The Rise of Minnesota’s Defensive Guru, Joe Rossi

PHOTO: MARK VANCLEAVE – STAR TRIBUNE

It’s been a big weekend for the Minnesota Gophers football team, which got two big commitments for the future of their defense. One was a highly coveted cornerback they landed out of the transfer portal. The other was an extension and raise for defensive coordinator, Joe Rossi “The Guru“.

The raise is worth an extra $150,000 per season, from $650K to $800K, and should keep him in Dinkytown through the 2023 season. Rossi is a rising star so Minnesota fans should feel good about keeping him for another season or two.

Joe Rossi coached the #4 ranked defense in the country this season, allowing just 284.9 yards per game to opposing offenses. They also ranked #8 against the run (100.3 YPG), #11 against the pass (184.7 YPG) and #11 in scoring (18.3 PPG). Given the Gophers own issues on offense (oft-injured running backs and a mostly anemic pass game), they needed all the production they could get out of Rossi’s defense on their way to a respectable 8-4 record.

When Rossi Took Over

Rossi was promoted to his current defensive coordinator position from within the Minnesota Gophers coaching staff but his rise to the top happened much faster that it does for most. Joe joined PJ Fleck’s staff in 2017 as nothing more than a “Quality Control” coach .

But by the start of 2018, he was coaching the Minnesota defensive line. And when Robb Smith was fired from his defensive coordinator perch after surrendering 55 points to a 4-5 Illinois team on November 3 of that year, Rossi was named as his interim replacement. The rest is history because Joe Rossi was never going to give that job back.

The Gophers immediately improved on that side of the football after Rossi took it over. Under Robb Smith that season, Minnesota went 1-5 in Big Ten play and gave up an average of 43.2 points per game. In their final four games under Joe Rossi, opposing teams posted just 14.75 points per game. That’s an immediate 28.4 point turnaround. Minnesota finished 2018 on a 3-1 hot streak, which included a victory over Wisconsin in Madison.

The Gophers used that momentum to help propel them to a miraculous 11-2 season in 2019 that nobody saw coming.

Rossi’s Rise

It not just at Minnesota where Joe Rossi quickly climbed the coaching ladder to his current position as one of the best defensive coordinators in the Big Ten. Wherever Rossi has been, those around him have immediately taken notice of his defensive acumen.

No matter where he has stopped or what coaching role that school brought him on, Joe Rossi has always been promoted to defensive coordinator after just one season. It started at Thiel College, then happened again at Maine, Rutgers and Minnesota. When you’re the smartest guy in the room, people take notice.

“The Guru”

Rossi doesn’t like the nickname he’s been given inside of the Minnesota locker room. He doesn’t like “The Guru” because he feels it takes away from what his players do. They make the plays and Joe believes they deserve the credit. But his players gave him that nickname because the guy is a defensive genius and has a memory that works better than most.

“He is the walking library of plays,” linebacker Mariano Sori-Marin said. “He can watch a play in practice and say the Sam linebacker … sheds (a block) early and the ball bounces. He can go back in time and tell you exactly when that happened in game, a 10-year-old play.

“He’ll be like, ‘I will tell you a time Indiana was playing Ohio State in 2017 and their Sam linebacker did the exact same thing and the ball bounced for a 40-yard touchdown,’ ” Sori-Marin continued. “It’s just funny because guys get a little chuckle out of it. It’s true because sometimes he’ll pull up the play and show us.”

LB Mariano Sori-Marin (via Pioneer Press)

Enjoy Joe Rossi while you can because I can’t imagine he sticks around too much longer. This man has head football coach written all over him and it’s only a matter of time before other schools take notice. Until then, you can be sure that the Minnesota Gophers defense is in good hands.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan