and early 90s were some toughest periods of Gopher football: just one bowl game between 1986 and 1999.
But what if things were a bit different? What if Lou Holtz decided that he was having a blast at Minnesota and liked the trajectory he had the program on? Rumor has it that he had Tony Rice all lined up to come here and everything.
The Lou Holtz Era, Extended
The Gophers would have gotten the death penalty from the NCAA.
As with everywhere he goes, Holtz was cheating his ass off at Minnesota. And as always, he had someone else lined up as the fall guy/gal. At Notre Dame it was Kim Dunbar.
At Minnesota, it was Luther Darville. When we got caught in this universe in 1990, the Gophers got 2 years probation and a bowl ban (which, once again, LOL). But in the other universe, the amount of “Darville’s” embezzlement is probably much higher as Holtz “recruits” a better team.
Because the NCAA can punish Minnesota, they would. The Gopher program gets 5 years off (How anyone would notice, I’m not sure) and then-President Nils Hasselmo would have no obstacles in the way of his plan of replacing Football with Futbol as the flagship sport of the University.
Yes, that really was a thing.
Gopher Football never comes back, and I’m probably a fan of another team I watched and enjoyed in the 90s.
So as you can see, not every alternate universe is better than this one.
Just most of them.