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Where are they now? - Joe Salem on the move to the Dome and if he'd do it again

08/25/2009, 12:00am CDT
By Rob Litt

Where Are They Now?

Few people in Gopher football history have the perspective that Joe Salem does with the program. As a former player and member of a national championship team, to serving as an assistant coach to eventually being named head coach, Salem has done it all. He was also the head coach of the Gophers the last few years at Memorial Stadium and the first few years at the Dome.Bookmark and Share

Following the end to his Gopher coaching career, Salem moved to private business where he worked for more than a decade, before recently returning to the sidelines as he now is the QB coach at Augustana College, working for his son Brad.

In its ongoing "œWhere are they now?" profile series in conjunction with its current "œTCF Bank Stadium "“ Changing Gopher Athletics Forever" package of articles, GopherHole spoke with Salem to discuss playing and coaching for Murray Warmath, living out a lifelong dream as head coach of the Gophers and the decision to move from Memorial Stadium to the Dome, and whether he'd do it again.

GH: What type of impact did Coach Murray Warmath have on you as a coach and in your personal development?

Joe SalemJS: He's like a second father to me. He was a very tough disciplinarian and taught us about the ups and downs and the ways of the world. We weren't that good my first few years and people were trying to run him out but he stuck with it and we won the national title. I was the back-up QB during those years and then as soon as I graduated I joined the staff as an assistant and worked for him for five years. He influenced me as a coach and as a mentor. He put on a coaching clinic each day. It was a lesson learned daily.

GH: What memories stick out to you about the 1960 National Championship season?

JS: We came out of the blocks and won some games which no one expected us to do much early. We played Iowa when they were #1 in the nation and we were #2 and it wasn't even on national TV. In those days the national champ was picked before the bowl games and we were already named national champion and then got beat by Washington in the Rose Bowl. But it was a great team where we had many guys playing both sides of the ball. We had guys like Tom Brown and Bobby Bell. Of the starting 11 guys 8 of them played pro football. The team was very close to one another.

GH: Your teammate Sandy Stephens is being honored as an honorary captain at the first game at TCF Bank Stadium. What type of teammate and person was he?

JS: He came in as a highly touted freshman and was a tremendous athlete. He was so quick and we ran the outside option. He came into his own more in 1961 and grew as a tremendous leader. When he played well we cruised through teams. I had QB meetings with him every day at 7 am and he was a great student of the game.

GH: Thinking back to your coaching days at The U - what were your thoughts about moving from campus into the Dome?

Joe SalemJS: When I was a kid I used to go to a lot of games at Memorial Stadium. When the Vikes came in the 1960s things started to change. In the early 1960s we played Northwestern on a beautiful November Saturday and it was gorgeous but the crowd was small. We started to see the crowd drop when the Vikings grew in popularity. The stadium started needing upkeep and the public money wasn't as available as it is now and that was going to be a big struggle. I was for the move to the Dome as I thought it would help improve recruiting and I also thought night football would help attendance. At the time it was a good idea but as it turned out it wasn't a home field advantage like we hoped.

GH: If you had to do it over again, would you have wanted the program to make the move to the Dome?

JS: It would depend entirely on the situation again. The circumstances dictated it at the time. Recruiting was totally different in those days and the Dome was a big early advantage.

GH: What do you remember about the Ohio State win and what it meant to you and the program?

JS: I thought we finally were turning the corner. We were a decent team that year as we lost three games in the last minute. We beat Iowa and Ohio State that year and they tied for the conference title. The Ohio State game was a great win for us and we thought it was the one that would get us over the hump, but we couldn't build on it.

GH: Did you think that the Nebraska game in 1983 was poor sportsmanship and what did you say to the team after that game?

JS: I don't remember what I said after that game and I sure am glad I blocked it out. Not much you can say about it. The fact that they put their All-American tailback in to score the 66th point says something but you only can blame yourself if you give up that much. The next week they put 42 points up on UCLA "“ they were so talented. We just couldn't compete with them at all, obviously.

GH: What impact will TCF Bank Stadium have for the Gopher program and the fans?

Joe SalemJS: The big thing is that if they get people back to the campus the game day atmosphere will explode. That will help attract players and it will build on itself. I can't wait to see tents and people all around campus early on a Saturday for a game later that day, it will be something that will be fun for everyone. But it takes winning in the end. I remember sitting at Memorial Stadium with my Dad and it will be great for new generations to experience that.

GH: After you retired from coaching the Gophers, where did your career take you?

JS: I ended up working for Johnson Brothers liquor distributorship and that was a steep learning curve coming from coaching.

GH: How do you enjoy coaching with your son at Augustana?

JS: It's been interesting. Our family is one big coaching profession. My Dad was a high school coach and I often ignored the suggestions he made me and now I think my son does the same thing to me! But I understand that and enjoy it. I enjoy working with the young QBs.

GH: Will you try to attend a few games at TCF Bank Stadium?

JS: I will definitely. It's hard to go with our schedule but I'll get up there. Everyone who has taken a tour has loved it.

GH: Do you still keep in touch with any of your former Gopher teammates and the Gophers you coached?

JS: I keep in touch with a number of teammates and have great relationship with those guys and the guys I coached. My son runs into a lot of former players as he lives in the area. We had a reunion and it was great to see everyone then.

GH: What has the University of Minnesota and the football program meant to you over the years?

JS: It's really been a huge part of our life. I was lucky to be a back-up on a national title team, and had some great seasons as an assistant. When I came back as a head coach it was a dream job. We had a chance to do some stuff and it fell a part at the end which wasn't a fun time of my life. But we gave it a shot and it was a dream.

Tomorrow's article: GopherHole talks to a legendary figure who is known to thousands of Gopher fans for his contributions off the field.

Talk about Golden Gopher football and TCF Bank Stadium on Brew's Crew message board.

Tag(s): Where Are They Now?